Settling down in a new country with a different culture can be a serious challenge – Brisbane Psychologist Yu Takizawa knows firsthand, after leaving his native Japan to reside in Australia over ten years ago.
Culture shock is handled in different ways by different individuals, as each has their own set of unique circumstances, background, strengths and weaknesses.
The experience of adapting to a new culture is often like riding on a roller coaster, and usually follows four different phases: Honeymoon, Crisis, Recovery and Adjustment.
1. Honeymoon Phase
The honeymoon starts when the individual has their first contact with the new culture in the new country. People often feel excited and fascinated with the sights, sounds, and tastes of the new culture; they are optimistic about the future and tend to only focus on the positive aspects of the new environment. This phase generally lasts between a few days to weeks.
2. Crisis Phase
This is when “Culture Shock” begins to set in. The individual starts to focus on the negative aspects of the new culture, as they start to realise the size of the gap between the two cultures. It is common to feel overwhelmed by the challenges of the new environment, and become confused with what is appropriate and what is not. Individuals can even feel disgusted about some aspects of the new culture.
The impacts of stress caused by culture shock can manifest in different ways, such as:
- Biological impacts – loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, recurrent illness, loss of concentration.
- Psychological impacts – depression, sadness, irritability, frustration, acute homesickness, self-doubts, sense of failure, loss of confidence.
- Social impacts – withdrawing from family members, friends and other people, withdrawing from social activities, study and work.
- Spiritual impacts – loss of faith.
3. Recovery Phase
This is when the individual starts to become more familiar with the new culture. They start learning about the systems and rules, and developing effective ways of interacting with people, and dealing with problems. This helps to restore confidence and motivation; the individual increasingly feels more flexible and objective about their experience.
4. Adjustment Phase
At this stage, the individual has started to adapt and accept different aspects of the new culture; they may start to practice some aspects of the new culture, while still maintaining the practice of their own cultural traditions. Social activities and networks expand, as the individual develops a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, and recognises their own personal growth for having overcome culture shock.
Tips for Overcoming Culture Shock
Here are some important tips to remember for overcoming culture shock:
- Be connected with people – You may feel like you do not want to see anyone at different times. But, it is most important to maintain connections with people, such as having someone whom you can talk to and seek for advice as well as enjoying activities together. Social support is the strongest protective factor to help you become resilient and get through difficult times. If you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to, seek professional support.
- Knowing that it is normal – It is important to know that it is normal to feel stressed and anxious, and that you are not being yourself at different times. It can take some time to overcome challenges. However, it is important to think positively that these challenges are also opportunities for you to develop a set of life skills which can help you to overcome future problems.
- Self-care – Eating, exercise and sleep are very important, especially, when you are going through difficult times. You may feel like you do not want to because of stress and anxiety, but remember that these activities play vital roles to relieve that stress and anxiety from your mind and body.
- Keep in touch with your home country – Keep in touch with family members, friends and other people in your home country through phone calls and the internet. While they are physically far away, they still can provide valuable emotional support. Keep up to date with news in your home country through people, internet, newspapers and magazines, etc. Look for shops and restaurants that provide food similar to your home cuisine.
- Socialise in the community – It can be effective to join different social, sporting and cultural activities, which provide opportunities to socialise, enjoy and develop language skills. This can help you to adjust to your new environment more quickly.
Cultural Shock: relevant to everyone!
Cultural adaptation is, in fact, relevant to everyone. For example, people can experience culture shock adapting to the culture in a new workplace, new school, new suburbs and cities, new social groups, etc. We are all required to go through a process of adjustment into a new cultural norm when experiencing changes in our environment, and run the risk of suffering from the impacts of culture shock.
The tips outlined here will also apply to overcoming culture shock in other, different situations; and if you feel you are struggling, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help.
Author: Yu Takizawa, B Sc (Hons), M Couns, M App Psych.
Yu Takizawa is a registered psychologist, fluent in both English and Japanese. He is particularly interested in offering counselling and psychotherapy services to people who are overcoming cultural differences in Australia.
Yu Takizawa is not currently taking bookings, however to make an appointment with a qualified clinician go to Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.