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Culture Shock

Being Posted Overseas: What to Expect, Look Forward To and Be Aware Of

An overseas posting can be an extremely rewarding experience if approached with a certain amount of forethought and preparation.  It is well known that 40% of overseas postings fail due, in no small part, to inadequate preparation.  Successful cross-cultural adjustment is of paramount importance and the cornerstone to adapting well to life overseas.

Don't underestimate the effects of culture shock and don't assume that culture shock is merely psychological.  Culture shock happens, to some degree, regardless of how much foreign travel has previously been undertaken; it is normal and a natural part of adjusting to a new environment and lifestyle.  Being aware of culture shock and its effects will allow for greater understanding of the process of acculturation and make for a smoother transition.

Some Causes of Culture Shock and Inculturation Stress Include:
  • Being cut off from cultural cues and 'normal' behavior patterns that allow for mutual comprehension, such as body language that is usually subtle but immediately recognizable to those in the know;
  • Living and working over a period of time in a situation that is ambiguous;
  • Having one's own values, previously thought absolute, questioned;
  • Being in a position in which utmost skill and efficiency is expected, yet the environment and rules have changed

   
Some Symptoms of Culture Shock and Intercultural Stress:
  • Homesickness
  • Boredom  
  • Withdrawal (e.g. avoiding contact with host nationals, only socializing with home nationals)  
  • Need for more sleep 
  • General feelings of malaise and lethargy 
  • Compulsive eating and drinking  
  • Irritability  
  • Marital stress 
  • Family tension and conflict  
  • Stereotyping of host nationals
  • Hostility towards host nationals  
  • Loss of ability to work effectively 
  • Unexplainable fits of weeping  
  • Physical ailments


Ways of Reducing the Effects of Culture Shock and Intercultural Stress:

  • Be aware of the symptoms of culture shock and intercultural stress so that you can identify why you may be feeling the way you are feeling.
  • Try and be more sensitive and open to the host country's cultural cues, habits and customs.  Once these are generally understood they may be recognized and incorporated into one's nonverbal language, thereby enhancing understanding and reducing stress.  According to Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist,  in The Silent Language and The Hidden Dimension the stage at which non-verbal cues are recognized is the point at which the expatriate is more open to other possible interpretations and is relaxed enough in the culture to notice them.
  • To realize and accept that one is working/dealing with people who have different customs, goals and thought patterns.  Rather than expecting host nationals to immediately understand you and your particular objectives and goals it may take a bit more explanation, and certainly patience, to get your point across.  Do not assume that you are on the same wave length as those with whom you are trying to communicate, and vice versa.
  • You will certainly get a better response if it is clear that you are making an effort to understand, be open and more sensitive to other's values, attitudes and feelings.  This does not mean that you have to lose sight of your own values, but it may be that exposure to an alien culture will cause you to re-evaluate what it is you stand for.  You will most definitely look at your home country in a very different light.
  • It is a matter of being flexible enough to be able to say what you want to say in the particular manner that is acceptable to those of another culture.  This entails knowledge of social etiquette.  Take a look at "Expectations: Custom & Culture" for some useful insights on living in Hong Kong.

 

 

Last Updated: 5 March, 2004

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