Why Culture Shock Helps Professionally

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Imagine that there were 3.7 million students studying abroad in 2009, and that according to the Institute for Statistics this number increases yearly by 12%. The studying abroad adventure, regardless of your major, teaches students what it is like being drenched into a different culture.

What I can’t directly puzzle out however, is how this all positively affects their professional lives. So, I decided to take a deeper delve into this constantly recurring term I hear, culture shock.

Culture shock remains a familiar occurrence to many, it is mostly associated with long-term travel for work or studies. Such a ‘shock’ can for example be described as the feeling of anxiety or disorientation someone experiences when they are suddenly thrown into an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or sets of attitudes.

Anxiety experienced during a culture shock is normally the result of your new environment consisting of different people, another language, and a new way of life. Separation from family, friends, teachers, and other people that would normally help you may result in homesickness. My question, as before, how exactly does this help professionally? The answer, I found out later, lies within the academic approach of culture shock that separates the ‘shock’ into four phases.

The anthropologist to conclude that a culture shock exists of several phases was Kalervo Oberg. He introduced the following four phases of culture shock:

  1. Honeymoon

In the first phase Kalervo Oberg assumes that the person entering the different culture is polite to other people. The newness of the culture, and its specific differences to the person’s home culture are often experienced as puzzling. You are carried by enthusiasm. Also, you still have fresh memories of your home culture.

  1. Crisis

The second phase is the toughest. Someone can become disorientated or confused due to cultural differences between the new culture, and the one left behind. You realize that family and friends are no longer directly available to help you. Even the smallest issues may upset you in this phase. For example, some people become extremely alert when it comes to cleanliness. Feelings of anger and frustration are normal in this phase. You may start to realize how much you favour you home culture, especially compared to the new culture.

  1. Recovery

As you become more experienced living in the new culture, empathizing with the locals becomes easier. You may start seeing multiple perspectives now, not only the one that you would previously stick to. Next the locals might even start endearing you into your new culture. Presumably, you will start to feel more relaxed. The familiarization with the culture that has derived from your growing experience makes it easier to confront situation or issues.

  1. Adjustment

Adjustment to a new environment enables you to relate to locals. You can decode signals you received in society. Learning to accept and value the cultural differences is part of this final phase. Potential, self believe, and self-trust will prevail in approaching new challenges. Situation become more pleasurable as you approach them based on choices stemmed from your own values and experiences.

The Australian International Development Assistance Bureau even published a model that can be considered a visualization of the general culture shock trends. This model of often referred to as the “W-curve”.

Going through the above mentioned four phases will be individually experienced divergently. Ultimately it can provide four benefits that can professionally contribute:


  1. Personal growth

During the culture shock, especially in phase 2, you may endure loneliness, rejection and feel incapable. This forces you to develop toughness, decisiveness and determination which may otherwise not have been required nor necessary. Important to realize is that this may only happen when you leave your comfort zone. As terrifying as it may be, exposing yourself to the uncomfortable may prove that you are more capable than you thought. Boosting self-esteem, which is valued in business.


  1. New Language

As you are immersed into the new culture, it will force you to quickly learn the language. Given that language is connected to your brain and thoughts, it may provide perspectives resulting into original ideas. Besides, mastering a second language is an excellent method to distinguish yourself, particularly in an international job market.


  1. International network

Since you got more used to the environment and the culture shock weakens in phase 3, you will have built up several relationships. This will be an international group of people holding contrasting perspectives on life and business due to unalike backgrounds. Being part of this network can help you develop a more open mind. Additionally, knowing people all across the globe may offer intercontinental job opportunities.


  1. The way of the world

Experiencing the world from a different perspective, may change your perspective on stereotypes. People often realize that, despite the fact that everyone is unique, we try to achieve similar goals. Regardless of culture we all want a certain job and lovable friends and family. Despite differences in culture, we share the desire to live the best life realisable. Experiencing that you are not alone in the struggles of life may help working and dealing with the stress of life, work, or relationships.

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