This sample Culture Shock Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. Like other free research paper examples it is not a custom research paper. If you need help with writing your assignment, please use research paper writing services and buy a research paper on any topic.
Immersion in a foreign culture, while initially exciting, often leads to a state of emotional distress. This personal disequilibrium, brought about by encountering unexpected or disturbing differences of behavior and social expectations, and by difficulties in communication, has been termed ‘culture shock’ – a designation introduced in 1950 by Kalervo Oberg. Symptoms of distress may become intense, and may even lead to psychological problems. But in general culture shock is mastered by a process of adaptation to the new culture. Indeed, it may be considered a regular part of learning a culture. Some travelers, surprisingly, experience equal or even greater disorientation on return to their own culture, a condition which shows the depth of personality transformation that is brought about by adapting to a new culture.
- Phases of Culture Shock
- You Can’t Go Home Again
- Aspects of Culture Shock
- Culture Shock and Mental Illness
Anyone who has spent time in a culture significantly different from his or her own has more than likely experienced a sense of disorientation and perplexity at life in the new culture. After an initial period of excitement about the novelty of the new culture and perhaps pleasure in the absence of some of the constraints of one’s own society, the traveler may be plunged into a period of anxiety and frustration at the difficulty of understanding and making himself or herself understood. The visitor may feel confused by differences in expectations and in interpersonal relationships, abhorrence at some cultural practices or perceived dispositions of the people, followed by intense homesickness, depression, and perhaps regression to unaccustomed bouts of annoyance and labile feelings. Frequent manifestations include food concerns – yearning for familiar foods or anxiety about the safety of the drinking water. Such reactions on encounter with a new culture have been referred to in anthropology as ‘culture shock,’ a term which has been in currency since 1950, when Kalervo Oberg gave a talk of that title to the women’s club of Rio de Janeiro – a group of wives of American businessmen and diplomats. Bronislaw Malinowski, although he did not use the term, gave one of the classic descriptions of culture shock in 1922, in the introduction to Argonauts of the Western Pacific:
I well remember the long visits I paid to the villages during the first weeks; the feeling of hopelessness and despair after many obstinate but futile attempts had entirely failed to bring me into real touch with the natives, or supply me with any material. I had periods of despondency, when I buried myself in the reading of novels, as a man might take to drink in a fit of tropical depression and boredom.
Culture shock has been noted frequently in anthropological fieldwork. It has become a regular part of anthropological thinking about culture, especially in the USA. Yet discussion of its manifestations has been comparatively rare in anthropology, only one major book being devoted to it. Some more specialized spinoff concepts, such as Toffler’s ‘future shock,’ have been more extensively written on. Culture shock has been best described, perhaps, in some fictional works by anthropologists and others – Laura Bohannan’s Return to Laughter (see Bowen, 1954); E M Forster’s A Passage to India – or in briefer introspective works by anthropologists such as Mary Catherine Bateson (1968) and Jean Briggs (1970). George Devereux’s From Anxiety to Method in the Behavioral Sciences (1968) still remains one of the best theoretical explorations of its significance.
The earliest writings on culture shock treated it as a kind of pathology, an obstacle to smooth operation in the culture one is entering and to communicating with its people. Kalervo Oberg listed a number of ‘symptoms’ of this ‘transitory disorder,’ including: compulsive handwashing, emotional lability and excessive preoccupation with cleanliness. The psychoanalyst Gertrude Ticho, in a 1971 article, expands this list to include
increased rigidity, fatigue, withdrawal anxiety, depression and elation, distressed obsessive neurotic-like symptoms such as over concern with the cleanliness of food and water, and hysterical reactions.
She goes on to add that
at times, after a period of enchantment with and enthusiasm for the new culture, a hostile reaction to the people of the foreign culture ensues. This reaction becomes endowed with more global prejudices, such as ‘they are lazy and untrustworthy, rigid, treacherous and sabotage progress.’ The previously open-minded, outgoing ‘foreigner’ avoids contact with the people of the host country and withdraws to ‘his own people,’ if possible, thus creating an enclave within the foreign country.
‘If this pattern is not reversed,’ she concludes, ‘the gap between the different cultures may be widened and result in a vicious circle’ (Ticho, 1971: pp. 324–325).
More recently, culture shock has been seen as an essential part of adapting to an unfamiliar culture, of coming to understand ways of living and of seeing the world that are different from one’s own. Recent anthropological writers have viewed the process in different ways:
- as a loss of one’s own culture, with a resulting process of grieving or mourning the loss;
- as a ‘rite of passage,’ a kind of ‘initiation’ marking the transition from membership in one culture to at least being conversant with another;
- as a ‘resocialization’ into another culture; and
- as a process like therapy or psychoanalysis for reorganizing one’s personality, resolving old conflicts along new lines (see Kracke, 1987).
The first of these, ‘mourning the loss of one’s own culture,’ along with the old view of culture shock as a ‘transitory psychological crisis,’ may be grouped together as a ‘negative’ view of the phenomenon, emphasizing the crisis of moving out of one’s previous ‘culture of orientation.’ The last three – ‘rite of passage,’ ‘resocialization’ and the analogy with change in psychotherapy – are ‘positive’ viewpoints, emphasizing the transition into the new culture, the learning of new ways of thinking and reacting.
Phases of Culture Shock
While everyone’s experience of cultural transition is unique, depending on one’s own personality and past experiences, and on the cultures involved – the entry into another culture tends to develop in common stages. Unless the entry into the culture is under duress (capture, exile, or fleeing from a natural or political disaster at home), one’s first experience tends to be one of enchantment or delight. One may also experience shock at aspects of the new culture like poverty, dirt (or antiseptic cleanliness), or noise and confusion (for a rural person arriving for the first time in the city); but at first, one is likely to feel curiosity about exploring the new culture. For a while, one may take pleasure in the absence of some of the constraints of one’s home culture, at the warmth of emotions people express (if you come from a reserved culture), or the willingness of people to help you. After a time, frustrations begin to mount as one realizes, for example, that the directions people give may be more based on desire to be helpful than on a real knowledge of the information asked for, or that invitations are not to be taken at face value. One becomes aware of not knowing the cues for judging situations or people’s intent, and finds oneself in awkward situations, or making gaffes. After a certain period, which varies from a few days to a few months, one begins to feel a certain ‘culture fatigue’ (as George Guthrie has termed it (Szanton, 1966) – an irritation at the accumulating aggravations which may mount to an exasperation with the culture itself.
At this point, if one does not give in to the inclination to leave, one begins the process of learning the new culture: what William Caudill (1961) calls ‘resocialization.’ The phases of distress and learning are reiterated in cycles as one is more and more deeply socialized into the culture, gradually approaching a phase of being more at home in it. The process is to some extent that of reconstructing one’s identity, or constructing an alternate identity for one’s sojourn in the culture. Over years of living in a new culture, the process may culminate in the formation of a new identity, as Garza- Guerrero (1974) suggests, combining patterns and values from one’s culture of origin with patterns and values of the new one.
You Can’t Go Home Again
An unexpected feature of culture shock is the dis-orientation one experiences on returning to one’s culture of origin – a phenomenon which has been designated ‘reverse culture shock’ (Hertz, 1977). Many people feel even more difficulty in readjusting to their own culture after returning from abroad than they did adjusting to the foreign culture or cultures they have lived in. Why is this? In part, it is the phenomenon which the novelist Thomas Wolfe identified in You Can’t go Home Again: You have been changed by your encounter with another culture, and you no longer ‘fit’ in the same place you did before going. You have an experience you do not share with your compatriots who remained at home. It is perhaps exacerbated by the very unexpectedness of it: you have had dreams of coming back home where everything will at last be unproblematic, and suddenly it is not.
Reverse culture shock reveals something about the nature of the culture shock experience itself: it measures the depth that one is changed by the encounter with another culture. We come back a different person from what we were; we have taken something of the other culture into ourselves, and can never again be fully at home in any one culture.
Aspects of Culture Shock
Culture shock may be an important, if not essential, part of the process of learning another culture, the central task of social or cultural anthropology. In a brilliant article, Mary Catherine Bateson (1968) discusses her own experience of culture shock in a very personal way. Culture shock, she suggests, is, among other things, a useful tool for recognizing where the new culture differs from one’s own. Where something about the new culture annoys or angers you, disgusts you, or arouses anxiety or a sense of disorientation, that is a point where one must look for fundamental differences in assumptions about life or in conceptualizing the world. In our western culture, for example, we view death and mourning as something highly private, and avoid talking with the bereaved person about the loss for fear of intruding on their privacy. Filipino culture, which regards bereavement as something that must be worked through with others, so that friends talk openly with the bereaved about the loss, helping the bereaved person to reexperience the loss and the grief in a context of concerned support. Initially, she was shocked at the direct way in which Filipinos ask the bereaved person about the loss, often provoking tears; by the time she came to experience a deep loss of her own in the Philippines, she was prepared to find ‘deeply healing’ the opportunity to articulate and vent her feelings of loss.
Another view of the nature of cultures leads George Devereux (1968) to formulate a deeper view of the source of culture shock. In a psychoanalytic viewpoint, he suggests that different cultures have different ‘distribution of repressions’: some feelings and fantasies are acceptable and may be talked about and accepted in oneself, others are repugnant and should not be acknowledged. The latter, in general, will be repressed, or at least disavowed, by most people in that culture. If something that is regarded as deeply disturbing and repugnant in one’s own culture is considered acceptable and openly talked about in the culture you are entering into contact with, that may lead to considerable anxiety on your part. On the other hand, if something you consider normal and not anything to be ashamed of is regarded as repugnant in the culture you are going into, that may lead you to do or say things that will cause great distress to others in that culture; you may inadvertently arouse anxiety and distress, without at first understanding why.
Culture Shock and Mental Illness
Culture shock has received more attention in psychiatric and psychoanalytic literature, where the propensity of cultural estrangement to precipitate emotional problems or mental illness has been widely recognized. A number of articles have been written by psychiatrists and psychotherapists on the need for psychotherapeutic treatment for people whose culture shock has led them to emotional crisis. The Nigerian psychiatrist T. Adeoye Lambo has discussed certain psychiatric problems of African students abroad. Prakash Desai and George Coelho have written about the adaptation problems of Indian immigrants in the USA. Juana Antokoletz and many others have written on problems of Mexican and other Latin American immigrants in the USA. One of the most thorough discussions of culture shock was published by the expatriate Cuban psychoanalyst Garza-Guerrero (1974). Recently, the anthropologist George Spindler has developed a ‘cultural therapy’ to deal with problems of culture shock and intercultural communication.
Why is the encounter with another culture so unsettling? Perhaps it is because each encounter with a different way of life puts in question our own beliefs and values, confronted as we are with alternative ways of looking at reality or at social relationships, with different rules to guide our conduct. Each culture we come into contact with raises these issues anew, challenging new aspects of our world view and ethical standards. The depth to which these experiences disturb us is an indicator of how deeply the cultural framework we grow up in shapes our view of the world and of relations with others. It may be that this experience, the discomfort we feel in encountering another culture, is what most moves our curiosity about other cultures: the stimulus to anthropological study.
- Bateson, M.C., 1968. Insight in a bicultural context. Philippine Studies 16, 605–621.
- Bowen, E.S., Bohannan, L., 1954. Return to Laughter. Harper & Row, New York.
- Briggs, J., 1970. Kapluna daughter. In: Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Caudill, W., 1961. Some problems in transnational communication: Japan-United States. In: Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry Symposium Number 7: Application of Psychiatric Insights to Cross-cultural Communication.
- Devereux, G., 1968. From Anxiety to Method in the Behavioral Sciences. Mouton, The Hague, The Netherlands.
- Furnham, A., Bochner, S., 1986. Culture Shock: Psychological Reactions to Unfamiliar Environments. Methuen, London.
- Garza-Guerrero, A.C., 1974. Culture shock: Its mourning and the vicissitudes of identity. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 22, 408–429.
- Grinberg, L., Grinberg, R., 1989. Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Migration and Exile. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.
- Hertz, D.G., 1977. The problem of ‘reverse’ culture shock. In: Boroffka, A., Pfeiffer, W.M. (Eds.), Fragen der transkulturell-vergleichende Psychiatrie in Europa. Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany.
- Kracke, W., 1987. Encounter with other cultures: psychological and epistemological aspects. Ethos 15, 56–79.
- Malinowski, B., 1922. Introduction: the subject, method and scope of this enquiry. Argonauts of the Western Pacific, Dutton, New York, pp. 1–25.
- Read, K.E., 1965. The High Valley. Scribner, New York.
- Szanton, D., 1966. Cultural confrontation in the Philippines. In: Textor R.B. (Ed.), Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Ticho, G., 1971. Cultural aspects of transference and counter transference. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 35, 313–334.