How to Deal With Culture Shock

in Culture

Cultures entail differences in perspectives. They can be perceived as the personal baggage one brings into any situation. Since culture constitutes the cornerstone of our identities, that is who we think we are, the ways we make meaning, what is important to us and how, it is also a key source of conflicts between people. One of the detrimental outcomes is culture shock. It can profoundly affect a person, especially when they are living in another country for a long period of time, which is also referred to as "culture stress". Culture shock and stress often result when an individual tries to work and live outside of their regular cultural context. Symptoms, including low self-esteem, ineffective work, and depression, are often denied or attributed to different causes. Ultimately only cultural immersion alleviates these symptoms, but this can be difficult to achieve without adequate study, training, exposure, and application.

A little cultural knowledge goes a long way. This truism however does not imply that a few tips here and anecdotes there, and a couple of pleasant exercises thrown in, do provide an effective method to learn about other cultures. Precise and relevant knowledge is needed to adapt and learn quickly when working in or with the target culture. Cultural immersion as simply being amongst people of another culture, with knowledge of local culture and language following naturally, appears rather naive. To successfully immerse yourself in another culture you need to develop cultural fluency, i.e. not only knowing, but doing the right things at the right time.

Ancient scholars already highlighted the importance of experiential education. For example, the Chinese sage Confucius is often quoted as: "I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand". Only personal experience through all senses results in a sustainable understanding of other cultures. Learning by doing is the ultimate in intercultural learning!

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Daniel Ratheiser, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Knowledge Must

Founding Knowledge Must, Daniel has helped individuals and organisations to cross cultural boundaries and to grow their global competence. He also conducted numerous research studies in the intercultural field, from historical cultural exchange to contemporary interfaith relations. His real passion, however, has always been researching and writing about the cultural relations between South Asia / India and East Asia / China, the two regions of the world he feels most indebted to. Pursuing this research for 15 years, Daniel has become a leading expert on India-China relations.

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How to Deal With Culture Shock

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This article was published on 2010/04/14