culture shock

Culture Shock and Culture Adjustment 


Culture shock – is not a shock.  You are going to be shocked – but that doesn’t mean you’re having culture shock. As long as you can say – wow – how exotic .. or even “how gross” – You are dealing with the situation.  We don’t call it culture shock until you can’t deal with it.

Culture Shock is more than Cultural Stress or even Cultural Conflict.
Cultural stress comes from: your Loss of support system, and your exposure to Different Rules for living and Different views of Reality.  Stress is difficult, but stress is not culture shock, because stress is normal, stress heightens awareness, and stress brings growth


Cultural conflict is shown by such things as: Striking out against host culture, Trying to change the host culture, or Complaining about the host culture.  Cultural conflict is not culture shock,, because: your self-image is still intact.


It can happen after the Romance has worn off, when conflict and stress has gone to an extreme, When adjustment strategies don’t seem to be working, when your stress gets to an extreme; When you’re no longer able to deal with your stress, When your conflicts hinder your purpose, and especially when your self-image is under attack.

Culture shock can be shown in emotional health symptoms, like withdrawal, lack of energy, and extreme behavior. These are the same things that can happen to you here at home when you are under extreme stress — When it happens abroad, its called “culture shock.”
Whether it happens at home or abroad, it is treatable.


Note that culture shock Is not a different topic from cultural adjustment: it is just a more difficult degree of cultural adjustment

People have degrees of success in adjustment, So most experience  “more or less” culture shock.  (if you’re normal, you will have some degree of culture shock)

You can use Adjustment strategies to help you to minimize and survive culture shock.

These strategies must be personalized, because: You are still you; so your weaknesses will be magnified overseas.

To Cope with Culture Shock, remember that It is common and that It is Normal (your brain knows what it has to do to keep in equilibrium)

Others have survived it, and so can you.

After you get through culture shock, you will have a deeper adjustment than you had before.


Tell others your feelings (don’t isolate yourself).
Rethink your role expectation (accept your limits and humanity)
Forgive yourself and others: having culture shock does not mean you are a “bad” Christian

Others have noted spiritual advantages that came as they worked through culture shock: pressure plays into our hands because it leads to Christian growth.  Here are some key verses:

Consider this experience of Paul: 2 Cor 1:8-9 (adversity promotes trust)

Consider this spiritual promise, 1 Cor 10:13  (God will give you a way out of trials.)

Remember your Spiritual identity as a Child of God, 1 John 3:1

Gal 2:20: Through pressure, Self-esteem becomes …Christ-esteem.
We learn to find our self-image not in our abilities, but in Christ who is in us.


Cultural adjustment is difficult because of: Homesickness, Loneliness, and Inadequacy (not knowing what to do). Here are some thoughts on each:

The positive aspect is that it shows love for family.
The Negative is that you have left your support system and comfort zone.

To cope with Homesickness:
Release your family to God’s care
See yourself as an extension of your family (see yourself as experiencing things for your family, expanding their experiences through you)
Substitute love for the new people God has put into your life.
Become Absorbed in your new tasks

It is a problem because: Even though you are surrounded with people, You question whether you are accepted; You’re unclear about your position and  role in their eyes, so you don’t know how to act.

To cope with loneliness: Pray for others, do friendly acts toward others (think about being a friend, not getting a friend); See loneliness as an opportunity for showing dependance on others.
Building relationships takes time, so leave the timing and results to God.

It is a problem because :
You don’t know what to do.
Your expectations are too high.
You feel guilt at your lack of performance (This is a false expectation, a false guilt)

To cope with Inadequacy:
Depend on local people.
Accept feeling like an infant.
Be willing to laugh at your own mistakes

Come as a Learner (Rather than as an expert).
Value their survival strategies (rather than feel western ways are better)
Be a good guest, showing Courtesy.
Set high priority on creating a support system, spending time with your co-workers and helping them to succeed.
Be content to play your role as an outsider (the advantage is that you are free from the insider’s obligations, your mistakes will be overlooked,
Others receive face when you reveal your dependency and accept their hospitality

You may experience “Reverse Culture shock.”

There can be disappointment because people may not share your excitement, or be interested in your experiences, or take the initiative to ask about them.

But you … are a new person, have a new perspective, and have a deepened trust in God. You cannot use these treasures, even though others may not appreciate them. You come back more equipped to take on the next phase of life that God will call you into.

Prepared for June 3, 2004 Missionary Orientation by Jim Found

Links to personal experiences shared by missionaries:
Adjusting to a new culture
Coping with a new culture

Loss, Myron.  Culture Shock, Dealing with Stress in Cross-Cultural Living.  Winona Lake IN: Life and Work Press, 1983.  Copies can be ordered from Encouragement Ministries, R. D. #2 Box 38, Middleburg PA 17842; (717) 837-3360.

Stiles, J.Mack and Leeann. Mack & Leeann’s Guide to Short-Term Missons. Downers Grove,Illinois: IVP Missions, 2000. Chapter 10 “Culture Shock,” pages 89 to 95.

Van Rheenan, Gailyn. Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies. Grand Rapids, Michigan:Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Chapter 10, “Entering a New Culture,” especially page 86.

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