|The stresses of living away from home|
|Culture shock is brought on by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of everyday life: when to shake hands and what to say when we meet people, how to give orders, when to take statements seriously or not. These cues, which may be words, gestures, facial expressions, customs or norms, are acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and are as much a part of culture as the language we speak or the belief we accept. All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues, most of which we are not consciously aware of.
When an individual enters a strange culture, all or most of these familiar cues are removed. He or she is like a fish out of water. Not matter how broadminded or full of goodwill he may be, a series of props has been knocked out from under him. This is followed by a feeling of frustration and anxiety. First he rejects the environment which causes the discomfort. “The ways of the host country are bad because they make me feel bad”. Another phase of culture shock is regression. The home environment suddenly assumes a tremendous importance. All the difficulties and problems of life back home are forgotten and only the good things are remembered.
Individuals differ greatly in the degree to which culture shock affects them. Those who have seen people go through a serious case of culture shock and on to a satisfactory adjustment, or have experienced it themselves, can make out distinct stages in the process others go through.
During the first few weeks, most people are fascinated by the new. They are keen to experience everything and are polite and gracious to the people they meet. This honeymoon period may last from a few days or weeks, to six months. However, once the visitor has to cope with the real conditions of their life overseas, then the second stage begins. This is often characterised by a hostile and aggressive attitude towards the host country. This hostility grows out of the mail trouble, language trouble, telephone trouble, transport trouble, shopping trouble, and the fact that people in the host country are largely indifferent to these problems. They help, but they just don’t understand your great concern over these difficulties. As a result you may become aggressive, and band together will your fellow countrymen and criticise the host country. Instead of trying to account for conditions as they are through an honest analysis of the actual conditions and the historical circumstances which have created them, you talk as if your experiences are more or less created by the people of the host country to make your life more difficult.
As the visitor succeeds in getting some knowledge of the language and begins to get around by himself, the beginning of his adjustment to the new cultural environment is taking place. He may still have difficulties but he takes a “this is my cross and I have to bear it” attitude. Usually in this stage the visitor becomes interested in the people of the country. His sense of humour begins to assert itself. Instead of criticising, he jokes about the people and cracks jokes about his circumstances and his way of dealing with them. At this point, the initial difficulties of settling into your new job will begin to disappear or be dealt with, and you will start to see the job coming together.
In the final stage of adjustment the visitor accepts the customs of the host country as just another way of living. He can operate within the new milieu without a feeling of anxiety, although there are still moments of strain. Only with a complete grasp of all the cues of social intercourse will this strain disappear. For a long time the visitor will understand what people are saying, but he isn’t sure what they mean. With complete adjustment you not only accept the food, drink, habits and customs, but actually begin to enjoy them. When you go home you generally miss the country and the people to whom you have become accustomed.
It can help you to deal with culture shock, if you can recognise that it is a natural process that you are bound to go through, and that some people suffer much more than others. When you really want to fit in and adapt, you can feel very guilty about having so many negative thoughts about your host country. If you can understand why you are having these feelings and why your life seems so difficult at that moment you will feel much more in control. It’s unlikely that you will agree with everything about the way of life or conditions in your host country, after all, you probably don’t about your own.
Dealing with stress – some suggestions
Symptoms of stress may include:
Look after your health
Develop a social life
Keep in touch with people outside your community
Keep in touch with yourself
Make the most of your work
Remember your personal objectives
It’s worth remembering you might be having the time of your life but still be very stressed and need to do something about it.
Deal with stress as it arises
Signs & symptoms of a major depressive attack
The IST Clinic offers counselling services. The doctors can also refer to other mental health professionals if necessary.