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Cultural shock: its 6 phases and characteristics

Cultural shock: its 6 phases and characteristics

May 5, 2024

Mobilization and cultural exchange are characteristic phenomena of human societies. They have generated among other things the need to rearrange the ways of relating and identifying ourselves. This rearrangement is a process that may seem simple, but that is characterized by important experiences of amazement, estrangement and even some discomfort; which we know as "cultural shock".

Next we will see in more detail what is a cultural shock, what elements make it up according to sociology and psychology , and what are the stages for which it is characterized.

  • Related article: "What is Cultural Psychology?"

What is a culture shock?

The term "shock" may refer to a violent confrontation, a confrontation, an impact, a friction, or a sense of strangeness. In this sense a "cultural shock" can be defined as a sense of strangeness that occurs because of the confrontation between different cultures . Being a confrontation, cultural shock can be visible from different phases and can also generate psychological and social conflicts.

For example, njnjf tell us that the term cultural shock also refers to the state of disorientation and frustration that it generates in recognition of the differences that exist between cultures. Such recognition may involve surprise, stress, anxiety, nostalgia, anger, uncertainty, impotence and feelings of incompetence.

On the other hand García and Verdú (2008) tell us that cultural shock is an inherent conflict and characteristic of the global context of the 21st century, which among other things It has been distinguished by a cosmopolitan discourse that defends the advantages of globalization and cultural exchange. These advantages, however, converge with a series of psychosocial elements that force the internalization of new norms and values, as well as the rearrangement of imaginaries and identities.

3 characteristic elements of cultural shock

Cultural shock is a phenomenon that occurs on the margins of the scenario where the integration of different cultures takes place. For this reason, it is an experience that especially accompanies the migratory process, where it is inevitable to face new forms of communication, new social hierarchies, new identities and cultural codes .

However, cultural shock can occur beyond migration; for example, during the meeting of two people with different cultural backgrounds but who have shared the same group of belonging since birth. In both cases, the cultural shock generates strangeness in the first place and in the second place the need to rearrange the codes of interaction. To explain this we will see below some elements that characterize the cultural shock .

1. Language and communication

It is to be expected that one of the elements that can facilitate or hinder the cultural shock experience is the language. Facing a different language and the communicative difficulties that this poses is one of the factors that can cause the cultural shock to be experienced with greater or lesser intensity. The same may occur elements of non-verbal language as the gestures or postures or bodily forms that are expected within one culture and not in another.

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2. Modify the interaction codes

The communicative encounters are mediated by different interaction codes. So, a person who speaks natively the language of a destination, does not necessarily share the integration rules of that place .

For the latter to take place, it is necessary that a negotiation of the interaction codes also take place. For example, roles, ways of speaking or moving, ways to say hello or goodbye, thanks, manners and rules of space transit, among others.

3. Identity

The aforementioned has a final impact on the process of individual and collective identification, that is, on the ethnic identity of origin that is necessarily articulated with the behavior expectations of the destination culture.

The people involved modify their self-representation through communicative encounters. In addition to linguistic and communicative competences, this representation includes tastes, interests, lifestyles . It also has to do with a process of rearranging the imaginaries of both the society of origin and the society of destiny.

The cultural shock in the immigration process

As we have said, cultural shock is a phenomenon that almost inevitably presents itself in the migratory process. For this reason, it is in this context that different studies have been developed from sociology and psychology. García and Verdú (2008), for example, speak of 7 stages that are characteristic of the cultural shock surrounding the migratory event.

Specifically, these stages have to do with the evolution of the imaginary of the reference society and the society of belonging of the person who migrates :

1. Idealization

In the beginning there is a utopia about international migration; where imaginative images about the migratory processes are articulated (that have to do with the idea of ​​"better opportunities" and "try your luck"), with the imaginaries of the society of origin that are generally negative .

2. Frustration

There follows a stage of disappointment or frustration, where initial illusions or aspirations are confronted with systems of exclusion and real difficulties for integration.

3. Yearning

A phase of idealization of the place of origin continues, characterized by a process is longing for family or friends and of the codes that are part of the communicative meeting of reference.

4. Fusion

After the idealization and before the permanence in the place of destination, the process of maintaining certain own cultural practices occurs, and at the same time incorporate practices of the society of belonging.

5. Solidarity

The above converges with new survival strategies, which consist of create supportive migratory networks , often centered on the nuclear family. At the same time there is a process of psychology adaptation and cultural learning of the knowledge and skills that are necessary for socialization.

6. Settlement

As a result, the need to articulate the feeling of stability in the target society (with the permanence of both positive and negative aspects), and its correlate that often goes in the opposite direction on the country of origin becomes visible.

Bibliographic references:

  • García, J.T. and Verdú, A.D. (2008). Social imaginaries about migration: evolution of the self-image of the immigrant. Papers, 89: 81-101.
  • Zlobina, A., Basabe, N. and Páez, D. (2004). Adaptation of foreign immigrants in Spain: overcoming cultural shock. Migrations, 15: 43-84.
  • Cortés, G. (2002). Culture shock. Retrieved July 23, 2018. Available at //

Living Abroad - What Happens When You Move Abroad - Stages of Culture Shock (May 2024).

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