Cultural shock - what is it?

26. October 2020

Cultural shock – what is it?

Culture shock

Not all foreign specialists and executives who come to Germany experience a culture shock. But in our estimation and experience, the percentage of those who suffer from it is relatively high. Time to take a closer look at what can happen when the initial euphoria suddenly turns into a feeling of being out of place.

Anyone who moves to a new country is familiar with the phenomenon: First you are excited and fascinated. Already at the airport everything looks different than at home. It smells different, tastes different, things are strange and exciting. Pure adrenaline and dopamine – a feeling almost like a rush. Or like on vacation.

Cultural research calls this period the “honeymoon phase”.

One is challenged and at the same time feels one’s own strength as seldom in life: to orientate oneself, find and furnish a new home, possibly even a school or kindergarten. So much wants to be discovered: Where is the nearest supermarket? How do public transport systems work? Where do people buy their bread, their meat, their clothes?

Smells, street signs, cab rides – everything is different than at home and everything is exciting. Plus the foreign language… And the new job: what are my new colleagues like? How do they act? What hierarchies are there? Where do I stand in the hierarchy and what new tasks await me?

And then it happens. The rush of the happiness hormones decreases. Disillusionment often sets in suddenly. And for the first time a feeling of homesickness.

“crisis” – everything was better at home

Suddenly you feel alone. The foreign language no longer fascinates, it just sounds strange and incomprehensible. In the language course at home the teacher spoke clearly, here people mumble, speak quickly and without consideration. Or with dialect. Laughing about things that you don’t find funny. Simple communication, for example while shopping or at work, does not work. Why don’t the Germans understand what I want to say. Do I speak so badly? The feeling of not being able to speak the foreign language at all sets in and the mood sinks. The new is no longer fascinating, but exhausting. Misunderstandings occur, feelings of frustration and helplessness lead to the rejection of the new culture, inner retreat and idealization of home. The transition from initial euphoria to disappointment can come so suddenly that one speaks of a “culture shock”. As a result, one simply wants to leave.

Enduring this phase of the crisis, overcoming it, is a great challenge for everyone involved. What is needed now is understanding and the knowledge that a culture shock is normal and can be overcome. In everyday life and at work, every support is now needed: accompanying programs by integration guides, relocation consultants or mentors, an additional language course, understanding colleagues and superiors – everything helps.

“Acculturation” and “adaptation”- one arrives lastingly in the foreign country

 Ideally, things settle down little by little, you get used to some things. An additional language course is effective. You make friends, make connections… and realize that not everything is bad. Some things are even better than in the old home country. In this phase of “acculturation” you gradually begin to develop an understanding for your new environment with its peculiarities and particularities. The encounter with the new culture is no longer negatively influenced, the feeling of helplessness gives way to the feeling of being able to control situations.

In the final phase of “adaptation” the immigrant has overcome the culture shock. He can actually understand and appreciate the new culture and even adopt behavioral characteristics of the foreign culture. He has literally “arrived” in the new country.

In principle, the more the new culture differs from one’s own and the less one knows about the new culture in advance, the greater and more violent the culture shock can be. Lack of language skills and social isolation intensify the culture shock enormously. Here it is important to act preventively, to create good conditions to constructively counteract the crisis after arrival.

We, the Startcon GmbH, support specialists and executives from abroad in the difficult phase after arrival, when the culture shock “strikes”. In addition to integration support and onboarding assistance, we offer specially developed language courses for the new arrivals and intercultural training for the immigrants and also their work colleagues (existing staff). Our Relocation Consultants accompany you to the authorities and help you in everyday life to cope with the many small challenges in order to arrive safely in Germany in the long term.