We read and hear about people experiencing culture shock all the time. Sometimes, it is over a minor difference like calling the same object by different names or a different type of scenery. Other times, it's something serious like extremely different views about life, religious practices, and family and cultural values and expectations.
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines "culture shock" as a "feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place that is very different from what you are used to”. Culture shock happens when you find yourself amongst people whose way of life is different from or sometimes, the opposite of yours.
At first, experiencing a culture shock may be disorienting but depending on how you handle it, it can be a great (and fun) learning experience.
Culture shocks are not completely bad, in fact, they can be great for you, and here's why:
● It makes you more aware of how many cultures there are.
Many people are aware that there are different cultures across the world, of course (duh), but not many really see or think much of it, until they visit other places, and see that things are done in a completely different way. Let's face it, we humans generally are self-centered. We believe we are the main characters on Earth, the ones whose stories matter, and whose cultural practices make the most sense. Nearly all people have a theory of how the world started and how humans came to be, and it all starts with how their ancestors came to Earth. Experiencing culture shock forcefully pulls us out of thinking we are the main characters in the world. It opens our eyes to the fact that we are just another group of people in the world, and that there are others like us out there who will be blown away by our cultural practices as we are by theirs.
● Culture shock helps us humanize people of other cultures.
It is one thing to read about other people in books and watch them on television. Yes, it certainly helps with humanizing others, but nothing quite helps us humanize others like experiencing their culture while living amongst them. Something about seeing that things can be done very differently from what you are used to, and seeing that it works for those who do it differently forces you to humanize them, and consequently, makes you more empathetic toward them. There is no better way to humanize people than to live amongst them and watch how they live their lives and why they do what they do in the way that they do it.
● Experiencing culture shocks makes you more open-minded.
Experiencing culture shocks forces you to be more open-minded. Your perspective shifts and you no longer see the world through a narrow-minded lens. You realize how one thing can mean different things to different people and how different things are perceived in different cultures. These broaden your mind and help you think better.
● Culture shocks help you socialize better.
The more culture shocks you experience, the more comfortable you become with interacting with people who are different from you. Since you have learned to humanize them, you also learn to communicate effectively and maintain long-lasting relationships with them.
Culture shocks can be great for the mind, depending on how it is handled. Allow yourself to feel the shock, and then explore these other cultures. It is not uncommon for people to completely shut down and isolate themselves when they find that they are in an unfamiliar environment. That response to culture shock will only make you lonelier and you'd miss out on the amazing benefits of allowing yourself to enjoy the learning that comes with experiencing difference.