Moving to a whole new environment may bring unexpected discomfort and confusion for international students. Being surrounded by people with different culture while trying to cope with the demands of their study can easily make them anxious. Oberg (1960) has termed this phenomenon as “culture shock.” While some people regard culture shock as a “must-avoid illness” (Foster, 1962; Oberg, 1960), others value it as a “stepping stone”, a form of adjustment to a broader society (Adler, 1975; Bochner, 2003). In this article, I will examine by asking whether culture shock does bring benefits for international students or brings more harms for them.
There are two basic reasons culture shock is considered as something to be avoided. First, culture shock can lead to serious frustration and disorientation (Oberg, 1960). Although some students may experience this as a form of adjustment within short period of time, others may fail to cope with the demands of new culture which results of them going back to their home country. Not only does this harm their psychological well being, a large amount of money and time may be sacrificed. Second, culture shock tend to make students have lower self esteem towards the new environment (Xia, 2009). Different language along with different culture are some possible factors why international students suffer from self-esteem. As they need more time to express their ideas, it is more likely for them to be passive while trying to avoid uncomfortable conversation. This eventually results to longer time of adjustment, which makes this process more painful.
While culture shock appear to be harmful, some students may feel it as a transitional process (Adler, 1975). Some studies has revealed stages of culture shock adjustment (Egerton, 2002; Furnham, 2004) to overcome frustration and anxiety during this process. As its term “transitional process” may suggest, students are more likely to gain advantages of this experience. For example, students can learn new language in relatively shorter time, join in a more diverse community, gain connection and link which is be beneficial for their future, and have more opportunities to visit new places.
Oberg, K. (1960). Culture shock: adjustment to new cultural environments. Practical Anthropology, 7, pp.177-182.
OECD (2013), “How is International Student Mobility Shaping Up?”, Education Indicators in Focus, No. 14, OECD Publishing, Paris.
Parfenova, A. (2015). 5 Reasons Why Experiencing Culture Shock is Good for You. Verge Magazine, [online] p.1. Available at: http://www.vergemagazine.com/work-abroad/blogs/980-5-reasons-why-experiencing-culture-shock-is-good-for-you.html [Accessed 7 Oct. 2015].
Xia, J. (2009). Analysis of Impact of Culture Shock on Individual Psychology. International Journal of Psychological Studies, 1(2).