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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner


Symptoms are important for maintaining health. Like an early warning system they can tell us when something may be wrong. The physician diagnoses and treats the problem based on an accurate description of the symptoms. If I ignore the symptoms, things may get worse, causing more serious problems.

Experts on culture shock suggest the following can be symptoms to alert you:

wanting to withdraw from the local people

• excessive sleeping

• hanging out only with your friends

• obsessing over missing favorite foods

craving for news from home

• doubts about being in the new culture

• wishing you were somewhere else

• feeling physically ill (from the emotional stress)

blaming others for your negative feelings

• reluctance to leave the house to socialize

• excessive daydreaming about home

criticizing local people and their culture

• general sense of anxiety and discomfort

• sense of dread, fear, paranoia

• lethargy, depression, lack of vitality or energy

spending enormous time on the phone or Internet with friends back home

Virtually everyone experiences culture shock to some degree regardless of what country they come from. It is quite normal to have some of the above symptoms. However, people process culture shock symptoms differently. Some externalize and express their thoughts and emotions. Diagnosis is easy in this case. Others internalize-they hide their real thoughts and feelings and try to tough it out hoping it will get better.

Outwardly they seem to be functioning well, but they are hurting inside.

Thus, in the early stages of exposure to the new culture, it is good for people to talk about what they are observing, thinking and feeling. Regular debriefing times are necessary to reveal the emotional state of people. Private conversations may be required for those who tend not to talk. When people talk about their reactions, issues get clarified, and everyone discovers they are in this together and will get through it together by God's grace.

Duane Elmer, Cross Cultural Connections

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