Understand culture shock
- If you move from one country to another, you are bound to experience culture shock at some point (probably at many points).
- If you relocate from one English-speaking country to another English-speaking country, you may be lulled into a false sense of security.
- The two countries may seem quite similar, superficially.
- But give it enough time, and you will discover more differences than you might have anticipated.
- When you move to a new country, you can expect to go through different phases:
- As a newcomer you probably will be enchanted by the features of the new society that you find novel.
- You probably will think that the natives and their customs are cute.
- After some weeks or months (or even years), you can expect to feel irked by the very elements of the new society that you found so charming during your early days.
- This phase may last a long time, perhaps a couple of years, maybe even a lifetime.
- During this phase you'll want to retreat to the company of your fellow expats.
- You'll long for familiar food and beverages, and you'll be willing to go to great lengths to get your hands on them.
- You'll miss familiar television shows, sports matches, magazines and newspapers, and you'll be willing to go to a lot of trouble to access them.
- You'll ache for people who can "talk sense" and who share your sense of humour.
- There is a strong likelihood that you'll consider the natives stupid, uncultured, humourless, etc.
- You’ll be prone to being much more ticked off than is justified, at least in other people’s eyes. You’ll be fuming because of some silly little thing that a native has done or because you can’t find this or that pathetic ingredient that you didn’t even care about back in the UK.
- You are not alone in this. This is exactly why many a North American city has a Chinatown.
- This is a period during which you will reconcile yourself with your new surroundings.
- You will learn the local language (what to order at Tim Hortons and Starbucks, for instance), learn to prepare local foods, learn which tires to use, and so on.
- A healthy adaptation involves a balance in which you will function comfortably in the host environment and yet retain your original identity.
- This is a phenomenon that, superficially, looks like an eminently successful adaptation, but is not.
- It is an overly zealous form of adaptation in which you, as the newcomer, reject your old identity and enthusiastically embrace every facet of the new culture.
- This can be seen in some westerners who go to a place like India to find enlightenment, and feel utterly superior towards their simple minded compatriots who have failed to see the light.
- Obviously the manifestation of this phenomenon is not quite as dramatic when a Briton moves to Canada, because Canadian culture is not as different from British culture as Indian culture is. Still, you see born-again British expats who fervently defend Canada against all critics and deny Canada's faults.
Reverse Culture Shock
- This is the culture shock that the expatriate experiences upon returning home.
- Reverse culture shock consists of the same phases as common-or-garden culture shock, but reverse culture shock often is more virulent, may feel more challenging, and may take longer to work through.
- If you return to your country of origin, your situation is exacerbated by the fact that the people back home may be unhelpful.
- Your family members and friends most probably will have moved on with their lives and will have filled the void that your absence initially created for them.
- People will assume that, because you come from the same place as they do, you know how everything works. In fact some things may have changed in your absence. Because you look and sound as if you "belong," people will be unaware that you are somewhat disorientated.
- You may find that, while you re-connect with your long-standing friends when you first arrive back, your relationships with many of these people may fizzle out over time. You may find yourself making friends with different people, people who also have lived away from the area for a time and who therefore have more in common with you.
Trust and respect breakers
- When people don't yet understand how far ranging the implications of culture shock are, they tend to think of culture shock in terms of differences in food, clothing, etc.
- Yes, food and clothing are part of culture, but they are relatively superficial elements of culture.
- There are far more subtle elements of culture -- how we assess a person's trustworthiness, how we assess a person's intelligence, and so on.
- Many of these processes are subconscious. If we were asked, we'd be hard pressed to describe how we go about judging people. We just do it, often within three seconds of meeting them.
- It is these subtle elements of culture shock that can be the most difficult to handle.
- For a start, because they're largely subconscious, it's a challenge even to recognize them. We may think Canadians are humourless, for example. Their inability to appreciate our humour, in turn, may lead us to conclude they're stupid. If we think they're stupid, we don't respect them. So their apparent lack of humour and their apparent stupidity acts as a respect breaker for us. But it's very unlikely that we'll be able to sit there and analyze the situation, and say to ourselves, "So And So didn't catch my joke. Oh right! That was a respect breaker for me. This is part of culture shock."
- Conversely, we don't know which of our behaviours are trust or respect breakers in Canadians' eyes. We may be doing things that damage Canadians' trust of us or make us unworthy of respect in their eyes, and we don't even know what those things are.
- The more involved we are with people, the more likely we are to tread on each others' toes. If our interactions are superficial, a reasonable attempt at good manners should see us through most situations, e.g., at the supermarket checkout counter. A venue where we are likely to have in depth interactions with Canadians, and where we may encounter cultural challenges, is our workplace.
- Forming, storming, norming, and performing are the stages that newly formed work teams go through as their members learn to cooperate with each other and function effectively.
- Creating a new work team (or, for that matter, a marriage) exposes people to a mini version of culture shock.
- The forming stage is akin to the honeymoon phase mentioned earlier, the storming phase is akin to rejection, the norming phase is akin to pseudo adaptation, and the performing phase is akin to acceptance .
- When you migrate from one country to another, it isn't just one element of your life that is undergoing change (like being newly married or moving to a new job). You are being assaulted with change from every angle, and every member of the family is coping with multiple changes, so the entire process is magnified.
This is one of a series of articles in the Canada Challenges section of the BE Wiki.