What causes culture shock? Essay

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Internationalization process is developing rapidly brings many opportunities and challenges at the same time. Today, more and more people have tendency going abroad to study or set off their business, so people from one cultural background will interact and connect with people in the other cultural background and have to adapt the culture of the country where they are moving to. These people are somehow involved cross-cultural communication in the foreign country. It means that they will encounter culture shock sooner or later. One of the effects of culture shock is that it can create stressful emotions which can affect their lives. Therefore, the individual’s capability adapts to new culture is very necessary to mitigate culture shock. It is important to comprehend the causes of culture shock before try to get accustomed with it. Indeed, the process to adapt is difficult than it expected because their thinking and behaviours are deeply influenced by their own culture and those people may find it hard to modify and fit with culture of new country. For that aforementioned reason, this paper will analyse the causes of culture shock, which is a common problem to immigrants and its impacts on cross-cultural communication.


  • 1.What can the term culture shock be defined?

There are various theories are given to define the term culture shock. In the opinion of a number of travelers, the term culture shock refers to the feeling of disorientation, insecurity and anxiety that results from being continuously in a new culture and experiencing an unfamiliar culture. According to Wang (2015, p.1), if we travel to another culture or meet people from an alien culture, our views may confront with the different beliefs, norms, values and traditions that exist in those countries. We may have trouble adjusting to a new culture and to those parts of the culture not familiar to us, as a result we may suffer from anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, amd so on.). This is so called culture shock. Above definitions share something in common, we could have general ideas about culture shock.
What factors cause culture shock will be the next part we should discuss.

  • 2. What causes culture shock?

The definition of culture shock above partly indicates the causes of culture shock. The first time they go to a foreign country, everything is quite brand new and exciting. They have a chance to see new sights and landscapes, enjoys new kinds of cuisines. They are probably appealed by experiencing fresh things. But it doesn’t last so long. After they settle down with their new life, they have to come back with their work or study, buying things, interact more with native people in foreign country, we can become very tired and they feel it hard to adjust.It seems to be that culture shock originate from unfamiliar things, which include social interaction, values and belief, strange environment and climate, how people make decisions, spend their leisure time. When everything so different from their own cultural, they feel like “fish out of water”, “lose the comfort zone”, they find it very difficult to associate with and express their feeling and emotions, in initial time.

a. Unfamiliar social interaction

Culture shock firstly may be activated by different social interaction. Greeting, for example, if an individual has culture of bowing, such as Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese when he or she greets someone in a culture that does not involve bowing, he or she may feel embarrassed. Another example is that, American people frequently hug and kiss because they consider it as a way to express their affection and friendship, whereas in Asian countries, people often stay a distance by nodding or shaking hand for greeting.
Facial expressions, body language and verbal language are also elements cause culture shock. Verbal language is a typical example, many undergraduate high school students made up their mind to study in overseas country, when their first come to new country with new culture, their limitation of speaking foreign language make them cannot communicate with local people, so many problems will occur, and they may feel frustrated. Even they are quite fluent foreign language, sometimes people use slangs that they cannot understand.

b. Strange environment and climate

Culture shock often strengthen by strange environment and climate. Level of noise is one case of strange environment. Many foreigners come to Vietnam to settle down but they feel very shock and cannot sleep when every night their Vietnamese neighbors sing karaoke very loudly and noisy.
Strange cuisine is another example, Vietnamese students are get used to with rice and vegetable as a staple and healthy food. But when they choose to study solo in the US, they can feel shocked by the junk food such as hamburger, fried-chicken, fried-tomato, pizza, etc. And American students can be confusion, when they see Vietnamese people process and eat insects, organs of duck, organs of goat, pig blood, which they have never know before.
Temperature-shock can happen to people from country cold climate to tropical climate country. They could get sick because the different temperature. Britain people are get used to with hot bath tub, but when they come to Vietnam, the place with a very hot weather, they cannot deal with cold water shower.

d. Different behaviors and values

There is a hilarious is that Vietnamese people don’t want to get tan. Many Vietnamese people think that the beautiful girl is a girl with white skin, whereas Westerners are lacking of vitamin D in their country because there not much sunshine and summer time is quite short in their country. A tan skin in Western countries is consider as healthy, it also an evident that they travel experience a lot. They are very surprise when they see Vietnamese people wear jacker and cover all their face by facemask, sunglasses and wonder whether they do not feel hot.
Values and belief are various in each country, each culture. And it is somehow lead to culture shock. As, we can see dog is pet, and dog is considered as close friends of human in Western countries. When they come to Koreans, they are really shock when they see Korean people have dogmeat in their meal. In Korean people believe dog meat is very nutritious. Westerners are nearly freezing and scared to see the dog are being roasted on the coal oven.
In summary, a person can experience confusion, shock and anxiety when they are living in a different culture with different values from their own. Degree of culture shock depends heavily on how distinctive the new culture is from the familiar one.

  • 3. Does culture shock affects the cross-cultural communication?

Culture of each country, each region is very various and unique. As we face to a culture that we cannot related to, it become very challenging. Feelings of anxiety, frustration and confusion can definitely arise.

Culture shock affects intercultural communication when it is not recognized and dealt with effectively. International business, for example, this can be frustrating and confusing to someone who is working in internationally. For instance, if a businessman relocate from the UK to the US may assume that they will not have difficulty adapting to American culture because they share the same language and have similar values and attitudes. However, what many people do not recognize are the behaviors of American people which impact social and business communication and relationships and result in culture shock. Companies must recognize and assist employees through the different stages of culture shock by giving employee cross-cultural training prior to working abroad or allowing the employee time to adjust to the new environment (Study.com).

It has been discovered that culture shock significantly affects international business (Kovaleski, 2013). The feeling of culture shock can be very daunting for the people who are engaged international business because there is an added of creating and maintaining a business relationship that has good returns. Anxiety and stress occur by culture shock make people feel frustrated to a adjust in intercultural communication in initial time. Some people do not want to have a conversation with people in a new culture because they afraid of experiencing a breakdown conversation, when they cannot understand what the locals say. Gradually, they are easy to be isolation in intercultural environment. Fortunately, people will usually get over the stress and anxiety when they go through the stages of culture shock
Newcomers suffer from culture shock have difficulty getting on well with new colleague in another culture. They have feelings of deprivation in relation to friends, status, profession Therefore, the process of cross-cultural communication cannot be smooth as it is expected. Newcomers could get feeling of disorientation or depression because of the effort to adapt in the new environment.


In summary, culture shock is one of the most popular issue in cross-cultural communication. Getting used to a strange culture can be a difficult task, especially, for the people the first time going abroad. When people approach to a new culture they have to deal with intercultural communication and culture shock at the same time. Various reasons can lead to culture shock. Some of these reasons drive from unfamiliar social interaction, strange environment and climate, differences in behaviour and values between the locals and the visitors. It has been explored that culture shock strongly affects cross-cultural communication. However, in context of intercultural communication, culture shock is inevitable for people from on culture to another one. People who move to the new country experiencing culture shock in the different way and living in a community that has different beliefs and values interacting with the people of the local culture. Fortunately, culture shock could usually be gotten over with time.


  • Kovaleski. A. D(2013),Research gate, Managing Culture Shock for Employees in International Business Settings.
    Retrived 20/5/2019 from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236610956_Managing_Culture_Shock_for_Employees_in_International_Business_Settings
  • Study.com (2017), How Does Culture Shock Affect International Business? Retrived 20/5/2019 from:
  • Travel Insurance Review (2013), What Causes Culture Shock? Retrieved 21/5/2019 from:
  • M. L (2015), Cross Cultural Communication Culture Shock-One of Common Problems in Intercultural Communication. Retrived 20/5/2019 from: file:///C:/Users/ASUS/Downloads/Documents/7399-16116-3-PB_2.pdf

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