Culture Shock: Stages Explained and How to Alleviate It

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2253 |

Pages: 5|

12 min read

Published: Nov 5, 2020

Words: 2253|Pages: 5|12 min read

Published: Nov 5, 2020

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Definition of “Culture Shock”
  3. Stages of Culture Shock
  4. The U-Curve Model
  5. Critics on the Phase Model
  6. How to Alleviate Culture Shock for Exchange Students
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography


Thousands and thousands of Students all over the World are entering foreign countries to live abroad for a time while studying. Sometimes just for a short period of time but otherwhiles for chapters in one’s life. It’s part of today’s society to experience different cultures and get connected with people all over the planet. Helpful for own social contacts but also later for finding the perfect job and becoming what one has ever dreamed of. But new cultures often imply huge differences to familiar and own behaviour or mannerisms. Focusing on how these differences influence especially the beginning of living in another country for students it is to mention that there is a special term for this way of behaviour and feeling.

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The “Culture Shock”. The Culture Shock became more and more important because of evolving society, changing world structure/infrastructure and ever-changing stages of globalization. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to reveal stages of Culture Shock so it can be detected easier and give advices to solve upcoming problems between different cultures for exchanging students. Also questioned is, if the stages of Culture Shock are differentiated correctly and if there are any impacts Culture Shock has on quality of living or being productive.

Definition of “Culture Shock”

To define the term of Culture Shock one can generally say that it is “a mental state that comes from the transition that occurs when you go from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar one and find that your old, established patterns of behaviour are ineffective.” So to simplify it is kind of a natural reaction to unknown environments and especially their culture and behaviour. The term was first used by Kalervo Oberg in 1954. He was an US-American anthropologist who also evolved the phase model with stages of Culture Shock which are also presented later in this Paper. Today some other influences are also adduced to Oberg’s initial ones. It do not only lead to disruptions in daily life but also to one’s routines, ego and self-image. Today’s typical view led to a model composed of four stages and the figure of the ‘U-Curve’ to analyse the process of Culture Shock vividly.

Stages of Culture Shock

In common there are four different stages the Culture Shock can be divided in. Although the stages cannot be precisely isolated from each other and not everyone passes these stages automatically. In the following paragraphs, the stages are going to be presented extensive and shown in form of the ‘U-Curve’ at the end. To mention them by name the stages are divided into the Excitement Phase, Disenchantment Phase, Beginning Resolution Phase and Effective Functioning Phase.

Excitement Phase/Honeymoon

In this Phase everything new is exciting, interesting and differences to the own and familiar situations or mannerisms are seen as something good and special. It is exciting to meet new people that behave different than ones in home country. A lot differences appearing in the new culture can lead to motivational push or the volition to face new differences and learn more about country and culture. You get excited by rather small things like smells or sounds. So, one can kind of say that everything new and different is good in this stage of entering a new country. Often it is also called the honeymoon phase of entering a foreign country. Students are really in love with it and think the decision to go abroad was the best they have ever had.

Disenchantment Phase/Crisis

Here you got to know the country and its mannerisms already a while. You start noticing some things that were not as imagined. It is often mentioned as the period of crisis. Difficulties in language or other barriers appear. Students experience feelings like disappointment and start feeling sad about things that do not work at first try. It leads to lack of motivation and everything seems to be awful. Furthermore just small differences are handled as catastrophes and this leading to massive stress and frustration.

The people from the host country seem to be cold and you start developing prejudices. At last the sojourners start feeling homesick. They get some messages from home and even small or unimportant news are treated like major events one is missing. Just some good weather or a new shop opening can be reasons for intensifying the feeling of homesickness and do not feeling welcome in the host country. Some typical Symptoms are disorientation, feelings of rejection, homesickness, mental and physical illness, feeling misunderstood or even withdraw from your stay abroad.

Beginning Resolution Phase/Recovery

Since beginning of the project of living abroad the sojourner already spent some time in his host country. Slowly the understanding for the other culture increases. He gets to know the mannerisms and behaviours that were so different to the ones from his home country at first. Starting to accept and maybe even implement some less different aspects in the host country. Now exchanging students know how to behave or how to do things in order to get along with the culture and natives. Maybe it’s about driving by car on the other side of the street or accepting different work times.

The sojourner really gets to know more about the background of the culture to understand better how and most important why it works the way it does because the really emotional stage is over and one can concentrate way better on the important ways to achieve new knowledge. Success can be seen and motivates the visitors. Misunderstanding do not automatically lead to stress or frustration, moreover often it ends in funny situations that can be laughed away.

The attitude of “as long I am Here, I should make the most out of it” develops. At last everything starts to seem more logic because there is no overthinking of every action, gesture or other expression from oneself or the host natives anymore. The acceptance and adjustment slowly takes place. Sojourners do not exactly identify oneself with the culture and its mannerisms but they get along with it. To say it in general the visitors see everything more objective and the “individual is now a more fully functioning person and is less dependent on others.”

Effective Functioning Phase/Adjustment

The last phase is labelled as a stage of adaption. The sojourner accepted the host culture and can be seen as a part of it. In contrast to the third phase the individual does not face any problems or setbacks anymore because he or she is in content with the cultural behaviour. Now it is possible to identify oneself with the host culture. Exploring new differences do not affect you in a negative way anymore. Oneself can solve upcoming problems or questions.

Of course you see some more efficient styles of doing something in some time but you think about solutions in another way. A more host culture oriented way. So complete understanding isn’t what you need to accept the host culture moreover it is the way of thinking how a host native would interact and be eased with the run of events. Often the Sojourners become attached to the host country a second time (as in the Excitement Phase) and enjoy living with their current situation.

The U-Curve Model

In 1955, Sverre Lysgaard developed the U-shaped Curve of Cultural Adjustment that described the stages of Culture Shock people go through when living in a new culture. On the x-axis the time and on the y-axis the stage of mood is shown. So, to describe the progress it can be said that entering the country abroad the honeymoon phase is one of the more tensioned stages of the experience and the sojourner is feeling good.

After some time, the excitement alleviates more and more until the minimum is reached by undergoing the crisis. Then a slow but processing recovery starts and leads to the maximum tension point and the adjustment to the host culture. Naming some time intervals can be different because all individuals undergo the stages in different pace. Some say it takes a year to adjust to the new culture others say it take way briefer or longer. But individuals living in a host country for a very long time often undergo these Curve more than one time. After reaching the Adjustment which is leading into a new Honeymoon they sometimes discover some new differences and problems that cannot be solved by first try.

Critics on the Phase Model

Besides every negative or suffering description of Cultural Shock there are some opinions that CS is indeed a helpful and good solution for a person’s self-development and brings positive consequences with it.

Zuckerman, 1978

Often the Culture Shock is associated negatively and suffering of the individual. But some people do not undergo these stages of suffering. They do not experience negative aspects that are mentioned above. These experiences lead to enjoyment for those called Sensation Seekers.

Adler (1975) and David (1972)

Another view is about the development of this individual and the gains it gets from Culture Shock. It does not suffers from it but rather obtains new values, attitudes, and behaviour patterns. The difficulties the sojourner faces make him or her more adaptable, flexible and insightful.

How to Alleviate Culture Shock for Exchange Students

There are ways to make exchange students feel better and relieve some consequences of Culture Shock for them. At first it is important to be aware of the Culture Shock. If a student is planning to go abroad he or she should inform him-/herself about this common problem nearly everyone is facing. With an overview what can and probably will happen one can easily prepare itself to undergo these stages. Also one should always consider problems that are probably going to be faced abroad.

The Students prepare themselves by learning to be more patient and to keep one’s cool even in harder situations. They should give themselves the permission to fail at any time and do not set themselves under pressure. Furthermore a painstaking care is important. One should keep a good team in host and native country to ask for help or support at any time or situation. Finding people that are in the same situation as oneself can simplify nearly every situation and a team is always stronger than one person itself. Probably overcoming the homesickness is one of the hardest parts in alleviating the Culture Shock. Often it can be helpful to talk to family or friends or watch the favourite movie at very urgent times of missing home. Another aspect is learning.

Learning the language make everything concerning the host country way easier. Meeting natives, being independent, going to sports classes or other free time activities. And last but not least they really should be interested in the host culture. Trying typical cultural things, experiencing their mannerisms or special events like the carnival in Brasil, the ‘Oktoberfest’ in Germany or the St. Patricks Day in Ireland. Considering some or even all of this aspect can help to alleviate consequences of Culture Shock for exchanging students.


To conclude all results of this paper one can say that it is of particular importance to consider Culture Shock in today’s society. Through globalization and ever-changing connection worldwide the intercultural work and living abroad became essential. Although this paper only helps to understand the stages nearly every Sojourner undergoes while staying abroad it can be considered as kind of a preparation to understand better what exactly oneself is going to face while this experience. But not only as a preparation but also as a guide when facing problems. Behaving in an appropriate way to solve upcoming problems or difficulties.

Summing up the contentual results one can say that the Culture Shock basically is made of four phases. Excitement, Crisis, Recovering and Adjustment which are all part to lead to the Integration into a new culture. The own one is not lost but you get to know another one almost as your own. By criticizing the term or the phase model of Culture Shock only a minimal limitation is given to consequences and results of it. It also considers advices one can consider for alleviating Culture Shock.

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Things like making yourself comfortable in your new home or informing oneself about the host country can help to switch things up. But one has to be aware that this paper is focussing on the situation of international students. In terms of working or just travelling for fun there can maybe considered other aspects as well. For the future, the topic of Culture Shock and its consequences will be as important as in today’s society. Maybe even more. The globalization and intercultural connections probably won’t stop and so finding yourself in other cultures and accepting other people in your own culture will be playing an important role to conduce a successful society.


  1. William B Gudykunst, Young Yun Kim (1992): Readings on Communicating with Strangers: an approach to intercultural communication.
  2. Larry A Samovar, Richard E Porter, Edwin R McDaniel (2009): Communication between cultures.
  3. Iris Varner, Linda Beamer (2011): Intercultural Communication in the global Workplace; fifth Edition What is Culture Shock, and what can I do to avoid it?
  4. MARLIN R. McCOMB, GEORGE M. FOSTER (June 1974): Kalervo Oberg, American Anthropologist, Vol 76 Issue 2
  5. Wolfgang und Nora Krahl (Kalervo Oberg): Cultural Shock: Adjustment to new cultural environments; Reprint
  6. The 4 Stages of Culture Shock
  7. Four Common Stages of Cultural Adjustment
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Culture Shock: Stages Explained and How to Alleviate It. (2020, October 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
“Culture Shock: Stages Explained and How to Alleviate It.” GradesFixer, 31 Oct. 2020,
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Culture Shock: Stages Explained and How to Alleviate It [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Oct 31 [cited 2024 Mar 4]. Available from:
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