Navigating the Waves of Culture Shock: A Guide to Thriving Abroad

Written by

Inayat Sharma

Fact check by

Divyansh Chaudhari

Updated on

Jul 25,2024

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Starting a voyage that requires you to get a degree or live abroad is usually an exciting stage of life. Immigration is usually filled with the hope of lasting adventures and self-discovery. However, amidst the excitement lies a common challenge: culture crisis. People tend to experience this. They blame it on the emotions caused by encounters with foreign cultures and strange manners.

Interestingly, this can be true even for people who are experienced travellers. The blog will cover the phases of culture shock. It will also include ways to address such challenges. We will see real people in different cultures handle it to gain insights.

What is Culture Shock?

The question that occurs now is, “What is culture shock?” The term "culture shock" refers to a mental and emotional response. It happens to people in new ways, customs, and behaviours different from their culture. This can happen in personal or business settings. It is a sequence of steps. The steps are the love, negotiation, transition, and completion stages. Each has its own emotions and experiences.

The first phase may be tough for the individuals. But, with a bit more time and energy, they adapt. They move to acclimatization and develop coping mechanisms for the complexities of the host culture. Lastly, they enter the mastery phase once people have mastered their new surroundings. They gradually feel at home in their social interactions and fully enjoy cultural nuances that were once a mystery.

On top of this, cultural shock may also show up in business. In such places, the distinct nature of dialogue, hierarchy, leadership, work ethic, conflict resolution, business etiquette, decision-making, and the way of seeing time may cause problems for people and organizations.

Answering the question, “What is culture shock?” Finally, culture shock is a normal, fleeting thing. It comes from the clash between the customs in our minds and the unusual practices of our host culture. After learning the key phases of culture shock, people can use many methods to fit into and visit a culture. Doing so is a chance to overcome the culture shock and thrive in a new home culture. This could be during study abroad, as an expatriate, or during an international business act.

Stages of Culture Shock

There are four main stages of culture shock that everyone should know about. Here is the explanation of these four stages:

Stage 1: The Honeymoon Period

The beginning of culture shock is usually euphoria and slow and gradual discovery in the host country. Everything seems wonderful. This is especially true of the food and architecture. Even grocery shopping, something so common, is becoming very interesting. Sarah is an American student studying in the United States. She can remember the first time she felt lost in the crowd of Tokyo's streets. At the same time, she adored the quietness of Kyoto's temples.

Stage 2: The Negotiation Phase is Followed

During the initial honeymoon period, the primary focus was on the similarities, as romance is at the top. On the contrary, the honeymoon period is finished, and the reality is on the way, and couples face the difference in the culture and society. The feeling of inaptness, loneliness, and further isolation indicates the next stage. For instance, Juan is a Mexican citizen who emigrated to Germany. He found that he had a problem adjusting to German workplace rules. They were completely different from the relaxed approach he was used to back home.

Stage 3: The Prolonged Period Of Instability

Maybe, as time passes and effort rises, people will adapt to the norms of the destination culture and get used to the host culture's quirks. Language improves, relations and friends improve with time, and habits and daily lives become more and more the same. Maria is a young French lady visiting China. Through her actions and unawareness, she learned to eat with Chinese chopsticks. She spoke Chinese and observed Chinese conducting. She did this through immersion and observation.

Also Read: 9 Best Jobs to Settle Abroad from India in 2024: Check Out

Stage 4: The Mastery Phase 

In the last stage of culture shock, the individuals usually settle and realize mastery of the place that they live in. It gives them a sense of belonging to the social group. It also resolves their concerns. They do this by fixing social interaction. They overcome challenges and discover confusing cultural traits. Mark is a British expat living in Brazil for a couple of years. He was taught Portuguese and grew to love the local music. He goes to samba classes and parties with his Brazilian friends.

Strategies to Face "The Culture Shock"

1. Immerse yourself in a culture by sincerely interacting with the local society. Attend language courses, organize cultural events, and join volunteer projects.

2. Seek support. Rely on your fellow ex-pats, local role models, or counselling services for help with the challenges. Also, for getting over feelings of loneliness and depression.

3. Keep perspective. Accept that culture shock is a normal part of the transition. Feel the joy of self-improvement and fitting in.

4. Stay Connected. Keep up with family and friends at home. Also, build good contacts with fellow international students or locals in the country. This will help you create a loyal circle of supporters.

Cultural Shock in Business Can Occur Due to

Culture shock in business can occur due to: Instead of giving just one reason, there is a lot of variety in what can cause culture shock. Business practices, ways of communication, work ethics, and norms differ by culture. This is the basis for this. Business people experience cultural shock for common reasons.

1. Communication styles vary across cultures: They can cause misconceptions between business partners. Similarly, businesses from indirect countries are often frustrated with Western cultures. They use direct and assertive communication.

2. Hierarchy and Authority: culture shock in business can occur due to the role of hierarchy and leaders is changing due to culture. Culture can affect decision-making and power distribution in the organization. In hierarchical cultures, like those in Asia, respecting authority and seniority is crucial to business. In egalitarian cultures, such as Scandinavian countries, people make decisions together. They do so by agreement, which is the norm.

3. Different Cultures: Different cultures have diverse views on work ethic, punctuality, and time management. These views exist to a large extent. For example, in Europe, work-life balance is emphasized. Attitudes can be completely different in terms of working hours and productivity. But in the regions where long hours are working norms, such as Asian parts, the culture differs.

4. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: They either highlight conflict from one side or the other. Some cultures, such as East Asian ones, value less confrontational negotiation. They also value negotiation that preserves peace. So, these cultures use an indirect way to resolve conflict. In contrast, some cultures stress indirect methods. The North American one prefers a direct way to solve conflicts.

5. Business Etiquette and Protocol: Culture shock in business can occur due to problems caused by business culture, and poor communication. This happens during meetings, negotiations, and relationships. This is shown by culturally significant factors such as application and conduct. These are often differences. For example, in many cultures, like the Japanese, there are specific conduct patterns. They cover things like bowing, exchanging business cards, and meeting seating. These customs can contrast with the Western practice of these things being informal and casual.

6. Cultural decision-making processes, like consensus, often slow down and make business operations less efficient. In the collectivist culture, the group has the authority to decide. It does so through consulting its members. Conversely, in the individualized culture, a single leader or manager will be responsible for coming up with the solution.

7. Perception of Time: cultural shock in business can occur because Cultures have divergent views on time. This can lead to diversity in times, deadlines, and time observance. These cultures have a polychronic view of time. They are common in regions like Latin America and the Middle East. They see time as flexible and fluid. In contrast, cultures with a monochronic view are in North America and North Europe. They see time as a line with quantified intervals.

Culture shock in business can occur due to managing cultural differences in the business field, which requires a high level of awareness, sensitivity, and adjustability to cooperate and succeed on the international business horizon. Accepting and identifying why cultural mishap occurs in businesses can assist organizations and individuals in eliminating and understanding them and bridging cultural divides to provide a chance for better relationships and capitalize on the opportunities for cultural diversity.

Culture Shock Examples 

Some of the culture shock examples are mentioned in detail below:

1. Language Barrier: The first culture shock example is the Language barrier. By contrast, Grace, an Australian student enrolled at a university in Japan, had a hard time communicating with the locals during the first weeks of study because she lacked the necessary linguistic skills. Moreover, by being persistent and attending to my language classes, she overcame her problems of self-doubt and began to build valuable relationships.

2. Social Customs: Ahmed, a Canadian-based Egyptian, had a surprised look on his face when he realized that there was an entirely different set of values (individualism and personal space) here in Canada compared to the ones he grew up with in Egypt that were more of a communal nature. By noticing and reacting to other people's conduct he established a social line of observing others' actions and reactions to the interactions.

3. Food and Cuisine: The last culture shock example includes Food and Cuisine. For Lisa, a Canadian expatriate residing in Thailand, culturally adapting involved her confronting something strange: Thai food tasted unusual to her with the ingredients that she did not know. Nevertheless, in the same way, she exposed herself to new independent dishes. She got cooking classes and finally found the beautiful delight of the different dishes of the country she visited.

Read More: Explore the World: Studying Abroad Opens Doors to Adventure


Culture shock is a natural part of travel. But, it also creates a good chance to build physical and mental skills and to make friends from other cultures. Understanding the stages of culture shock helps. People can get over the shock by applying coping techniques and enjoying the beauty of the new culture. They will also feel much more comfortable in the new surroundings. So, no matter what you are doing, whether studying abroad or moving abroad, be ready for culture shock. It is a key part of becoming a global citizen and enriching yourself.

To help you overcome the culture shock after immigrating, the key is to be prepared for what is about to come, and with TerraTern that is exactly what we do. We have a team of experts who are there for you, always there to help you navigate the waters of immigration like a pro!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is culture shock?

Culture Shock symptoms include being lost, disappointed, uncomfortable, or antagonized by the practices, traditions, and way of living in another country which is treating strangers and which are your native cultural values.

What are the stages of culture shock?

Culture shock typically progresses through four stages: During this period, we go through the honeymoon phase, negotiation phase, adjustment phase and finally attaining the mastery phase. At each of the phases, individuals express peculiar or specific feelings and subjective experiences that the brand of cultural adaptation entails.

How can I overcome culture shock?

Among several steps that help tackle culture shock are full immersion in the culture of the host country, receiving emotional support from either fellow expatriates or local mentors, keeping in perspective and separately assuring yourself that the whole adjustment process does not go wrong, and practicing communication with the loved ones back home of building new connections where you are.

What are some examples of culture shock in business?

Culture shock in businesses is likely to come up from language, authority, life-expectation, respect, methods of communication, decision-making methods, and perception of time between different cultures. The existence of these kinds of differences can be a major cause of many issues for those who are engaged in any business transactions beyond the borders.

How can I adapt to cultural differences in business?

Culture is an intrinsic part of businesses and is obviously the cultural sensitivity attached to it, which is the understanding of cultures that leads to both adapting and integrating the cultures. It might be any of the distinctive philosophies and soon analyzing the cultural dissimilarities that exist within the organizations that you are in touch with. Here, maybe it is to meet those beings, learn their cultures, and integrate into the accompanying diversities while on the role, also you will be required to communicate well to break down any cultural barriers in the process.