Culture shock is the feeling of excitement, anxiety, disorientation, and sometimes depression experienced while traveling or moving in a new social and cultural environment. It happens to every one of us when confronted with a new environment, new behaviors, and ideas. The reaction can vary from unusual anxiety, anger, sadness to fear and disorientation.
"Meaning comes from the use of shared symbols, and depression is a loss of meaning. This depression is the essence of culture shock. Culture shock is the anxiety and emotional disturbance experienced by people when two sets of realities and conceptualizations meet"*
Defining the concept of culture is a difficult task. There is no fixed or shared definition. Culture itself is not fixed or permanent but continuous and constantly changing and reshaping. It is one of the most discussed and debated terms in social sciences. It can be defined, in general, as a shared way of thinking and living, learned and not inherited, acquired from the society that surrounds you (family, friends, school, institutions).
When confronted with a new culture, city, language, a different way of understanding the world, a feeling of excitement and disorientation can arise. It happened to me during my first travel outside Europe. I spent ten days backpacking in Morocco, and the first steps in the medina of Tanger brought an overwhelming feeling of excitement. Each aspect of everyday life in the city was, for me, fascinating and worth observing. So new to cause me a "shock".
There are four phases of cultural shock even if these are not fixed as each respond to cultural contrasts in a different way. The first phase is honeymoon, as we are fascinated by the new culture and new habits. During negotiation we start to starkly notice the differences between the new and old culture, which can lead to excitement as well as anxiety and stress (language barrier, public hygiene, traffic safety).* After a few months the adjustment period begins, you get used to new habits and develop a new routine. In the last phase, adaptation, you are able to fully and comfortably participate in the host country.
Something similar to a culture shock happened to me during my first week in the city of Berlin. I did not expect it as I have already traveled around Europe and already experienced German culture. I believe the shock came from the abrupt change of lifestyle I was exposed to. Moving from the countryside to a 3.8 million inhabitants city, from a place characterized by quietness to a city that is never stopping and keeps evolving. Introducing new elements in my everyday routine, using the s-Bahn, communicate every day in different languages, dedicate time to explore and understand the city was for me demanding and stressful.
It was a hard but beautiful first week in Berlin, and I'm looking forward to learning from this new environment.
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