What is Culture Shock?

Matthew MacLachlan

10 Dec 2015

What is culture shock? Culture shock is a natural state of psychological and physical disorientation that can occur upon encountering a new environment and culture. Loss of social support networks, independence, and the ability to communicate combined with the differences and challenges of entering a new culture are all factors that contribute to feelings of culture shock.

Culture Shock Symptoms

Culture shock occurs at different times and to different extents for different people. Some symptoms of culture shock which cross-cultural training helps international assignees understand include:

  • Depression, fatigue, insomnia
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Anxiety, confusion, frustration
  • Fear and insecurity
  • Grief – mourning for old life
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Annoyance and over-sensitivity
  • Impatience

The Culture Shock Curve in Action

Numerous studies have been conducted on the phases of adaptation during international assignments and the impact of culture shock. Traditionally, culture shock and the emotional adjustment phases have been described as a U or W-Curve and have been divided into distinct phases starting with the ‘Honeymoon Phase’ during which people are really happy and excited about their new cultural experience.



While an increasing number of scholars doubt the validity and exactness of these culture shock models due to their simplicity and lack of empirical support, many international assignees say that they help them understand what they might go through during their adjustment to another culture.

The impact of culture shock, which everyone experiences differently, can be quite serious if not recognised and dealt with accordingly. Country-specific cross-cultural training such as Living and Working in China can help you understand the impact of culture shock and develop strategies for dealing with it during an international assignment in China.

Tips for Overcoming Culture Shock

Take a look at some of our top tips for overcoming culture shock. Good luck with your assignment and let us know how you get on dealing with culture shock.

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