Friday, 21 September 2007

So what’s the big deal with culture shock?

Why do expats go on and on about culture shock? Surely it can’t be that bad? Isn’t homesickness for kids?

Research has shown that symptoms of culture shock can include:

  • Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
  • Preoccupation with health
  • Aches, pains, and allergies
  • Insomnia, desire to sleep too much or too little
  • Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable, feeling powerless
  • Anger, irritability, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others
  • Identifying with the old culture or idealizing the old country
  • Loss of identity
  • Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture or country
  • Unable to solve simple problems
  • Lack of confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity
  • Developing stereotypes about the new culture
  • Developing obsessions such as over-cleanliness
  • Longing for family
  • Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused

If you look at the list these are the things you need least of all when you arrive in a new country – most expats are sent by their companies to do an important job, and as a leader of the local staff. If you’re suffering from even one of the conditions from the list you’re not going to be able to do your job properly.

Princeton university ( ) defines culture shock as
“…a condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes…”

We also know that almost a third of expatriate assignments fail because the family is not happy, or cannot settle (again, look at the list above!).
It’s just a shame that it appears pre-departure training is such a low priority for most companies!

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