Culture Shock & Stress

Culture Shock: “form of anxiety that occurs when one is required to interact with others in a cross-cultural situation” or “emotional disturbance that results from adjustment to new cultural environment.”

The primary cause of culture shock is the ANXIETY that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social interaction.

  1. Language shock: inability to communicate.
  2. Shock from changes in routine: in a new setting, even simple jobs like bathing and shopping take a great deal more energy and more time.
  3. Shock from changes in relationships:  our lives are centered around relationships through which we gain our identity in a society and image of ourselves. In culture shock, self-esteem goes down.
  4. Shock from a loss of understanding: in a new culture, much of our old knowledge is useless, if not misleading. We experience a sense of being out of control. We feel slow and klutzy.
  5. Shock from emotional disorientation: we easily perceive a situation as caused by a lack of morality or honest. We say “THAT’S WRONG!” instead of “THAT’S DIFFERENT.”

Factors that influence the severity of culture shock:

A: degree of differences between cultures

B. personality of the individual

C. methods of coping

D. family rules and dynamics

Symptoms: How do I know if I have it?

  1. Rising stress
  2. Physical illness: headaches, chronic fatigue
  3. Anxiety: excessive washing of hands, excessive concern over drinking water and food, fear of physical contact, feeling helpless, desire for dependence on teammates to do most of the work, fits of anger over delays and other minor frustrations, delays and outright refusal to learn any Spanish, excessive fear of being cheated, robbed or injured, great concern over minor pain and skin problems, homesickness for the familiar

Some cures:

  1. Recognize the anxieties
  2. Learn about the culture by asking questions rather than simply fearing it. We learn best by involvement, and as our knowledge grows, our fears decrease!
  3. Build relationships-with team members and the national church, try not to alienate yourself.
  4. Deal with stress: don’t ignore it because you can’t! Talk to your team and with the missionary.
  5. Create a safe space: find elements of the day or the culture that you do enjoy! Focus on what you do like rather than the things you don’t.

Reverse Culture Shock:

Because short term teams usually spend less than 2 weeks in Nicaragua, some people never experience much culture shock at all. They are in the honeymoon phase: they love the people and find everything to be wonderful and exciting. However, sometimes these same individuals have a hard time adjusting when the team returns BACK to the US/Canada. Having to say goodbye to these new relationships and being flung back into the grind of daily life often triggers feelings of resentment and depression. Although critical feelings of your home culture may start to surface, try to be patient with your friends and family that do not relate to the things you saw and did in Nicaragua. Make sure to realize that this can happen and that those feelings do pass with time. Talk to your teammates, have a reunion, and take time to process why you came to Nicaragua and how you will allow your experiences to change you!