Culture Shock is a very real psychological phenomenon that effects everyone. For those of you with a metaphysical take on things, it may be explained this way. Every country and area in the world has it's own unique "psychic field" for lack of a better term. This field is basically the sum total of all the culturally unique thoughts, outlooks, and ideas of the population. And stepping out of that comfort zone and into one you are not used to literally shocks the psyche and can cause all kinds of weird things to happen to your state of mind.
For example: Those of you raised in the US as a child probably remember the old schoolyard taunt "nya, nya, nya, boo-boo, stick your head in doo-doo!" Where did you learn that? Who taught it to you? The bigger kids right? Well, where did THEY learn it? I don't remember any taunting seminar when I went in to Kindergarten. It's the same anywhere you go in the world. People just do certain things because they are inclined to by merit of being born in that particular culture.
Dr. Carmen Guanipa of the San Diego State University College of Education wrote an excellent piece on this phenomenon that you can read in it's entirety here. And I'd like to quote some of her work for the purposes of this post and others where I address this psychological annoyance and how to deal with it.
The term, culture shock, was introduced for the first time in 1958 to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. The feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place.
We can describe culture shock as the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when coming to live in another country or a place different from the place of origin. Often, the way that we lived before is not accepted as or considered as normal in the new place. Everything is different, for example, not speaking the language, not knowing how to use banking machines, not knowing how to use the telephone and so forth.
The symptoms of cultural shock can appear at different times. Although, one can experience real pain from culture shock; it is also an opportunity for redefining one's life objectives. It is a great opportunity for leaning and acquiring new perspectives. Culture shock can make one develop a better understanding of oneself and stimulate personal creativity.
Well if my new agey description of it confused you, I'm sure Dr. Guanipa's was alot more clear. The next post on this subject will cover the symptoms and their effects on an expat, exchange student, or habitual tourist abroad. Until then, safe journeys and DON'T PANIC!!