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142 Reprint

Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments1*


Abstract Culture shock tends to be an occupational disease of people who have been suddenly transplanted
abroad. Like most ailments, it has its own symptoms, cause, and cure. Many missionaries have suffered from it.
Some never recovered, and left their field. Some live in a constant state of such shock. Many recover beautifully.
As will be clear from the implications of Dr. Obergs article, the state of culture shock in which a Christian lives
will have great bearing on his temperament and witness.

Kulturschock: Anpassung an neue kulturelle Umgebungen

Zusammenfassung Der Kulturschock ist fr gewhnlich eine Berufserkrankung bei Menschen, die pltzlich ins
Ausland versetzt werden. Wie die meisten Leiden hat es seine eigenen Symptome, Ursachen und Therapie. Viele
Missionare litten darunter, von denen sich einige nicht erholen konnten und den Einsatzort verlieen. Bei einigen
hlt der Schockzustand an, einige leben im Dauerzustand eines solchen Schocks, viele erholen sich vollstndig.
Der Zustand des Kulturschocks, in dem ein Christ lebt, hat einen groen Einfluss darauf wie er Zeugnis gibt. Dies
wird durch die Ausfhrungen in Dr. Obergs Artikel deutlich.

Keywords (Schlagwrter) culture shock (Kulturschock) stages of culture shock (Phasen des Kulturschocks) -
symptoms (Symptome) ethnocentrism (Ethnozentrismus) - honeymoon stage (Euphorie) regression (Regres-
sion) adjustment (Anpassung) recovery (Erholung)

Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that re- reject the environment which causes the discomfort:
sults from losing all our familiar signs and symbols the ways of the host country are bad because they
of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the make us feel bad. When Americans or other for-
thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves eigners in a strange land get together to grouse about
to the situations of daily life: when to shake hands the host country and its peopleyou can be sure
and what to say when we meet people, when and they are suffering from culture shock. Another
how to give tips, how to give orders to servants, how phase of culture shock is regression. The home en-
to make purchases, when to accept and when to vironment suddenly assumes a tremendous impor-
refuse invitations, when to take statements seriously tance. To an American everything American be-
and when not. Now these cues which may be words, comes irrationally glorified. All the difficulties and
gestures, facial expressions, customs, or norms are problems are forgotten and only the good things
acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and back home are remembered. It usually takes a trip
are as much a part of our culture as the language we home to bring one back to realitiy.
speak or the beliefs we accept. All of us depend for
our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of Symptoms of Culture Shock
these cues, most of which we do not carry on the
Some of the symptoms of culture shock are: exces-
level of conscious awareness.
sive washing of the hands; excessive concern over
Now when an individual enters a strange culture,
drinking water, food, dishes, and bedding; fear of
all or most of these familiar cues are removed. He or
physical contact with attendants or servants; the ab-
she is like a fish out of water. No matter how broad-
sent-minded, far-away stare (sometimes called the
minded or full of good will you may be, a series of
tropical stare); a feeling of helplessness and a de-
props have been knocked from under you, followed
sire for dependence on long-term residents of ones
by a feeling of frustration and anxiety. People react
own nationality; fits of anger over delays and other
to the frustration in much the same way. First they
minor frustrations; delay and outright refusal to

* Reprint aus OBERG K. 1960. Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments. Practical Anthropology 7: 177-182.

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Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments (Reprint) 143

learn the language of the host country; excessive people of the host country for your special discom-
fear of being cheated, robbed, or injured; great con- fort. You take refuge in the colony of your country-
cern over minor pains and irruptions of the skin; and men and its cocktail circuit which often becomes the
finally, that terrible longing to be back home, to be fountain-head of emotionally charged labels known
able to have a good cup of coffee and a piece of as stereotypes. This is a peculiar kind of invidious
apple pie, to walk into that corner drugstore, to visit shorthand which caricatures the host country and its
ones relatives, and, in general, to talk to people who people in a negative manner. The dollargrasping
really make sense. American and the indolent Latin American are
Individuals differ greatly in the degree in which samples of mild forms of stereotypes. The use of
culture shock affects them. Although not common, stereotypes may salve the ego of someone with a se-
there are individuals who cannot live in foreign vere case of culture shock but it certainly does not
countries. Those who have seen people go through lead to any genuine understanding of the host coun-
culture shock and on to a satisfactory adjustment try and its people. This second stage of culture
can discern steps in the process. During the first few shock is in a sense a crisis in the disease. If you over-
weeks most individuals are fascinated by the new. come it, you stay; if not, you leave before you reach
They stay in hotels and associate with nationals who the stage of a nervous breakdown.
speak their language and are polite and gracious to If the visitor succeeds in getting some knowledge
foreigners. This honeymoon stage may last from a of the language and begins to get around by himself,
few days or weeks to six months depending on cir- he is beginning to open the way into the new cultural
cumstances. If one is a very important person he or environment. The visitor still has difficulties but he
she will be shown the show places, will be pam- takes a this is my cross and I have to bear it atti-
pered and petted, and in a press interview will speak tude. Usually in this stage the visitor takes a superior
glowingly about progress, good will, and interna- attitude to people of the host country. His sense of
tional amity, and if he returns home he may well humor begins to exert itself. Instead of criticizing he
write a book about his pleasant if superficial experi- jokes about the people and even cracks jokes about
ence abroad. his or her own difficulties. He or she is now on the
But this Cooks tour type of mentality does not way to recovery. And there is also the poor devil
normally last if the foreign visitor remains abroad who is worse off than yourself whom you can help,
and has seriously to cope with real conditions of life. which in turn gives you confidence in your ability to
It is then that the second stage begins, characterized speak and get around.
by a hostile and aggressive attitude towards the host Is the fourth stage your adjustment is about as
country. This hostility evidently grows out of the complete as it can be. The visitor now accepts the
genuine difficulty which the visitor experiences in customs of the country as just another way of living.
the process of adjustment. There is maid trouble, You operate within the new milieu without a feeling
school trouble, language trouble, house trouble, of anxiety although there are moments of strain.
transportation trouble, shopping trouble, and the Only with a complete grasp of all the cues of social
fact that people in the host country are largely indif- intercourse will this strain disappear. For a long
ferent to all these troubles. They help but they just time the individual will understand what the nation-
dont understand your great concern over these dif- al is saying but he is not always sure what the na-
ficulties. Therefore, they must be insensible and un- tional means. With a complete adjustment you not
sympathetic to you and your worries. The result, I only accept the foods, drinks, habits, and customs,
just dont like them. You become aggressive, you but actually begin to enjoy them. When you go on
band together with your fellow countrymen and crit- home leave you may even take things back with you
icize the host country, its ways, and its people. But and if you leave for good you generally miss the
this criticism is not an objective appraisal but a de- country and the people to whom you have become
rogatory one. Instead of trying to account for condi- accustomed.
tions as they are through as honest analysis of the
actual conditions and the historical circumstances
which have created them, you talk as if the difficul-
ties you experienced are more or less created by the

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Nature of Culture Shock culture shock affects wives more than husbands.
The husband has his professional duties to occupy
Now before going on to consider the nature of cul-
him and his activities may not differ too much from
ture shock, it might be well to point out that the dif-
what he has been accustomed to. The wife, on the
ficulties which the newcomer experiences are real.
other hand, has to operate in an environment which
If individuals come to a tropical area from a temper-
differs much more from the milieu in which she
ate one they quite often suffer from intestinal distur-
grew up, consequently the strain on her is greater.
bances. Strange food sometimes upsets people. In
Rio, for instance, water and power shortages are
Culture and the Individual
very real. When these physical difficulties are added
to those arising from not knowing how to communi- In an effort to get over culture shock, I think there is
cate and the uncertainties presented by strange cus- some value in knowing something about the nature
toms the consequent frustrations and anxieties are of culture and its relationship to the individual. In
understandable. In the course of time, however, an addition to living in a physical environment, an indi-
individual makes his adjustment, you do what is es- vidual lives in a cultural environment consisting of
sential about water, food, and the other minutiae of man-made physical objects, social institutions, and
daily life. You adapt yourself to water and power ideas and beliefs. An individual is not born with cul-
shortages and to traffic problems. In short the envi- ture but only with the capacity to learn it and use it.
ronment does not change. What has changed is your There is nothing in a newborn child which dictates
attitude towards it. Somehow it no longer troubles that it should eventually speak Portuguese, English,
you, you no longer project your discomforts onto or French, nor that he eat with a fork in his left hand
the people of the host country and their ways. In rather than in the right, or use chopsticks. All these
short, you get along under a new set of living condi- things the child has to learn. Nor are the parents re-
tions. sponsible for the culture which they transmit to their
Another important point worth considering is the young. The culture of any people is the product of
attitude of others to a person suffering from culture history and is built up over time largely through pro-
shock. If you are frustrated and have an aggressive cesses which are, as far as the individual is con-
attitude to the people of the host country, they will cerned, beyond his awareness. It is by means of cul-
sense this hostility and in many cases respond in ei- ture that the young learn to adapt themselves to the
ther a hostile manner or try to avoid you. In other physical environment and to the people with whom
words, their response moves from a preliminary they associate. And as we know, children and ado-
phase of ingratiation to aggressive ridicule and on to lescents often experience difficulties in this process
avoidance. To your own countrymen who are well of learning and adjustment. But once learned, cul-
adjusted you become somewhat of a problem. As ture becomes a way of life, the sure, familiar, largely
you feel weak in the face of the host country people automatic way of getting what you want from your
you tend to wish to increase your dependence on environment and as such it also becomes a value.
your fellow countrymen much more than is normal. People have a way of accepting their culture as both
Some will try to help you, others will try to avoid the best and the only way of doing things. This is
you. The better your fellow countryman under- perfectly normal and understandable. To this atti-
stands your condition the better he is able to help tude we give the name ethnocentrism, a belief that
you. But the difficulty is that culture shock has not not only the culture but the race and nation form the
been studied carefully enough for people to help you center of the world. Individuals identify themselves
in an organized manner and you continue to be con- with their own group and its ways to the extent that
sidered a bit queeruntil you adjust yourself to the any critical comment is taken as an affront to the in-
new situation. In general, we might say that until an dividual as well as to the group. If you criticize my
individual has achieved a satisfactory adjustment he country you are criticizing me. If you criticize me
is not able to fully play his part on the job or as a you are criticizing my country. Along with this atti-
member of the community. In a sense he is a sick tude goes the tendency to attribute all individual pe-
person with a mild or severe case of culture shock as culiarities as national characteristics. For instance, if
the case may be. Although I am not certain, I think an American does something odd or anti-social in a

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Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments (Reprint) 145

foreign country, that which back home would be and suspicion of personal authority. Accustomed to
considered a purely individual act is now considered work in large hierarchical institutions like business
a national trait. He acts that way not because he is corporations, governmental agencies, or scientific
Joe Doaks but because he is an American. Instead of foundations which have a life of their own and per-
being censured as an individual, his country is cen- sist in time, Americans tend to become impersonal.
sured. It is thus best to recognize that ethnocentrism Individuals no matter how able are replaceable parts
is a permanent characteristic of national groups. in these large institutions. To Americans, personal-
Even if a national criticize some aspect of his own ism which emphasizes a special individual, like a
culture the foreigner should listen but not enter into political leader or a business leader or a religious
this criticism. leader, as solely responsible for the existence and
I mentioned above that specific cultures are the success of an institution is somewhat strange. To the
products of historical development and can be un- American it is the organization that counts and indi-
derstood not by referring to the biological or psy- vidual beings are judged according to their ability to
chological peculiarities of their human carriers but fit into the mechanism. This difference in inter-per-
to an understanding of the antecedent and concomi- sonal relationships often becomes at least a minor
tant elements of the culture themselves. Brazil and shock. A new pattern has to be established which
the United States, for instance, have different cultur- has to take into consideration class society, the sym-
al origins and different culture histories which ac- bols of individual status, the importance of family
count for present-day differences. In this case, how- relationships, and the different importance given
ever, the differences are not great, both cultures be- work, leisure, and the values people strive for.
ing parts of Western civilization. It might be useful
to recognize here that the study of culture per se is Recovery from Culture Shock
not the study of individuals. Psychology is the study
The question now arises, What can you do to get
of individual personality. Sociology is the study of
over culture shock as quickly as possible? The an-
groups and group behaviour. The student of culture
swer is get to know the people of the host country.
studies not human individuals but the interrelation-
But this you cannot do with any success without
ship of cultural forms like technologies, institutions,
knowing the language, for language is the principal
idea and belief systems. In this paper we are inter-
symbol system of communication. Now we all
ested not so much in the study of culture as such, but
know that learning a new language is difficult, par-
its impact upon the individual under special condi-
ticularly to adults. This task alone is quite enough to
cause frustration and anxiety, no matter how skilful
Now any modern nation is a complex society
language teachers are in making it easy for you. But
with corresponding variations in culture. In compo-
once you begin to be able to carry on a friendly con-
sition it is made up of different ethnic groups, it is
versation with your maid, your neighbour, or go on
stratified into classes, it is differentiated into re-
shopping trips alone you not only gain confidence
gions, it is separated into rural and urban settle-
and a feeling of power but a whole new world of cul-
ments, each having its distinctive cultural character-
tural meanings opens up for you.
istics. Yet superimposed upon these differences are
You begin to find out not only what and how
the common elements of official language, institu-
people do things but also what their interests are.
tions, and customs which knit it together to form a
These interests, people usually express by what they
habitually talk about and how they allocate their
These facts indicate that it is not a simple matter
time and money. Once you know this value or inter-
to acquaint oneself with the culture of a nation. Sim-
est pattern it will be quite easy to get people to talk
ilarly the culture of ones own nation is complex. It,
and to be interested in you. When we say people
too, differs by region and class. Americans, for in-
have no interest, we usually admit the fact that we
stance, who go abroad in various governmental and
have not bothered to find out.
business capacities, are usually members of the mid-
At times it is helpful to be a participant observer
dle class and carry the values and aspirations of this
by joining the activities of the people, to try to share
class, some of which are an accent on the practical
or utilitarian, work as a means to personal success,

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in their responses. Whether this be a carnival, a reli- der Artikel durch die nur geringfgig genderte erneute Re-
publikation im Jahre 1960 in Practical Anthropology unter
gious rite, or some economic activity. dem Titel: Cultural ShockAdjustment to New Cultural
Yet the visitor should never forget that he or she Environments, die hier als die hufiger zitierte als Wieder-
is an outsider and will be treated as such. He or she abdruck vorliegt.
should view this participation as a role playing. Un- Die Zeitschrift Practical Anthropology erschien zwi-
schen 1953 bis 1972. Es war eine Zeitschrift, die Missiona-
derstanding the ways of people is essential but this ren und Bibelbersetzern anthropologisches Wissen ver-
does not mean that you have to give up your own. mitteln sollte und als Diskussionsforum diente. Nach 19
What happens is that you have developed two pat- Jahren wurde die Publikation eingestellt und verschmolz
mit der Zeitschrift Missiology, dem Journal der American
terns of behaviour. Society of Missiology.
Finally a word on what your fellow countrymen Der Begriff Kulturschock stammt brigens nicht von
can do to help you get over culture shock. It is well OBERG, wie hufig flschlicherweise zitiert. OBERG ver-
weist schon in seinem Vortrag von 1954 darauf hin, dass
to recognize that persons suffering from culture die Anthropologin Cora DUBOIS am 28 November1951 ei-
shock feel weak in the face of conditions which ap- nen Vortrag mit dem Titel Culture Shock hielt, und zwar
pear insuperable, it is natural for them to try to lean beim ersten Midwest regional meeting of the Institute of
International Education in Chicago.
heavily on their compatriots. They may be irritating
2. Fussnote in Practical Anthropology 7: 177-182 (1960): Dr.
to the long-term resident but he should be patient, Kalervo OBERG is an anthropologist who served with the
sympathetic, and understanding. Although talking United States Overseas Mission to Brasil. His article is re-
does not remove pain I think a great deal is gained printed with the permission from the Technical Assistance
Quarterly Bulletin, a publication of the Technical Informa-
by having the source of pain explained, some of the tion Clearing House, 20 West 40th St., New York 18, New
steps towards a cure indicated, and the assurance York.
given that time, the great healer, will soon set things
right. Redaktionelle Bearbeitung fr curare:
Notes added by curare
1. Urquelle: OBERG prsentierte sein Phasenmodel unter dem
Titel Kulturschock vor dem Womens Club of Rio de
Janeiro am 3. August 1954. Eine weite Verbreitung fand

Kalervo Oberg wurde 1901 als Sohn finnischer Eltern in Kanada geboren und migrierte spter ganz in die USA ber. Zunchst stu-
dierte er konomie an der Universitt von Britisch Columbia und an der Universitt Pittsburgh. Spter studierte er Anthropologie an
der Universitt Chicago unter anderem bei E. Sapir und A.R. Radcliffe-Brown. Seine Dissertation stellte die Ergebnisse seiner Feld-
forschung dar: The Social Economy of the Tlingit Indians of Alaska. Whrend seiner beruflichen Karriere als Anthropologe war er in
Uganda, Ecuador und Brasilien ttig, auerdem in verschiedenen Staaten der USA. Mehr siehe: MCCOMB M. R. & FORSTER G. M.
1974. Kalervo Oberg 1901-1973. American Anthropologist 76,2: 357f.

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