The Truth about Culture Shock

**I've had this sitting in my Drafts for a while now.  This is how I felt when I first arrived, but I'd say I'm almost completely over this kind of culture shock now.**

I've heard of culture shock before.  I think I experienced it a little bit the last time that I moved to Germany.  I had always thought it was one of those funny things people say. "What a culture shock," they'd say.  Like they're joking about the weather or having to drive stick shift for the first time.  It was a funny thing, nothing to lose sleep over.  Now, I can firmly say that I know what culture shock is, and it's not what you think it is.

I didn't experience much culture shock the first time I moved to Germany because I lived on post where I could eat Taco Bell and buy Guess jeans at the PX.  My neighbors were as American as they come and there was no question of getting internet, finding a job or using my debit card.  If I experienced any culture shock that time around, it was probably just from moving so far from home at twenty-one.

I had assumed that culture shock involved being literally shocked.  Like something people only experience when they travel to a country where daily life is so different that you are literally shocked by it.  What the pilgrims felt when they met the native Americans and visa-versa. I figured that because Germany was a developed, European nation that I wouldn't struggle with the culture at all.  I didn't even consider culture to be an issue.  I've lived in southern Alabama.  That that was a real culture shock.

But culture shock is no joke.  The name is perhaps a little misleading.  If it's a shock, it's more like the shock you get from extreme pain that renders you numb and catatonic.  Real culture shock isn't about accidentally calling yourself a jelly donut or saying "guten abend" when you should be saying "guten morgen."  It's much more than that.

Culture shock is feeling uncomfortable in every setting you're in.  Culture shock is being different and feeling different.  Culture shock is losing the life you lived.  Everything about your own life feels foreign.  Culture shock is not feeling like yourself anymore.  It's feeling as if your home doesn't even exist anymore.  Culture shock is feeling alienated and alone.  Even when you're not.

I believe someone from Alabama would feel culture shock moving to Montana, and visa-versa.  I bet someone from California would feel culture shock in New York City or Montreal or Johannesburg or Seoul.  Culture shock is blindly walking into the unknown whilst trying to keep one foot in your comfort zone.  People can easily say, "embrace your new home."  But anyone who's tried it can agree that it is harder than you think.  We are loyal people.  Loyal to what we know and what we are comfortable with.  It's easy to resent our new and foreign location.  It's easy to rebel against the change.

Culture shock is really just homesickness in disguise.

It's okay to miss your home.  It's okay to miss Barnes & Noble and Starbucks and Mellow Mushroom.  The key to moving past the culture shock is to stop comparing what you have now (or lack thereof) with what you had before.  You can't force the feeling of home, but if you fight it, it will never come.  Culture shock isn't about your new environment, it's about you.

And once you've figured that out, it's pretty easy to overcome.


  1. This is exactly how Ive felt the better part of the last year. While I don't feel completely alone...I don't feel like this is home. Still, at all. I'm on one long extended weird vacation. I just want to be in a Target. But you're right...This is NOT America and I shouldn't expect it to be. I've figured that out now. Once I started seeing Korea for Korea things got better. I still don't want to stay longer than I have to though :P It smells weird here.

  2. It really is not comparing the past with the current situation. I've never experienced full-on culture shock, but I know how you feel. I imagine I will probably feel the same moving to Korea.

  3. culture shock is NO joke. This is a great, reminder post about that. I've had REVERSE culture shock really, really badly (I was extremely depressed) and I may have had some mild culture shock when I was in Rome last summer (it wasn't really in a BAD way, it was more just severely feeling far away from home for 2-3 days and not knowing how to cope, but I figured it out quickly). I can only imagine in your case how you've been feeling! I'm relieved to hear you're feeling better about it. You just FEEL so far away, and I don't like it. I do however really want to come visit you, so there's THAT. Can we grow a money tree? Please???

  4. Hello- new follower!
    I didn't move to another country however I moved from New England to Seattle Washington. It's difficult not to compare one place to another but that is the difficulty with home sickness and culture- its human nature to compare. I also think being content with where you are at now and enjoying those moments makes the experience worth it.

  5. I felt something close to culture shock when I lived on campus for my freshman year of college. I hated it with every fiber of my being and really made no effort at all to be okay with where I was and find a place on campus. (Plus, it was easy to just drive home almost every weekend and go back to my place of safety.) I think it's HARD for us not to compare the comforts of our past life to the uncomfortableness of now but I think you're absolutely right - once you can move past that and see your life for what it is right now, not what it used to be, only then can you combat the culture shock and even learn to love where you're living.

    Fabulous post, my friend!

  6. Oddly enough, my experience with culture shock is when I came home. I spent four months in South America doing research and spent time in cities, rural areas, and REALLY rural areas. There was a little bit of culture shock in every setting, but it hit me like a ton of bricks when I got home. The neatly cut grass, waiting for the light to turn to cross the street, the abundance of STUFF, how polite everyone was, how obsessed with time we all are.... Being away made me experience my home in an entirely different way and with an entirely different perspective.

  7. This is so well written - I felt the same way coming back to Germany almost 2 years ago! Glad to hear things are getting better! xxx

  8. I studied abroad for 4 months in Uganda. I didn't experience much culture shock I think simply because it all seemed exciting and new. When I returned to the States though, holy reverse culture shock! I remember my Mom needed to stop at Rite Aid after she picked me up at the airport and I just stood in front of the million brands of shampoo and couldn't even fathom it all.

    You're totally right, culture shock is no joke, either way. It took me months to feel comfortable in the U.S. again.

  9. Having just moved to Germany myself this post resonated with me.
    We chose to live on the economy away from post. The culture shock for me this time around is so different. It's in the little things; subtle ways that people interact with one another here, the pace at which things get accomplished, rules and etiquette on the road, and so much more.
    It's beautiful here and the opportunity for travel is wonderful. I'm looking forward to the time (I know it's coming) when the shocks to my system just stop and daily life is "normal".


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