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The term "culture shock" was coined by Kalvero Oberg in a 1954 report published by Bobbs-Merrill. It is defined as the ‘The confusion and anxiety brought on by culture stress'. It may cause us to think, do or say things that are contrary to God's purpose. The diagram below illustrates two paths people take in cross-cultural encounters. The top path is the one to understanding, allowing God to grant you understanding and acceptance. The bottom path is reactive, negative and selfish.

Symptoms of culture shock:

  • Unwarranted criticism of culture and people
  • Constant complaints about the climate
  • Utopian ideas concerning one's previous culture
  • Continuous concern about the purity of water and food
  • Fear of touching local people
  • Refusal to learn the language
  • Preoccupation about being robbed or cheated
  • Pressing desire to talk to people who "really make sense"
  • Preoccupation with returning home

 Paul was a missionary in the gentile land. Whenever the Apostle Paul went to the other land, he was always willing to accept the differences and changes. He accepted culture in order to earn people. I Cor. 9:19 -23

1. What is culture shock?
Culture shock is a response to a strange and different environment from the one you are used to. Why do we react to it? We human beings do not enjoy differences and changes so we react when we come to the point the change has to take place. We experience cultural shock because we are unused to the new culture and may not be comfortable with it. It might come about because of:

  • Not knowing the local language/ not being able to communicate.
  • People and places looking different from what we are used to.
  • Food and drinks being different to those back home.
  • Fears for health and safety (both real and imaginary)
  • Customs and cultures, not being able to understand the value system of those around us.
  • Not knowing what's going on or what's expected of us next.

We think we are always right, our way is correct and others are wrong. We often think my way or culture is better than that of other culture. This comes from superiority. People in the Western often think their ways are superior to those of third world countries, but it is also important to note that people from developing countries can also experience culture shock.

Culture is just different, not wrong, and we are not better than them and our ways are not better than theirs. We need to learn to accept differences.

2. How to learn the culture

  • Observe .
  • Learn with humble attitude.
  • Do not judge or criticize, or laugh at things you don't understand - it may strange to us but not for them.
  • Do not guess what something means or make up your own interpretation of a ritual or cultural practice, but ask questions and see if you can learn.
  • Be sensitive and watch carefully.
  • Be willing to accept mistakes that you will make cultural mistakes.

3. How to cope with Culture Shock

To successfully cope with culture shock, make sure your attitudes mirror those suggested in the top half of the diagram. Follow these tips on surviving situations with unfamiliar verbal and non-verbal codes:

  • Focus on what you can control. Don't worry about things you can't change.
  • Don't invest major energy into minor problems.
  • Tackle major stressors - don't avoid things.
  • Ask for help.
  • Write down or find some other creative outlet for expressing your feelings.