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Culture Shock Academic Essay Structure




Figure Directory

1. Introduction - Culture, Shock, and Culture Shock

2. Culture Shock - A Process
2.1. Definition of Culture Shock
2.2. Stages of Culture Shock - Different Approaches
2.3. Outcomes of Culture Shock
2.3.1. Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Culture Shock
2.3.2. Reactions to Culture Shock - How to deal with Culture Shock
2.3.3. Importance of Culture Shock for the adaptation process
2.4. Factors influencing Culture Shock
2.4.1. Differences affecting the adaptation process
2.4.2. Aspects related to the individual
2.4.3. Culture and society related factors

3. How to deal with Culture Shock - Possible Solutions
3.1. The need for effective International Human Resources Management
3.2. Appropriate expatriate recruitment
3.2.1. An expatriate's qualification profile
3.2.2. The dual career problem - importance of spouse and family
3.3. Preparation of the assignment - Intercultural competence through intercultural training
3.3.1. Different methods of Intercultural Training
3.3.2. Practical assistance - Help and support during the assignment

4. Conclusion


Ehrenwörtliche Erklärung


The term Culture Shock refers to the feelings of distress and unease when being exposed to a foreign culture. Besides this narrow definition of the actual shock the expression is also used in order to describe the whole process a sojourner goes through during an international encounter.

This adaptation or adjustment process usually starts with an initial euphoria about the foreignness of the host culture. Everything is new and exiting and the sojourner is in the role of a tourist exploring the foreign environment. The euphoria is followed by a crisis, the actual Culture Shock. The individual feels isolated and misses the familiar symbols, attitudes and habits of the culture of origin. During the crisis phase many different psychological and physical symptoms of Culture Shock can occur with varying severance, ranging from homesickness to depression and serious illnesses. Once the crisis stage is overcome the sojourner starts to accept the differences of the host culture and becomes functioning. He learns how to cope with the situation and handles the challenges of every day life. This stage is referred to as the recovery stage. It results in the final adjustment stage, where the individual reaches a certain state of acculturation.

The degree of this acculturation depends on various factors, such as the general personality, the motivation to adapt, language skills, support of fellow and host nationals, the cultural distance between the two cultures involved, and his experiences made during the encounter.

Every person reacts differently to the effects of Culture Shock, thus the model is not generally valid. According to the attitude towards the culture of origin and the host culture sojourners can be classified into four categories: the chauvinistic, passing, marginal, or mediating type. These different types also have an influence on the success of the adaptation.

When looking especially at business sojourners, the expatriates, it can be said that an efficient and effective selection process of candidates and adequate intercultural training before, during and even after the assignment can be very beneficial in reducing the negative outcomes of Culture Shock. The family situation and the dual career phenomenon also play a crucial role in this context.

Even though Culture Shock cannot be avoided completely it can be decreased significantly through appropriate preparation.

Figure Directory

Figure 1 Culture Shock model after Oberg

Figure 1 Dynamic Culture Shock model after Marx

Table 1 Possible symptoms of Culture Shock

Table 2 "Outcomes of cultural contact at the individual level: psychological responses to second culture influences"

1. Introduction - Culture, Shock, and Culture Shock

In today's business world the importance of international negotiations and cooperation is steadily growing. Every company from middle-sized family operations to large Multi National Companies is somehow involved in international business and therefore has to deal with intercultural issues.

Due to increasing international competition, worldwide marketing activities, new market access opportunities and a fast growing number of international mergers and acquisitions, managers and employees are necessarily confronted with international projects and assignments, or becoming an expatriate working and living abroad.1 This development explains why it is increasingly important to train managers and staff in intercultural awareness and skills additionally to technical and professional qualifications.

A very significant aspect in the field of intercultural management is the issue of Culture Shock, which is discussed in this work. However, before starting to go into detail on Culture Shock, its causes, consequences and possible solutions it makes sense to define the term culture in general.

The expression culture is among the most complex terms of language and is heavily discussed in social sciences. Nevertheless it is one of the most frequently words of our time.2 Nowadays there are countless definitions for culture ranging from highly scientific and complicated phrases to the simple statement describing culture as "the way we do things around here".3 Hofstede created the very illustrative definition of culture as "the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another".4 In general, culture is believed to be a shared system of attitudes, values, beliefs and behavior.5 Again referring to Hofstede culture is learned not inherited. It is shaped by parents, relatives, teachers, friends, and the society. Culture is the second of three levels of uniqueness in human mental programming after the level of Human nature, which is common to all human beings. The third level is an individual's personality, which is not shared with other member's of the group but is unique to one person.6

According to the Oxford Dictionary a shock is

"a sudden and disturbing impression on the mind or feeling, usually one produced by some unwelcome occurrence or perception, by pain, grief, or violent emotion, and tending to occasion lasting depression or loss of composure , in weaker sense, a thrill or start of surprise, or of suddenly excited feeling of any kind."7

Interpreting this definition in order to understand the term Culture Shock one might assume Culture Shock is a sudden and disturbing impression on the mind or the own concept of culture produced by some unwelcome occurrence or perception in a foreign culture lasting depression, a thrill, or an excited feeling of any kind. This paper aims at giving an overview of the main aspects of Culture Shock, its causes and influential factors, the consequences and symptoms, and finally a section on possible solutions to the problem. After having described all these aspects it will be possible to evaluate the assumption made above and either agree on the hypothesis or deny it.

2. Culture Shock - A Process

2.1. Definition of Culture Shock

The term Culture Shock was first mentioned in literature by Kalvero Oberg in 1960. In his article Oberg defined Culture Shock as follows: "Culture Shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life."8

Oberg refers to the visual aspects of culture like behavior, language, and customs, because in contrast to values and beliefs they can be observed. The fact that people tend to judge visual aspects applying their own values and beliefs is responsible for the anxiety. Many scientists dealt with the phenomenon of Culture Shock and found own definitions but most of them stick very closely to the one Oberg gave in 1960. Hofstede for example states that Culture Shock is a "state of distress following the transfer of a person to an unfamiliar cultural environment", which may also be accompanied by physical symptoms.9 For Bock it is a disturbing feeling of disorientation and helplessness produced by the direct exposure to an alien society10 and Elisabeth Marx just called it "the experience of foreignness".11 All of these definitions have in common, that they see Culture Shock as an unpleasant reaction to being faced with a foreign culture.

The word shock fits for the actual event of Culture Shock, the state of distress after an initial enthusiasm. However, besides this rather narrow interpretation of Culture Shock there is also a broader point of view, which includes the whole process of adaptation during an international encounter. This process is also known as acculturation, referring to "changes that occur as a result of continuous firsthand contact between individuals of differing cultural origins."12 Acculturation as a state means the extent of adaptation to a foreign culture and as a process it refers to the change over time.13 Intercultural encounters can expose individuals to heavy acculturative stress that in most cases leads to Culture Shock.14

Almost everybody who spends some time abroad experiences the problem of Culture Shock. This holds true for tourists, as well as exchange students, sojourners, expatriates, migrants and refugees. It is obvious that the severance of Culture Shock varies significantly among these groups. The experience is not only limited to those individuals engaged in geographical movement, but also effects sedentary communities, such as indigenous peoples or ethnic groups in plural societies.15 Even within organizations there is the possibility of Culture Shock referring to different business cultures. These cultures usually consist of occupational and organizational components and reside rather in people's practices than in their values.16 Due to restrictions as to the volume of this paper, the work mainly focuses on sojourners, that are sent abroad for the sake of a business assignment. The various forms of international staff employment include business trips lasting for a few days or weeks, the secondment ranging from some months to two years, and the long-term delegation for several years or even permanently.17 The effects of Culture Shock are usually limited to the last two forms of international assignment. As the so-called expatriates are still mainly male employees and for the sake of easier reading, in most cases only the male grammatical form was used.

2.2. Stages of Culture Shock - Different Approaches

As already mentioned Oberg was the first to introduce the term Culture Shock. He thought of four consecutive stages that determine the Culture Shock process, which vary significantly as to the sojourner's perception and behavior. His model, as shown in Figure 1 on page 5, contains the phases honeymoon, crisis, recovery and adjustment.

The honeymoon stage is dominated by enthusiasm and fascination about the foreign culture. The perception of endless opportunities is combined with openness, curiosity, and a readiness to accept the situation. A very important aspect for this stage is that judgment is rather hesitant and irritations are suppressed in favor of concentrating on the nice things. There are friendly but rather superficial relationships to host nationals.

During the crisis-phase, which describes the actual Culture Shock, perceived differences in language, values and symbols between the own and the foreign culture cause feelings of anxiety and frustration. Usually the individual predominantly seeks contact to fellow nationals. A general unease is provoked by the feeling of uncertainty about oneself and the surroundings, and increased due to the lack of familiar signs of orientation and belonging.

The crisis phase is followed by recovery. The sojourner accepts his problem and starts working on it. He improves his language skills and starts to feel at ease in the new environment. The relationship to host nationals starts to improve as well. In the final adjustment phase the adaptation reaches its final extent. Anxiety vanishes almost completely and the habits and behavior of the host society are accepted. The sojourner becomes functional, can work effectively, and is able to be more flexible.

Both recovery and adjustment phase involve a compromise between the initial exaggerated feelings during the honeymoon phase and the frustrating reality experienced when Culture Shock set in.18

Hofstede distinguishes three different states of adaptation comparing feelings and emotions of the sojourner to the situation in the home culture before the assignment. "It may remain negative compared to home - for example, if the visitor continues feeling an alien and discriminated against. It may be just as good as before, in which the visitor can be considered to be biculturally adapted or it may even be better. In the last case the visitor has "gone native" - he or she has become more Roman than the Romans."19

Of course this model only describes an ideal process of Culture Shock and adaptation. Not every individual in every situation goes through the process according to Oberg's model. The development of real conflicts can differ significantly. On the one hand some intercultural encounters cannot make it through the crisis phase and no way of communication and recovery can be found. Instead of improving understanding and accepting differences the conflict escalates and finally leads to separation. On the other hand there are intercultural encounters that only show minor effects of crisis or even no Culture Shock at all.20

Another criticism to the model is that the phases do not necessarily appear in such a strict sequence. Marx found it to be more realistic to use a model "that is not strictly linear but integrates a dynamic and repetitive cycle of positive and negative phases until you break through Culture Shock."21 Her model is illustrated in Figure 2 on page 5.

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Figure 2 Culture Shock model after Oberg22 Figure 3 Dynamic Culture Shock model after


Even earlier than Oberg Lysgaard developed his rather simplistic U-Curve hypothesis. It states that individuals being faced with a foreign culture show a period of good mood and positive feelings at the beginning of their stay, which is followed by a phase of depression and unease, and finally ends in a stage of increasing comfort and confidence. Due to problems of transferring Lysgaard's research results to cultures other than the Anglo-American one and the unclear definition of the indicators, this model is commonly regarded to be too weak and over-generalized.24 Over time various models and theories concerning the Culture Shock and adaptation process were developed. They show between three and nine different phases but all of them have the U-curve-like development in common, starting with euphoria decreasing to escalation or Culture Shock and finally growing and improving up to the individual extent of adjustment.25

There are also models considering the return to the home culture as another cycle of Culture Shock and thus change the U-Curve into a W-Curve. The so-called problem of repatriation affects the professional as well the private sphere. Professionally it is oftentimes the case that there are no adequate positions for the returnee. During their assignment they usually had more responsibility, authority and creative freedom. Not to mention the higher salary.26 Other problems experienced by the returning expatriate might be the feeling that the company does not value the overseas experience and newly acquired skills and difficulties to adapt to unexpected changes the home office and the home country have undergone. In addition to that other family members may also be grappling with readjustment difficulties.27

2.3. Outcomes of Culture Shock

2.3.1. Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Culture Shock

The previous section dealt with the different phases that an intercultural sojourner has to go through during the Culture Shock or adaptation process. The actual "Culture Shock can appear in a number of guises, varying from mild to severe homesickness, feeling frustrated and suffering alienation and isolation."28 These symptoms include irritability, loneliness, depression and rigidity. Oberg described the symptoms of Culture Shock as follows:

"… excessive washing of the hands; excessive concern over drinking water, food, dishes, and bedding; fear of physical contact with attendants or servants; the absent far-away stare; a feeling of helplessness and a desire for dependence on long-term residents of one's nationality; fits of anger over delays and other minor frustrations; delay and outright refusal to learn the language of the host country; excessive fear of being cheated, robbed and injured; great concern over minor pains and eruptions of the skin; and finally that terrible longing to be back home…"29

Marx found out that the symptoms of Culture Shock last for about seven weeks on average and stated the following five aspects according to their priority: feeling isolated anxiety and worry reduction in job performance high energy (probably nervous energy, or caused by changing circumstances) helplessness

The psychological and emotional effects of Culture Shock are more obvious or at least they are easier brought into relation with the phenomenon. Nevertheless, there might also be serious physical symptoms going along with Culture Shock including an increased amount of illnesses and injuries. The amount of sick calls is significantly higher among expatriates than among employees in the home country. It was also observed that "among refugees and migrants there is a certain percentage that fall seriously physically or mentally ill, commit suicide, or remain so homesick that they have to return, especially within the first year."30

Summarizing the various symptoms that can occur in relation to Culture Shock Table 1 on page 8 distinguishes between physical, cognitive and behavioral factors:

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Table 1 Possible symptoms of Culture Shock31

2.3.2. Reactions to Culture Shock - How to deal with Culture Shock

There are six main aspects determining the Culture Shock process:

Strain, due to the distress of the adaptation process

Sense of loss and feelings of deprivation, concerning friends, status, profession and possessions Feeling of rejection, either because one feels rejected by or rejects members of the foreign culture Confusion about one's role, the expectations of others, values, feelings, and self-identity Anxiety and even disgust/anger after having realized the extent of cultural differences Feelings of helplessness, because of the feeling not to be able to cope with the new situation32

The previous section already described the various symptoms that can occur due to these six aspects of Culture Shock. This part deals with the different types of reaction to the phenomenon.

According to the acculturation model of Berry there are two dimensions of acculturation "based on (a) maintenance of cultural identity and (b) maintenance of relationships with other groups."33 Combination of these two criteria leads to a fourfold classification of acculturation mode. These reaction types should not be seen as personality types but as basic possibilities to react to the confrontation with a foreign culture.

Individuals maintaining a strong cultural identity, but are also willing to build up ties with members of other cultures are believed to adopt an integration or mediating strategy. This type is able to merge the elements of both cultures that seem important to him into a new unit. The society gains from this attitude through chances of intercultural communication and the development of a multicultural identity.

In contrast to that a separist strategy implies a strong cultural identity but no willingness to sustain intergroup relations. The separist, chauvinist or contrast type experiences the differences between the cultures very strongly. He refuses the host culture and tends to idealize the own cultural identity. This behavior leads to an increase in ethnocentric tendencies and chauvinism. Those individuals having a weak identity with their culture of origin and are strongly attracted to the contact culture are known as the assimilated passing type. They almost fully reject the culture of origin and adapt completely to the norms and values of the host culture. The loss of cultural identity poses a significant problem for re-integration.

Finally the combination of weak cultural identity and poor relations with the cultural outgroup is categorized as marginalized. Both cultures are seen to have important values and norms, but are also regarded to be incompatible and therefore no integration is possible. The marginalistic type sways between two cultures, which might have a serious identity conflict as consequence, but can also lead to a striving for reforms and social changes.34

Table 2 on page 10 gives an overview over the four different reaction types:

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Table 2 "Outcomes of cultural contact at the individual level: psychological responses to second culture influences"35

With the exception of euphoria every phase of the Culture Shock process corresponds to a certain reaction type. The transformation to the next stage always involves a shift from one reaction type to the other, while the previous one is still present but no longer dominating. A typical development along Oberg's Culture Shock model would show the chauvinistic reaction type during the actual crisis phase, followed by the marginal type vacillating between the two cultures, and finally resulting into the passing or the mediating type depending on the state of adjustment.36 Once again it has to be said, that the models described are not generally valid.

Both fighting the other culture and looking down on its members as well as taking flight and only interacting with members of the own culture are dysfunctional approaches to adaptation. "The most successful way to cope is to try to be flexible. This means adjusting behavior to the situation by first observing the way things are done in the culture, keeping in mind that all members of the host culture do not behave in the same way."37

2.3.3. Importance of Culture Shock for the adaptation process

Culture Shock including its variety of symptoms and outcomes is a completely normal physical and psychological reaction to a foreign environment.38 "It is a myth that experiencing Culture Shock is a weakness or a negative indication of future international success. Culture shock in all its diverse forms is completely normal and is part of a successful process of adaptation."39 Culture shock is the best and maybe even the only means to experience and understand foreign cultures.40 The anxiety and stress related to the adaptation process are not bad in and of themselves. The extent of adjustment does not depend on whether the negative symptoms of Culture Shock are experienced, but how they are coped with. In fact, they can have positive outcomes in the end, by serving as a hint that something is not right and therefore motivating thinking about how to adjust.41 Culture shock serves as an indicator that there is something to explore about the foreign as well as the own culture.42 Besides seeing Culture Shock as a completely normal process there are also approaches that state that additional acculturative stress might result in faster and more effective acculturation.43 This view is supported by a study among Canadian expatriates in Africa that showed that those who experienced Culture Shock were most effective in the end. "Expatriates who were most aware of themselves and their emotions experienced the most intense Culture Shock, but it was exactly because of this intense awareness of differences that they were also able to adapt more effectively later on."44

Therefore Culture Shock should no longer be seen as a negative and frustrating process but as a "positive sign on the road to international adaptation".45

2.4. Factors influencing Culture Shock

2.4.1. Differences affecting the adaptation process

The Culture Shock process described in section 2.2. is only an idealistic one and thus cannot be applied to every sojourner in the same way. Why somebody experiences the negative effects of Culture Shock, what determines them, how intense the experience is and whether the individual finds a way out of the crisis cannot be answered by the model. The degree and length of Culture Shock vary significantly due to differences in the individual, the cultures involved and the situation of the encounter. Furnham and Bochner distinguish between three categories of conditions that influence the duration and extent of Culture Shock:

(1) Cultural differences - The outcome of Culture Shock appears to be a function of the differences between the own and the foreign culture. As these differences are multidimensional, the cultures may be very similar on one factor and very different on others
(2) Individual differences - This aspect refers to differences in personality and the ability to cope with new environments. It also includes demographic variables such as age, sex, socio-economic class, and education.
(3) Sojourn experience - The experiences sojourners have and the treatment they receive from members of the host society have a strong influence on the adaptation process.46

The following parts of this section describe the factors related to the individual and those related to the societal level.

2.4.2. Aspects related to the individual

The "ability to cope in another culture is affected by knowledge of the culture and its language, stereotypes of and attitudes towards people in the other culture, being able to suspend evaluation of other people's behavior and understanding the self as a cultural being."47

Knowledge about a culture, the length of residence, amount of contact with host nationals, previous experience abroad, and cross-cultural training are commonly considered in relation to cross-cultural adaptation.48

Knowledge about the culture and language are essential in order to understand the attitudes and behavior within the host culture. This knowledge can be gained in various ways including reading books, watching TV programs, talking to people who had extended contact to the host culture or directly to host nationals, or by observing the behavior of members of the other culture.49 Intercultural training also plays a crucial role. This aspect is covered in more detail under point 3.3.1.. Studying the language of the host culture is among the best ways to learn about people. Of course this does not mean that it is necessary to speak the language fluently, but the more of the language is understood, the more of the culture can be understood.50 Hofstede states that in order to establish a more fundamental intercultural understanding, it is necessary to learn the host culture's language. "Having to express oneself in another language means learning to adopt someone else's reference frame."51 Even though language only belongs to the surface level of culture, it is the vehicle of culture transfer. In general it can be said that language fluency bears a straightforward relationship to sociocultural adjustment. It is directly related to increased interaction with host nationals and therefore the decrease in sociocultural adjustment problems.52

Expectations also play an important role in the adaptation process. Although the precise influence of expectations on the adjustment process has yet to be determined, a certain relationship can be observed. Realistic expectations are believed to facilitate adjustment, while overly optimistic expectations are likely to result in psychological adaptation problems.53 There are also documentations about the "what-you-expect-is-what-you-get phenomenon" or the so-called self-fulfilling prophecy, supporting the theory of expectation's influence on adaptation.54 As already described the different reaction types mentioned under 2.3.2. also have an influence on the extent and duration of Culture Shock. Individuals who strongly identify with their country of origin display fewer symptoms of depression while strong host national identification is associated with lowered sociocultural adaptation problems.55

There are various other factors related to the sojourner's personality that have a considerable influence on the adjustment process. The motivation to adapt is maybe one of the most important of these factors. This motivation depends largely on the length of stay in the host culture. The longer the stay is expected to be, the higher is the motivation to adapt.56 Besides motivation there are also the aspects of extraversion and sensitivity that are believed to facilitate adjustment. In contrast to that authoritarianism, rigidity, and ethnocentrism impede the acculturation process. Other personality factors related to the Culture Shock process are coping with humor, personal flexibility, and tolerance of ambiguity. Even though some personality factors are generally believed to have a positive influence on the adaptation process, the model of the perfect sojourner does not exist. "It is not the personality domain per se that predicts cross-cultural adjustment, but rather the "cultural fit" between the acculturating individual and host culture norms."57

2.4.3. Culture and society related factors

Sojourners go through the adaptation process at different rates - some adapt more quickly than others and a few do not adapt at all. The previous section deals with the reasons for the differential rates that are related to the individual and the personality. However, there are also many reasons more closely related to the host environment, "some countries and organizations are easier to fit into than others."58 This statement refers to the concept of cultural distance accounting for the adjustment problems. This concept was introduced by Babiker et al. in 1980 and stated that the "degree of psychological adjustment problems was a function of the dissimilarities between the culture of origin and culture of entry."59 Other researches also observed a robust relationship between cultural distance and sociocultural adjustment problems.

Sojourners' social networks have a strong influence as well. Having friends who are members of the host society is positively related to the attitude towards the host culture and the speed and degree of cross-cultural adaptation. Furthermore, personal, informal orientation appears to be much more effective than institutionally sponsored assistance. There are three different types of networks depending on members and purpose.

(1) A primary, monocultural network - consists of fellow nationals, serves the purpose of rehearsing and expressing the culture of origin
(2) A secondary, bicultural network - consists of bonds between sojourners and significant host nationals, main function is to facilitate professional aspirations of the sojourner
(3) A third network, the multicultural cycle - consists of friends and acquaintances of various cultures, mainly providing companionship for recreational, non-task oriented activities.60

Differences in the type of acculturating group also determine the degree and duration of the adaptation process. "Native peoples and refugees experienced the greatest levels of acculturative stress, immigrants and ethnic groups the lowest level; and sojourners an intermediate level of stress."61

The last part of this section is about the psychological reactions of host culture members receiving a foreign visitor that usually mirror the reactions of the foreigner. It all starts with curiosity, the visitor is something new and different, and therefore exciting. This phase is followed by ethnocentrism. Host nationals will evaluate the foreigner applying their own cultural standards and finding him lacking. Some hosts may never get past this phase. If they are exposed to foreigners regularly they may move to the phase of polycentrism, knowing that there are different kinds of people who need to be measured by different kinds of standards. Unfortunately there are also the two extreme reaction types of xenophobia and xenophilia, implying that one culture is superior to the other and rejecting the other culture completely. "Neither ethnocentrism nor xenophilia is a healthy basis for intercultural cooperation."62

3. How to deal with Culture Shock - Possible Solutions

3.1. The need for effective International Human Resources Management

Due to international growth of companies, the building of strategic alliances and networks or cross-cultural mergers and acquisitions the number of expatriates increased significantly over the last 30 years. Becoming an expatriate is usually associated with possibilities to increase salary, career opportunities, and self- development. Nevertheless, an international assignment also goes along with a high social pressure in the family or relationship, the temporary or permanent loss of social relations, a risk for career planning, and depending on the host country considerable Culture Shock and integration problems.63

The limited availability of personnel willing and capable of working abroad for an extended period of time as well as the specialized requirements of the job and the need for internal recruitment oftentimes leads to the fact that there is only a small number of candidates to choose from. As a consequence, in many cases the candidate chosen is simply "the man who happened to be there".64 The lack of effective expatriate selection and the emphasis on technical requirements are among the main reasons for expatriate failure. The next section deals with the possibilities of improving the selection process in order to take into consideration additional requirements and therefore aim at decreasing the probability of failure.

3.2. Appropriate expatriate recruitment

The selection of future expatriates is a crucial point in the assignment. It is possible to measure technical skills and professional education. Interpersonal communication skills can also be assessed when referring to previous or current colleagues and superiors. However, there are various factors that need to be taken into consideration before sending an employee abroad that are very difficult to measure accurately. The problem of recruitment is further intensified by the fact that most companies still lack effective methods for selecting managers for international assignments. International selection processes vary only insignificantly from those used for domestic staff and ignore that success in a domestic operation is not a guarantee for success in an international assignment. Companies show a strong need for an integrated screening and selection system being able to determine the aptitudes of candidates with a moderate degree of validity. Kealey suggests a three components system consisting of

(1) establishing the profile of skills and knowledge - a candidate's qualifications have to be matched with the job's requirements, cultural constraints and the host organization environment;
(2) planning and implementing the selection procedures - specific instruments for the selection of expatriates include personality tests, biographical data questionnaires, structured interviews, and behavioral assessment techniques;
(3) training and monitoring the overseas performance.65

3.2.1. An expatriate's qualification profile

Certain traits and characteristics have been identified as predictors of expatriate success. This does not mean that an expatriate with these traits is guaranteed to be successful on the assignment, but without them the probability of failure is certainly higher. These traits and characteristics include technical ability, managerial skills, cultural empathy, adaptability, diplomacy, language ability, positive attitude, emotional stability and maturity, and adaptability of family66.

Redden developed the Culture Shock inventory model that categorizes the skills and competencies into 8 dimensions, that serve as basis for the evaluation of candidates' aptitude. Each dimension has an extreme increasing the aptitude and one lowering it or even hindering intercultural adjustment:

(1) Ethnocentrism - adjustment is endangered by the attitude towards culture of origin and the rejection of the host culture
(2) Intercultural experience - the adjustment process appears to be easier for individuals who went through Culture Shock and adaptation before
(3) Cognitive Flex - the open-mindedness towards foreign attitudes, ideas, environments lowers the effects of culture shock
(4) Behavioral Flex - the ability to change one's behavior is a positive factor for acculturation
(5) General intercultural knowledge - a general awareness of cultural differences facilitates adjustment
(6) Specific intercultural knowledge - specific knowledge about the characteristics of a certain culture decreases Culture Shock
(7) Adequate Behavior - capability to adjust behavior towards the host culture makes adaptation easier
(8) Interpersonal skills - skills in verbal and non-verbal communication and the ability to react accordingly support efficient adaptation67

Summd than usual. All the factors described in this part correspond to the aspects influencing Culture Shock that were mentioned under point 2.4..

3.2.2. The dual career problem - importance of spouse and family

The family situation of the expatriate is of great importance for the success of the assignment. The family being unhappy is often a reason for expatriate failure and many assignments have to be terminated prematurely due to unbearable adaptation problems of spouses and children. While the expatriate is busy with getting acquainted to the new work environment and the nature of the job, the family feels isolated and suffers from the effects of Culture Shock even worse than the expatriate himself.68 This dissatisfaction is even bigger when the spouse, usually the wife, had to give up a job at home and is now working in a position not matching her education and experience or is not working at all. This phenomenon is commonly called the dual-career-problem. The spouse sacrifices career opportunities and finds herself in a far more irritating situation than the expatriate himself. This feeling is increased by the fact that the partner is usually responsible for building up every day life logistics and is busy in trying to establish a routine that keeps life functioning.69 "As this situation … acts to impair the willingness of staff members to assume foreign assignments several large corporations and banks have embraced the practice of also offering an acceptable professional perspective for spouses"70 This model is referred to as the Tandem Model.

The description of the dual-career-problem makes it clear that family members also need to be involved in any training that is offered to help the expatriate adapting to the host culture either before or after departure, or if possible both. The next part grants a closer look on the various training methods available.

3.3. Preparation of the assignment - Intercultural competence through intercultural training

3.3.1. Different methods of Intercultural Training

Training and development of expatriates is the next crucial step after selection.

Although many aspects of the desired expatriate qualification profile are personality factors that can only slowly be changed or developed, there are others that can be shaped and improved through intercultural training. "Cross-cultural training can be effective in sensitizing individuals to cultural issues, in facilitating adjustment to a foreign culture, in improving work performance abroad, and in helping employees to develop a global mindset"71

Three different areas of training contribute to a successful transition to a foreign post: culture training, language instruction, and assistance with practical, day-to-day matters. It is necessary to start the first two prior to the international assignment and thus it is recommended to notify the posting well in advance of the departure. Practical assistance starts as soon as the employee arrives in the host culture. As the importance of language skills with regard to interpersonal communication with host nationals and the influence on the effects of Culture Shock were already mentioned in section 2.4., the language training is not covered in this part. Even though the potential benefits of intercultural training on the negative effects of Culture Shock is widely acknowledged, there are still companies not offering any training at all. Considering the immense costs of a prematurely terminated assignment that could have been more successful with prior cultural training, the behavior of these companies is highly negligent.72

The companies that do offer cultural training often provide incomprehensive preparation as they focus on area orientation briefings and language acquisition instead of cross-cultural skills. Apart from that the training programs are usually too short and the spouse and family are left out completely.

The available methodologies for intercultural training can be classified into four categories according to the approaches used and the content of the training:

(1) Didactic culture-general training: academic lectures on the general influence of culture on behavior, cultural awareness training, culture-general assimilators
(2) Experiential culture-general training: communication workshops, self assessments, experiments on general cultural differences
(3) Didactic culture - specific training: area orientation briefings, analysis of case studies, intercultural sensitizer training
(4) Experiential culture - specific training: culture specific simulations and role- plays, bi-cultural communication workshops, field trips in the host country73

It is a proven fact that cross-cultural training has a positive influence on building intercultural competence, the ability to act appropriately in an intercultural situation. Nevertheless, no wonders should be expected from preparatory training. It is not possible within the framework of usually rather short training programs to reprogram adults who are socialized in one culture.74 Of course it is not the aim of training to change the total mindset of an individual, that would be the wrong approach. It is rather the effort to create a certain openness towards foreign and sometimes bewildering attitudes and behavior, cultural awareness and skills, and therefore intercultural competence.

3.3.2. Practical assistance - Help and support during the assignment

Practical assistance contributes significantly toward the adaptation of the expatriate and his family. Being left to fend for themselves would most likely increase the negative effects of Culture Shock and thus make adjustment much more difficult and stressful for all persons involved. In order to avoid the feeling of being left alone many companies offer support in establishing a pattern of day-to-day life including friends, banks, shopping, laundry, transportation, and so on. The sooner this routine is set up the better are the prospects that the expatriates will adapt successfully.75 Some companies even have an own relocation service that helps expatriates with all tasks from planning the travel to organizing schools for the children. Other important aspects during the actual assignment include professional support, permanent information about developments in the parent operation, regular communication between domestic mentor and expatriate, information trips to the home operation, and training programs.76 All these measures help to prevent the "out of sight - out of mind" phenomenon that contributes to the problems of re-entry shock. The permanent information flow reduces the irritation about organizational changes in the parent operation and facilitates reintegration. A domestic mentor plays a crucial role when it comes to finding a new position for the former expatriate. The returnee has to deal with many difficulties and drawbacks when resettling and having an influential supporter during this time is worth a lot.77

4. Conclusion

"Culture Shock is a sudden and disturbing impression on the mind or the own concept of culture produced by some unwelcome occurrence or perception in a foreign culture lasting depression, a thrill, or an excited feeling of any kind."

Now that the concept of Culture Shock is a bit clearer it is possible to have a closer look at this assumption and try to evaluate it.

Culture Shock is certainly a disturbing impression, but it is not that sudden as the term shock implies. In most cases it is the gradual decrease from positive to negative mood after the initial euphoria stage and the actual crisis, resulting from that. As it is also used to describe the whole adaptation process, the word shock does not appear to fit too well. The disturbing impression does not always affect the own cultural concept. In some cases the experience of Culture Shock might even strengthen cultural identity, which is not the best approach either. As to the factors that cause Culture Shock, they are not really unwelcome, but they are foreign and different, and thus irritating. It is this irritation that is actually unwelcome.

It is definitely true, that the experiences can last depression. The various psychological and physical symptoms were covered thoroughly in this work.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that it is not possible to overcome these symptoms and become functioning again. Culture Shock varies largely in severance. Some adapt more quickly and others need a longer time to get adjusted, but most people do overcome the crisis. Appropriate intercultural training and therefore intercultural competence helps a lot during the Culture Shock process, but unfortunately it cannot avoid it completely.

Altogether the assumption was not completely wrong. Culture Shock is a shock caused by being confronted with a different culture, but there is far more to the concept than that.


Apfelthaler, Gerhard: "Interkulturelles Management", Wien, 1999

Blom, Herman: "Interkulturelles Management: interkulturelle Kommunikation, internationales Personalmanagement, Diversity Ansätze im Unternehmen", Herne/ Berlin, 2002

Bochner, Stephen: "The social psychology of cross-cultural relations" in Bochner, Stephen (Editor): "Cultures in contact", Oxford, 1982

Bock, Philip: "Culture Shock - A Reader in Modern Cultural Anthropology", Washington, D.C., 1970

Dowling, Peter J./ Schuler, Randall/ Welch, Denice E.: "International dimensions of human resource management", 2nd edition, Belmont, 1994

Dülfer, Eberhard: "Internationales Management in unterschiedlichen Kulturbereichen: mit Tabellen", [Transl. by Albert Jennings and David Smith], München /Wien/ Oldenburg, 1999

Furnham, Adrian/ Bochner, Stephen: "Social difficulty in a foreign culture: an empirical analysis of culture shock" in Bochner, Stephen: "Cultures in contact", Oxford, 1982

Gibson, Robert: "Intercultural Business Communication - Fachsprache Englisch", Berlin, 2000

Glaser, W.: "Vorbereitung auf den Auslandseinsatz: Theorie, Konzept und Evaluation eines Seminars zur Entwicklung interkultureller Kompetenz", Neuried, 1999

Guirdham, Maureen: "Communicating across cultures", London, 1999

Hofstede, Geert H.: "Culture's consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations", Thousand Oaks, 2001

Hofstede, Geert H.: "Cultures and Organizations: Software of the mind", New York, 1997

Marx, Elisabeth: "Breaking through culture shock: what you need to succeed in international business"; London, 1999

Mendenhall, Mark E./ Kühlmann, Torsten M../ Stahl, Günther K./ Osland, Joyce S.: "Employee Development and Expatriate Assignments" in Gannon, Martin J./ Newman, Karen L. (Editors): "The Blackwell Handbook of cross-cultural management", Oxford, 2002

Simpson, J.A./ Weiner, Edmund S.C. (prepared by): "Oxford English Dictionary", 2nd edition, Oxford, 1991

Wagner, W.: "Kulturschock Deutschland", Hamburg, 1996

Ward, Colleen: "Acculturation" in Landis, Dan/ Bhagat, Rabi S. (Editors): "Handbook of Intercultural Training", Thousand Oaks, 1996

Ehrenwörtliche Erklärung

"Ich, Sonja Manz, erkläre hiermit ehrenwörtlich:

1. dass ich meine Studienarbeit mit dem Thema

"Culture Shock - Causes, Consequences & Solutions: The International Experience"

ohne fremde Hilfe angefertigt habe;

2. dass ich die Übernahme wörtlicher Zitate aus der Literatur sowie die

Verwendung der Gedanken anderer Autoren an den entsprechenden Stellen innerhalb der Arbeit gekennzeichnet habe;

3. dass ich mein Seminar Paper bei keiner anderen Prüfung vorgelegt habe.

Ich bin mir bewusst, dass eine falsche Erklärung rechtliche Folgen haben wird."


1 cf. Guirdham, Maureen: "Communicating across cultures", London, 1999, p. 270

2 cf. Apfelthaler, Gerhard: "Interkulturelles Management", Wien, 1999, p. 29

3 cf. Gibson, Robert: "Intercultural Business Communication - Fachsprache Englisch", Berlin, 2000, p. 16

4 Hofstede, Geert H.: "Cultures and Organizations: Software of the mind", New York, 1997, p. 260

5 cf. Gibson, 2000, p. 16

6 cf. Hofstede, 1999, p. 6-7

7 Simpson, J.A./ Weiner, Edmund S.C. (prepared by): "Oxford English Dictionary", 2nd edition, Oxford, 1991

8 Oberg, Kalvero: "Cultural Shock: adjustment to new cultural environments" in Practical Anthropology 7 (1960), quoted in Gibson, 2000, p. 24

9 cf. Hofstede, 1999, p. 260

10 cf. Bock, Philip: "Culture Shock - A Reader in Modern Cultural Anthropology", Washington, D.C., 1970, p. IX

11 Marx, Elisabeth: "Breaking through culture shock: what you need to succeed in international business"; London, 1999, p. XIII

12 Redfield, R./ Linton, R./ Herskovitz, M.J.: "Memorandum for the study of acculturation" in American Anthropologist 38 (1936), p. 149-152, quoted in Ward, Colleen: "Acculturation" in Landis, Dan, Bhagat, Rabi S. (Editors): "Handbook of Intercultural Training", Thousand Oaks, 1996, p. 124

13 cf. Ward, 1996, 124

14 cf. Hofstede, Geert H.: "Culture's consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations", Thousand Oaks, 2001, p. 424

15 cf. Ward, p. 124

16 cf. Hofstede, 1999, p. 229

17 cf. Blom, Herman: "Interkulturelles Management: interkulturelle Kommunikation, internationales Personalmanagement, Diversity Ansätze im Unternehmen", Herne/ Berlin, 2002, p. 169

18 cf. Glaser, W.: "Vorbereitung auf den Auslandseinsatz: Theorie, Konzept und Evaluation eines Seminars zur Entwicklung interkultureller Kompetenz", Neuried, 1999, p. 52-54 & Marx, 1999, p. 7-9

19 Hofstede, G.; 2001, p. 426

20 cf. Wagner, W.: "Kulturschock Deutschland", Hamburg, 1996, p. 21

21 Marx, 1999, p. 10

22 Marx, 1999, p. 9

23 Marx, 1999, p. 10

24 cf. Glaser; 1999, p. 52

25 cf. Wagner, 1996, p. 20

26 cf. Apfelthaler, Gerhard: "Interkulturelles Management", Wien, 1999, p. 113

27 cf. Mendenhall, Mark E./ Kühlmann, Torsten M../ Stahl, Günther K./ Osland, Joyce S.: "Employee Development and Expatriate Assignments" in Gannon, Martin J./ Newman, Karen L. (Editors): "The Blackwell Handbook of cross-cultural management", Oxford, 2002, p. 155-183, p. 172

28 Guirdham, 1999, p. 284

29 Oberg, 1960, p. 176 quoted in Gibson, 2000, p. 24 n

30 Hofstede, 1999, p. 210

31 cf. Glaser, 1998, p. 33

32 cf. Marx, 1999, p. 5 & Wagner, 1996, p. 13 n

33 Ward, 1996, p. 130

34 cf. Ward, 1996, p. 130

35 Bochner, Stephen: "The social psychology of cross-cultural relations" in Bochner, Stephen (Editor): "Cultures in contact", Oxford, 1982, p. 5-44, p. 27

36 cf. Wagner, 1996, p. 25 n

37 Guirdham, 1999, p. 278

38 cf. Apfelthaler, 1999, p. 107

39 Marx, 1999, p. 5

40 cf. Wagner, 1996, p 31

41 cf. Guirdham, 1999, p. 277

42 cf. Wagner, 1996, p. 34

43 cf. Guirdham, 1999, p. 294

44 Marx, 1999, p. 6

45 Marx, 1999, p. 6

46 cf. Furnham, Adrian/ Bochner, Stephen: "Social difficulty in a foreign culture: an empirical analysis of culture shock" in Bochner, Stephen: "Cultures in contact", Oxford, 1982, p. 161-198, p. 171

47 Guirdham, 1999, p. 272

48 Ward, 1996, p. 126

49 cf. Guirdham, 1999, p. 272

50 cf. Guirdham, 1999, p. 272

51 Hofstede, 1999, p. 212

52 cf. Ward, 1996, p. 132

53 cf. Ward, 1996, p. 133

54 cf. Guirdham, 1999, p. 295 & Ward, 1996, p. 133

55 cf. Ward, p. 134 & Wagner, 1996, p. 35

56 cf. Guirdham, 1999, p. 289

57 Ward, 1996, p. 135

58 Guirdham, 1999, p. 292

59 Ward, 1996, p. 137

60 cf. Furnham/ Bochner, 1982, p. 173

61 Ward, 1996, p. 138

62 Hofstede, 2001, p. 424

63 cf. Blom, 2002, p. 163-165

64 Mendenhall/ Kühlmann/ Stahl/ Osland, 2002, p. 172

65 cf. Mendenhall/ Kühlmann/ Stahl/ Osland, 2002, p. 172-175

66 cf. Dowling, Peter J./ Schuler, Randall/ Welch, Denice E.: "International dimensions of human resource management", 2nd edition, Belmont, 1994, p. 66

67 cf. Apfelthaler, 1999, p. 111

68 cf. Gibson, 2000, p. 27

69 cf. Apfelthaler, 1999, p. 110 n

70 Dülfer, Eberhard: "Internationales Management in unterschiedlichen Kulturbereichen: mit Tabellen", [Transl. by Albert Jennings and David Smith], München /Wien/ Oldenburg, 1999, p. 465

71 Mendenhall/ Kühlmann/ Stahl/ Osland, 2002, p. 176

72 cf. Dowling/ Schuler/ Welch, 1994, p. 129-134

73 cf. Mendenhall/ Kühlmann/ Stahl/ Osland, 2002, p. 177

74 cf. Apfelthaler, 1999, p. 194

75 cf. Dowling/ Schuler/ Welch, 1994, p.134

76 cf. Blom, 2002, p. 175

77 cf. Blom, 2002, p. 179-181

29 of 28 pages - scroll top

Culture Shock

Culture shock is feeling unsettled when one person moves from one culture to another unfamiliar one. This is usually seen amongst immigrants, expatriates or when a person goes to visit another country. The most common cause of culture shock is individuals in foreign environments.


There are four main stages subscribed to the phenomenon of culture shock, and for those who go through it. Not everyone is subjected to the four stages as many people skip stages. The first phase of culture shock is the ‘’Honeymoon’’ phase. In this phase, individuals see the difference between their old culture and new culture through tainted lenses, and in a favourably romantic light, and are fascinated with the culture.

The honeymoon period eventually ends, and the ‘’Negotiation’’ period begins. The honeymoon period usually lasts for around three months, before the negotiation phase starts. In this phase individuals notice the huge gap amongst their new culture and their old one, and this creates anxiety within them. The cause for this is usually due to the negative points about the new culture that the individual sees as evident, which contradicts their positive view during the honeymoon period. An example is language barriers, which can create anxiety.

The ‘’Adjustment’’ period follows usually after 6-12 months, where one becomes accustomed to local traditions and values. After an individual is set in a routine, the cultural differences provide less anxiety and shock, and they reasonably know what to expect in different situations, and start viewing the cultural differences in a positive light again.

The last phase, known as the ‘’adaption’’ phase, occurs when the individual is fully integrated into the new culture and actively participates in many aspects of it. It does not, however, mean that they lose some of their traits from their old culture, as they keep many of them such as accent and language.


Many people do not overcome culture shock, and as a result, are lef idolizing their old culture, while living within another entirely different culture, which is alien to them. This leads to the establishment of ghettos, where minority groups who have not assimilated well live. This has led to many impoverished areas around the world, as ghettos are isolated from the host society, and are neglected in return. Many ghettos are areas with high level of poverty and crime.

Culture shock is a major phenomenon around the world, as the world has become globalized and more people travel to different countries for economic reasons and tourism.

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