Overseas ESL Teaching is an exciting and stimulating experience; although most individuals, including novice and experienced ESL teachers, may be affected by a phenomenon known as ‘culture shock’.
So, what exactly is ‘culture shock’ and how does it manifest itself? One useful definition is as follows:
“Culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life.”
(John Macionis and Linda Gerbe)
The phenomenon manifests itself in four well-defined stages, and you would probably experience the phenomenon in the following way: in the first stage, the Honeymoon stage, you will be enamoured of the foreign country; you will be excited with all the cultural aspects and the people of the country. You will love everything: the climate, the food, the way the locals dress, their language, and the way they gesticulate. At this stage, you should thoroughly enjoy yourself: get the most out of living in the host country.
After several months – usually about three – you will move into the Negotiation stage: differences between your culture and that of the host country will become more evident and these may cause you to become more anxious, frustrated, and angry – especially when it comes to communicating with the locals, or witnessing the host country’s cultural practices that are offensive to your cultural upbringing. During this period, feelings of loneliness and homesickness may become more intense. Don’t be despondent: realise that this is just a phase you are going through, and try to convince yourself that not all cultures have the same values.
After about six months, you will enter the third stage, the Adjustment stage: you should now find that you are beginning to adjust to the host country’s people and their culture. During this stage, you will develop strategies to deal with those aspects of the host country which originally caused you great stress and anxiety: things will become more ‘normal’ and your initial negative attitudes to the host country will gradually soften. You are now over the worst part of the culture shock: persevere – soon you will become fully acclimatised to living in your host country.
In the final stage, the Mastery stage, you should now be fully acclimatised to your host country’s culture: you will be able to comfortably communicate with the locals, and most cultural practices that were initially considered unacceptable will now become something that you can at least acquiesce in. As a final word: culture shock has never deterred the thousands of ESL teachers who go to teach abroad every year, so don’t let it deter you!