This chapter is written in reference to the Handbook for International Students and the University-Wide Newcomers Orientation.For international students, living in Japan, away from the environment that you are most familiar with, is often more challenging and stressful than expected. Most people will experience some stress as part of this experience. Here are some tips about culture shock, the process of cultural adjustment, and coping with stress. Please use them to reflect on your own experiences.
What Is Culture Shock
The Process of Culture Shock and Cross-Cultural Adjustment
Coping with Culture Shock
What Is Culture ShockAlthough "culture shock" is generally understood as a temporary shock felt when confronted by different cultural customs, ways of thinking and behavior patterns, it actually refers to a psychological state of depression caused by the experience of successive failures in unfamiliar social situations. Culture shock is temporary, and everybody goes through it to some extent in the process of cultural adaptation. General symptoms of culture shock include:
- loss of appetite
- feeling tired
- extreme pride in one's home culture
- hypersensitivity or excitability
- confusion etc.
- Honeymoon Stage
At first, you may have big hopes and high expectations. Everything seems strange and exotic, and you feel moved by your encounter with a new world. At this stage, you are nervous, excited, and possessed of a strong curiosity.
- Culture Shock
You start reacting to the difficulty of communicating with people in the new culture. What you think of as common sense does not seem to apply, and you don't understand how to cope with certain situations. You are a grown person in your country, but here you feel like a little child. Your identity is shaken. The shortcomings of the new culture weigh on your mind.
- Cultural Adjustment
You lean by trial-and-error and by reflecting on various experiences. Through repeated encounters involving frustration, giving up, being receptive, feeling sympathy, etc., you begin to find your own place and to understand how you can exist here. This stage is a time of displacement, a kind of journey to find out who you are.
You have gained some objectivity and are able to enjoy yourself. You find life worth living. You become able to see differences in a positive light and to act in a way that is true to yourself.
Coping with Culture ShockWhen you feel the effects of culture shock, please try the following:
- Find ways to relieve stress.
- Do something that reminds you of home.
- Talk and share your intercultural experience with someone.
- Visit the IEEC, Advising & Counseling Services or International Student Advising Office in your department and talk!
- Connect with family and friends back home.
- Get some exercises. Stay active.
- Get involved in intercultural activities.---Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs (Links)
- Join ISA Office programs. ---Small World Coffee Hour (Links)
Psychological IssuesIn some cases, culture shock or stress can trigger mental illness. According to data gathered annually by the Center for Student Counseling, up to 3% of students who repeat a year or fail classes suffer from poor mental health. If you find yourself unable to sleep, cannot eat or cannot stop eating, or have visual or auditory hallucinations, or if you recognize any of these symptoms in a friend, please do not hesitate to visit the IEEC, Advising & Counseling Services, International Student Advising Office in your department or the Health Administration Office for advice. Having a mental disorder does not reflect negatively on your identity. The sooner you get help treating it, the more likely you are to get well. All discussions will be kept strictly confidential.
Reference: Depression Self-CheckIn modern Japanese society, 1 person out of 15 experiences depression at least once in their lifetime. If you are even slightly worried about your mental condition, please try this simple self-check. Check the items that apply to you.
- □ You tend to brood and dwell on the negative side of things.
- □ You tend to become tearful over small matters.
- □ You have no appetite even for food you usually like.
- □ You find it hard to fall asleep, and often wake up in the middle of the night or early morning.
- □ You have no energy to do anything.
- □ You feel worthless or think of yourself as a failure.
- □ You think it would be better if you disappeared from this world.
(Pfizer Inc., "Depression Hand Book" NIKKEI Health, Feb. 2008, supplementary booklet)