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Ian Takahashi

Mr. Smith

Writing for College- 4

23 January 2018

Adaptation: How Culture Shock Affects International Students

Introduction: Culture Shocked

Who is in the right and who is in the wrong can be changed based on perspective. The

same goes for culture, actions, words, and even body language. All of these can be seen in

different ways depending on a person’s culture. Culture has a way of embedding itself inside

human’s sub-conscience. A person’s virtues are embedded into them and affect their behavior

and everyday decisions, and when confronted with a culture that is drastically unfamiliar people

experience what many people call “culture shock.” But culture shock isn’t necessarily restricted

to just culture, sure maybe the term is, but this phenomenon can be experienced in many

situations.

A teenager who has gone to a certain school their whole life may experience this “shock”

when they are forced to transfer, or maybe a child has trouble adjusting to their new step-parent.

Another form of culture shock is called invasion shock, this can be easily applied to Hawai’i,

Waikiki is mostly avoided by locals in Hawai’i. The area is so full of tourists that many locals

would rather go somewhere else. The process is the same as culture shock, it is simply a reaction

to change and newness. Because of these many situations where this concept can be applied,

psychologist M.J. Bennet uses the term “transition shock,” because it can apply to all changes as

long as it’s a transition from what one is familiar with to something new (Dutton).
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Humans, in general, are afraid of newness, when faced with new things one doesn’t know

what to expect, and people fear what they don’t know (Gilmour). Eventually, that person will

come to be familiar with their surroundings and not be bothered as much as they were, but the

process in getting there can be stressful and even harmful to the person’s health. Culture shock is

something experienced by many people who travel to another country. I want to look into this

and see the causes and effects of culture shock, especially in students. Teachers have observed

that the stress of living in other countries start to have effects on their physical health, they feel

more pressed to succeed and overwork themselves, “For international students, work becomes

primary; health and family becomes secondary” (Dutton). I wonder what are the struggles and

difficulties of living abroad? Some of the struggles of living in a different culture is that cultural

differences can cause a person to get frustrated when they try to repeat the behavior they do at

home, foreigners can be alienated and left alone by locals for not fitting in, and the stress,

shyness, or virtues of another country can make so that people experiencing troubles don’t search

for help or seek counseling.

Section 2: Surrounded Yet Isolated

It is especially hard to approach someone when everyone else around you is a complete

stranger, it is much easier to approach a stranger when there are friends or others nearby who you

are close to. It’s like saying someone is more willing to interact with a stranger at a friend’s

house party than going to a convention with no one they know. This loneliness can be because of

the timidity or fearfulness of the foreigner, or it can be because of the isolation of that foreigner

by the locals. This can be alienating, lonely, and frustrating; this leads to the person becoming

homesick and grasping for things that they are familiar with.
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There are multiple stages of culture shock, the first stage is the honeymoon phase, during

this phase the person is amazed by the new culture and is fascinated by every part of it. They

love the new culture, praise it, and try to experience every aspect of it. The second phase is the

reaction phase, reality hits and the person realizes the many differences between their culture and

the new one. These differences cause anxiety, loneliness, and other problems within the convert

that leads to culture shock. Phase 3 is the most dangerous one where the person experiences full-

blown culture shock, symptoms can be depression, hostility, and the most likely symptom is

surrounding yourself with things that are familiar. The fourth and fifth phases are characterized

by the convert opening up to the new culture, they have recovered from culture shock and

participate in the new culture with the locals (Nelson). There is also one more step that some

may not include, that is reverse culture shock, when a person has fully adapted to the new culture

and returns to their old one, they start to witness the flaws of their own culture as they compare it

to the other. They can become frustrated with their home country and they are repeating the same

process once again.

The repercussions of the foreigner’s loneliness can lead to something that psychologist

Edward Dutton called “backrolling.” Backrolling is a symptom that can occur during the third

phase of culture shock where if a person doesn’t recover and refuses to accept the new culture as

their own. Dutton describes it as when “the convert recoils in horror from the change.”

Backrolling is when a person who experiences culture shock decides to cling to their own culture

and basically eliminates any progress they had towards adapting to a new culture (Dutton). They

close themselves off from the new culture and refuse to accept it as their own. This often leads to

the person becoming homesick and angry at the culture of their new home. People who

experience backrolling are often prone to simply returning back to what they are comfortable
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with, in other words, their home country. This, of course, doesn't apply to only cultural

differences, it can apply to different states or even a different family’s lifestyle. As a result of

closing themselves off from the new culture they also close themselves off from the people who

practice it, that person ends up isolating themselves from the locals and continues to hope for a

way to things to return to the way they were at home. People are also prone to experiencing

backrolling if they see their own culture as superior to the other. They will be unwilling to accept

and adapt to the new culture and will never make any progress in recovering from culture shock

(Dutton).

Some people argue that it simply depends on the person’s personality and how well they

can connect with other people, and most problems simply occur because they aren’t able to make

friends with the locals. Although it is true that people who get along better with others tend to

experience fewer signs of culture shock, that doesn't mean that those who are less outgoing

should be ignored and left to fight for themselves. After being thrown into a new world any

person wouldn’t be quick to open up to a new culture, not to mention opening up to a stranger

about the grievances of their culture is not easy. There is also the threat of backrolling. A person

who shuts themselves away from other people is more prone to this because they are already

partially closing themselves off from the new culture. If they do turn to backrolling then it will

be even harder to help them because they may not even be willing to be helped.

This habit of avoiding new things is a common response and is a part of human nature.

People who aren't familiar with something fear it, some call it the fear of the unknown, but

sometimes a person may know much about the topic, but they choose to avoid because of

uncertainty, or fear of humiliation. Macquarie University professor Kristofer Gilmour described

it as, “the brain trying desperately maintaining the age-old task of fitting in, while knowingly
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standing out” (Gilmour). This process of trying not to stand out in a new area can lead a person

to avoid new tasks in fear of humiliation, or anger at the culture that forced you into doing a

strange task that led to humiliation. Whether out of fear or out of spite, the person ends up

avoiding unfamiliar things. Gilmour called it “internalizing our learning” where we only look at

the culture and traditions through our own perspective, we avoid difficult and unfamiliar things,

and as a result become more frustrated with this newness. Once again, this leads to backrolling,

without constantly experiencing new things and finding something new to do, there is no chance

for the effects of backrolling to wear off.

Gilmour suggested reflecting on every new experience shortly after experiencing it. It

does require a deeper reflection than some might want however, people tend to remember bad

memories more than good ones. Some have theorized it as a zeroing in on the bad memories

because we experience more good memories than bad, but according to Stanford Professor and

co-author of “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human

Relationships,” Professor Nass, this is because good memories and bad memories are processed

through different hemispheres of the brain and the bad ones require more thinking, this results in

the bad memories being more thoroughly processed and more deeply embedded in people’s

memories (Tugend). Gilmour claims that with a deep enough reflection, we will find that the

good outweighs the bad and as more good memories associated with the new culture begin to

resurface, it will become easier and easier to open oneself up to it (Gilmour).

Throughout the stages of culture shock, the reaction and regression stages are the points

where a person starts to become afraid of cultural differences, they close themselves off from

what is unfamiliar and new and this leads to anger and frustration. This anger can lead to a

symptom called backrolling, which is when a person clings to their memories of home and closes
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themselves off from the new culture. This frustration is originally caused because the foreigner

can't fit in with others the same way he did at home. They remember how easy it was to fit in at

home and it becomes painful to think about. It is important to avoid isolation and remain open to

new experiences, it is natural to stay away from things that are unfamiliar and it is also natural to

remember the bad more than the good, but isolation only leads to more problems and

frustrations. There are many causes of why a person would experience these frustrations and why

they lead to other complications.

Section 3: Conflicts of Ideals

There are a lot of reasons that a person would become frustrated with another country’s

culture, I discussed a common one where the locals isolate the person trying to adjust and this

loneliness causes the person to give up on trying to adjust to the new culture to turn to

backrolling, but there are many more and it can lead to dangerous consequences.

Culture shock is not a constant slow process, it happens in bursts where a person realizes

an issue, it affects their view of the country, and that incident embeds itself in his memory. These

problems mostly occur when people try to repeat the way they act at home. For example, a

Caribbean student once said, “their language is different, so I have to listen carefully to what

they are saying and I can't use terms or certain words among them. For example, using 'fat' is

commonly used at home” (Joseph). I believe this to be one of the main reasons why foreigners

are isolated from others. They say something that can make them seem rude, strange, or hard to

approach when trying to speak in their second language, words can have different meanings in

different languages, they will be interpreted differently by people from other countries. The word

“おかしい okashii” in Japanese can mean strange or weird, but depending on the context and tone

of the word “weird” it can be interpreted in a playful way or it can be interpreted in an


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uncomfortable and disgusted way. If you were to say this word to a Japanese person, it will

almost always end up being interpreted as the latter. The word is taken much more seriously and

could even be seen as an insult. The incomplete comprehension of a language and the context

behind certain words can lead to instances where the person aggravates others and ends up

isolated. Language barriers are a key factor to culture shock, a person is unable to accurately

convey their feelings because of language barriers, they can lead to misunderstandings with the

locals, and just overall increases the stress level of the foreigner.

Cultures are built on deeply embedded values that have been a part of a society’s lifestyle

for many years. This system of values will change between different countries depending on

their history and their experiences. These values can also be built around religious beliefs, so it is

important to withhold judgment before changing your perceptions of the culture. For example,

there are many examples of Japanese people being against war, mainly a nuclear war, in an

interview with a survivor of the atomic bombing, the survivor said that “he can’t see why anyone

would want to see such a tragedy again” (McCully). It’s easy to see how the atomic bombing has

affected the people’s views as they know better than anyone else what kind of disasters war can

lead to. In the same sense, it has proven very difficult for gun control protestors to change the

population's view on guns, this is because in America’s history they relied on those guns to fight

off the tyrannical control of the British government. Just like it is hard for the gun control

advocates to change people’s views on guns, it will be hard for foreigners to change the values of

locals. It is important to learn a lot about the culture’s history and how it affects other people

before deciding what you agree with and what you disagree with. With a proper understanding, it

is easier to avoid decisions fueled by culture shock or avoid making decisions that will lead to it

(Washington).
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It is important to remember that although a culture cannot truly be understood without

seeing it through the local’s eyes, it is also true that only seeing it from the inside can lead to

various immoralities. For example, if there is an ancient clan that sticks to the practice of human

sacrifice, most outsiders would deem this as unacceptable, but from the clan’s point of view, they

rely on this sacrifice to please the gods and give them a good harvest. Without this harvest the

clan would surely starve. From the clan’s point of view they see nothing wrong, but any outsider

would be shocked by this practice. That’s why the foreigner’s view is so special, they have the

chance to see from both perspectives and base their judgement from both sides (Dutton).

Some of the biggest problems occur when a person tries to bring their values into the new

country and live the same way the same way they did at home. They do this without expecting

any retaliation from the locals; This can lead to conflicts and outbursts of violence between

foreigners and locals. One of biggest controversies surrounding around this issue is the topic of

refugees immigrating from the Middle East. In The New York Times, Bennold describes the

conflicts that have emerged between the refugees in Germany and the German nationals. Many

of these conflicts are rooted in diverging cultural norms and beliefs. One example of a conflict

between ideals was “when a man blamed the Jews for the recent suffering of Muslims, ‘A charity

worker of Moroccan origin explained to him, in Arabic, that such attitudes were not acceptable

— particularly in Germany’” (Bennold). Not only is this quote a great example of diverging

beliefs, but it is also a great example of someone who has adapted to the new culture and

changed how they act. There is also an example of when a women came out with a bruised face

from the tent, and when the volunteers asked her husband if this was his doing, he sat there

smiling, a former refugee volunteering at the camp told him that these types of actions are

unacceptable and told him to observe the laws of Germany (Bennold). The topic is still relevant
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and is happening quite often, with many controversies coming up about whether or not refugees

should be accepted or not it is important to remember the process of culture shock and also

remember the actions of both the volunteering refugees and the ones currently coming in.

The conflicts between people’s values can lead to many eruptions of violence and will

also lead people down a path of backrolling. However, it is very unlikely for a person to change

their values because of another person, these values have built their society over many years and

it will be challenging for any person to challenge the culture that has been embedded into a

societies lifestyle for centuries. Symptoms of culture shock occur in sudden bursts of shock in

which a person may be flustered and change their views of a culture because of that memory.

The process of culture shock has led to many other incidents that have become a major topic of

discussion between politicians and people alike. As more controversies emerge from this topic,

the measures implemented to counteract the process of culture shock become much more

important.

Section 4: Insufficient Means

Culture shock is not something new, people have seen signs of it since the days of St.

Patrick (Dutton) and the effects of culture shock have not worn off as the years go by. The

effects are the same today as they were in the past. Data has been collected on the symptoms of

culture shock and what can be done to prevent it, because of the many known symptoms of

culture shock, there have been many measures implemented to counteract it. Examples of the

many measures taken to counteract culture shock is counseling, the host system, and cultural

clubs where people from certain cultures are able to meet others who share the same background.

When surrounded by people who share the same culture as them, it is easier for them to relate
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and communicate with the other members. Every one of these methods has both pros and cons

and each one has points that can be improved.

Nearly every campus that hosts students has counseling available, and even if the person

staying abroad isn’t a student, there are many therapists that they can seek for help. Counseling is

a great way for foreigners to get private help from people who are there to listen to their

problems. The counselors have plenty of experience in providing comfort to people struggling to

adjust to the new environment and will be able give them insights into how the locals view their

own culture and how it ties to their lifestyle. Although these counselors are trained to help these

students studying abroad, there is a major flaw in their system. Many counselors follow a

procedure when treating students from different countries. They have the same information and

the same treatment methods for people from China and will use the same information and

methods to treat other Chinese students (McLachlan). They have lists of common problems and

recommended treatments for these problems. The problem with this is that it removes the

personal connection that can form between a therapist and their patient. Every patient is not the

same and shouldn’t be treated as if they are.

I believe that the way counselors approach students must be changed. They need a

proactive approach to helping people in a new country. Some would say that it is up to the

person to go to the counselor if they need help, they know themselves better than anyone else

and it is unnecessary for other people to interfere. It is true that an outsider can’t truly understand

what a person is feeling People are too timid, or maybe even too ashamed, to approach another

person for help. Even if another person doesn’t feel like they are experiencing any symptoms of

culture shock, it is still better to help them sooner rather than later. A person’s culture that

emphasizes pride shouldn't inhibit that person from living a normal life in a different one. It is
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unrealistic to treat different people with different cultural backgrounds the same way; some tend

to keep to themselves while others are used to relying on others. Every culture has virtues that

can inhibit that person from doing something. Having someone open up to them first makes

talking about their problems that much easier, they will tell everything that has been bothering

them and the counselor can treat them from there.

Another approach is for the student to either be hosted or be paired with a conversation

partner. This gives the student a way to see how people in this culture live and also gives them

someone to talk to and open up to about their problems. The host also is able to show them what

to expect when living in the new country and culture shock seems less effective. The

conversation partner is also an easy way for the foreigner to practice the language and avoid

culture shock caused by language barriers (McLachlan). The only problem with this method is

the possibility that the host and student don’t get along. The exchange student usually has a say

in how they want their home environment to be, they will be asked questions asking whether

they are ok with smoking, are they ok with pets, any allergies or medical conditions. The school

will use these questions in order to make sure their new home is as comfortable as possible, but

of course it won’t account for everything. That being said, it is still a really rare case and most of

time the exchange student ends up with a reliable partner to guide them while they are

transitioning.

With enough students willing to participate students make clubs where people of the

same nationality can gather and meet others with the same background. Even if it’s not a club,

these students can tend to stick to each other when thrown into this new environment. These

clubs are helpful and people who take part in it have experienced lesser signs of culture shock

(Joseph). This is because these clubs not only gave them a large group of friends to hang out
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with, but also was an easy way to find out what to expect from their new home. Many students

reported that upperclassmen from the same country as them would tell them stories of how they

experienced culture shock and what differences stood out to them while living in the new

country. As a result, these students now know what to expect and the differences become less

shocking as the lower classmen experience it themselves. Another benefit is the elimination of

language barriers; the club provides a way for the student to effectively communicate their

feelings without the fear of it being interpreted the wrong way or they will say something that

doesn’t make sense. The only problem I have with the club is that it ends up with the person

clinging to people who are the same as them. The main reason to study abroad is to diversify

yourself and meet people who different, clinging to people from the same country can be seen as

a gateway to backrolling, or as a nice alternative to it. It cannot be denied that these clubs are

effective in easing culture shock, but I ask that people not forget the risks that can come from

getting along solely with people in that club. If the club is used simply as a way for the student to

vent and take a break from speaking a foreign language, then I see it as completely acceptable.

Each method has pros and cons and combinations of each method can prove to be fairly

efficient in helping those suffering from culture shock. Remembering those who are usually to

prideful or shy to seek help, keeping the personal connection between therapist and patient, and

making sure that students are constantly exposing themselves to the new culture will make sure

that culture can be as stress-free as possible.

Conclusion: Make a Move

Perspective changes from person to person and what a person perceives as right or wrong

based off of this perspective. A large factor in a person’s perspective is their culture and when a

person transitions from one culture to another they experience something called culture shock.
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Culture shock is in simple terms, a person experiencing something new and adapting to it. As

people experience new things they eventually grow accustomed to them, the process of culture

shock cannot be prevented, but it can be made easier for the person experiencing it. This can be

done through connections with other people, a deeper understanding of a country’s background,

and proactive care for people who are experiencing it. Symptoms can be loneliness and isolation,

frustration, and eventually a process called backrolling. The differences between culture have

become very relevant recently, there are lots of conflicts between countries and lots of debate on

refugees and whether they should be let into the country. Culture causes conflicts of ideals

between people and it seems as if as the relationship with on country improves, the relationship

with another worsens as different sides are taken and people grow more and more fearful of

another world war. Through our efforts to make the world more connected and improve

international relations we can make it easier for immigrants and international students to adapt to

their new country, this will persuade others who were unsure to also live abroad. They will come

and share their stories, we will share our own and soon our countries will have better

relationships than ever before. Through this we can make a more connected world and grow

together because there are better ways to spend our time than fighting each other over our

culture.
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Work Cited

Bennold, Katrin. "Culture Shock in the Promised Land of Germany - The New York Times."

The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. The New York

Times, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Jan. 2018.

Dasgupta, Sayantani. "'Have a good one': For a U of I transplant from New Delhi, Moscow,

Idaho, was as confusing as Moscow, Russia." EBSCO Host. About Campus,

1 Sept. 2012. Web. 22 Sept. 2017

Dutton, Edward. "The Culture Shock of St Patrick." Estudios Irlandeses, no. 6, Jan. 2011, pp.

125-131. EBSCOhost,

Furnham, Adrian. "Culture Shock: Literature Review, Personal Statement and Relevance for the

South Pacific." Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology, vol. 4, no. 2, Nov. 2010, pp. 87-94.

EBSCOhost

Gilmour, Kristofer. "Why We Need to Embrace Culture Shock | Kristofer Gilmour |

TEDxTownsville." YouTube. TEDx, 3 Nov. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2017.

Joseph, Arline E., and Stanley B. Baker. "THEMES CARIBBEAN OVERSEAS STUDENTS

PERCEIVE INFLUENCE THEIR LEVELS OF CULTURE SHOCK." EBSCO

Publishing Service Selection Page. College Student Journal, 1 Dec. 2012. Web.

14 Sept. 2017.

McCurry, Justin. "New Generation of Japanese Anti-war Protesters Challenge Abe | World

News | The Guardian." The Guardian. The Guardian, 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2018.

McLachlan, Debra A. and Jessica Justice. "A Grounded Theory of International Student Well

Being." Journal of Theory Construction & Testing, vol. 13, no. 1,

Spring/Summer2009, pp. 27-32. EBSCOhost


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Nelson, Vicki. "Stage of Culture Shock." Michigan Technological University. Michigan

Technological University, 14 June 2015. Web. 9 Apr. 2018.

Shannon-Baker, Peggy. "But I wanted to appear happy”: How using arts-informed and mixed

methods approaches complicate qualitatively driven research on culture shock." EBSCO

Publishing Service Selection Page. University of Alberta, 1 Apr. 2015. Web.

26 Sept. 2017.

Tugend, Alina. "Why People Remember Negative Events More Than Positive Ones - The New

York Times." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. The

New York Times, 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2018.

Washington University. "International students and cultural shock." Counseling Center.

University of Washington, 13 June 2016. Web. 4 Oct. 2017.

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