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When two cultures meet
Counselor Patricia Zwier discusses “culture shock," the personal reaction that occurs when two cultures intersect. Culture includes language, lifestyle, spirituality, education, and all the ways of living that you have acquired in the midst of a particular group and developed through the generations. It includes normal social behavior, the cues for specific situations, and all the ways of forming and maintaining relationships. Since the cues and signs for how to act and react are accumulated over many years and are largely non-verbal, when you move into a different culture you are without them. It is necessary to spend enormous amounts of energy working out how to respond in everyday situations. This disorientation is referred to as “culture shock.”

Does it affect everyone who moves to a host culture?
Everyone is affected when they move into a new culture and again as they return to their home culture. Anticipating the culture shock will help you to deal with your reactions as they arise. The stress may be worse when it coincides with unresolved transitional or life cycle issues in the past. The most significant mitigating factor is a strong support system.
In this modern world where moves are commonplace, it is necessary to learn to say good-bye. This involves mourning the loss of the past familiar social world, relatives, previous roles, and your former working environment. Welcoming new people and ways of interacting into your life necessitates a healthy separation from the last setting. 

What are the problems or symptoms?
The exertion and stress created by cultural disorientation often have emotional and physical manifestations that include a range of symptoms.
Physically, you may experience fatigue, increased vulnerability to illnesses, headaches, muscular tension, increased heart rate and respiration, changes in sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, or poor concentration. 
Emotionally, you may experience roller-coaster highs and lows, anxiety, guilt, irritability, resentment, anger, disdain, a longing for the familiar, a sense of loss, sadness, depression, or increased conflict between spouses or siblings. 
A family may become isolated, feeling strange and separated from their surroundings. They may fall into an extreme dependence within themselves, attempting to cope by rigidly closing their borders to the outside world. 
Another reaction is the isolation of certain individuals in the family whereby they reject the family values and disengage themselves from this support system. 

How long does it last?
Most experts define several stages of cultural adjustment. The “honeymoon” period upon arrival may be exhilarating, filled with excitement and anticipation. Then the anxiety enters, with frustration, confusion, discomfort and impatience. The third stage is a rejection and dislike of all that is different. Things are taken personally and judged as “wrong.” This is followed or accompanied by a regression into a safe haven where contact with all the newness and disorientation is minimized. Finally, you emerge into the adjustment stage where you start to feel comfortable in the host environment. 
Everyone, however, experiences the accommodation to the new culture at his/her own rate. If you are making a transition with your family, expect that some conflict will be generated by these different rates of progress. Also expect culture shock to come in cycles; it is not a smooth, linear, once-and-for-all process. 

What can I do to overcome culture shock?
1. Recognize that you are in a cultural transition and be gentle with yourself. 
2. Reduce other tensions in your life. Find ways to laugh. 
3. Build your support system. Find friends who can listen and support (not just enjoin in your complaints). 
4. Learn the language of the host culture. Without this, it will be extremely difficult to reach the adjustment stage of feeling comfortable. 
5. Make every attempt to understand situations and relationships from the host culture's view without comparing it negatively to your own. 
6. Increase your self-awareness of your home culture, your own values, basic assumptions, attitudes, and rules. 
8. See a professional therapist to deal with some past issues that may be intersecting with the current transition, or simply to get perspective and clarify current issues. 

How will you know when you have adjusted?
Adjustment means feeling comfortable with your sense of self and your home culture as well as feeling comfortable with the host culture. You can recognize the special ness of each, as well as the weaknesses. You will have sacrificed and you will have been forever enriched.
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