Overcoming Culture Shock in TESOL

Culture shock is a series of feelings that travellers experience when they encounter the new and unfamiliar culture of a different city or country. Four stages have been identified in the process of experiencing culture shock:

1- The Honeymoon or “Everything is Fabulous” Stage: When first arriving at a new place people experience everything as interesting and positive.

2- The Shock or “I Want to Go Home!” Stage: All the differences between the person’s home and the new country are exacerbated and everything makes them miss their home. Very often the person’s outlook becomes incredibly negative. The differences are sometimes felt as so overwhelming that people who travel for longer periods of time cut their trips short.

3- The Negotiation or “Maybe Not Everything is that Bad” Stage: If people stay at a new place for a long enough time to try to overcome the Shock Stage, they learn to deal with the differences between their culture and the new one. They take the problems they’d been experiencing and try to make the most of the situation.

4- The Acceptance or “I am Actually OK Here” Stage: By this stage people are able to live well in their new environment with the differences they are experiencing and they can even become bi-cultural.

These stages can take place very quickly or very slowly. Some people experience each stage for a couple of days, others for  a couple of months, and in extreme cases it takes years to overcome culture shock.

Culture Shock and Teaching a New Language

Culture shock affects all TESOL teachers moving to a new country. Being aware of it will help you identify your problems and take the appropriate steps to ensure that you keep moving through the stages without getting stuck on the shock stage for too long.

Culture shock  also affects ESL students who travel to another country for full immersion ESL programs. ESL students who suffer from culture shock might even refuse to speak the new language. Most English language learners have not heard of culture shock and are not aware that they are experiencing it. As their teacher, you can help them identify it and understand it so that they too can continue moving through the stages as swiftly as possible.

One or more of the following symptoms in your students can help you identify that they are experiencing culture shock:

–  Extreme homesickness

–  Withdrawal from people from different cultures or countries

–  Sudden intense feeling of loyalty to own culture or country

–  A need for excessive sleep

–  Headaches and upset stomach

–  Loss of ability to work or study effectively

–  Unexplainable crying

What can you as the teacher do for your students?

The best thing to do is to teach your students about culture shock so that they recognize if it is happening to them. Furthermore, knowing that it is a normal experience may already be helpful in itself.

You can also encourage your students to exercise regularly and visit new places since this will help them stay healthy and meet new friends.

Finally, one of the best things you can do is encourage your students to talk about their home country and their culture in the classroom. This is a great way to help your students learn more about each other.

250-hour TESOL Diploma. Recognized by TESL Canada.
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