Renaming culture shock

It’s not ‘culture shock’!

Now that I have been in the midst of ‘Culture Shock’ for 8 months – I can confidently say we need to change this label. The words culture shock don’t really convey what is actually happening.

Culture Shock versus Cultural Adaptation Transition Syndrome – CATS

I am not constantly shocked by the culture.

When I hear the words culture shock I picture someone walking around in a zombie-like state with their mouth hanging open in awe and shock.

Here are some suggestions that I think more accurately describe the situation:

  • Transition Fatigue
  • Cultural Adjustment Transition Syndrome (CATS) – my favorite
  • Language Isolation, Frustration, and Eventually Tough Decisions Syndrome (LIFTEDS) – I manipulated that one – just so it would almost spell something
  • Life Turned Upside Down Condition (LTUDC) – sounds like a good cake
  • Put your Whole Head in and Shake it all about Confusion – otherwise known as the Hokey Pokey Syndrome…

But seriously. Who decided to call it culture shock?

Let’s start calling it Cultural Adjustment Transition Syndrome (CATS).

It would also be great if we could rename one of the stages because I am in full blown Transition Fatigue.

There are a lot of positive benefits to changing the term to CATS. We can:

  • Relate to more people. The new terminology allows people going through cultural changes to also relate to people experiencing several life changing events all at the same time. Like a new baby, job change, and a major move. We might have different stories, but underneath we are ALL very similar and can relate to each others Transition Fatigue symptoms.
  • Feel more understood. The term culture shock has left me feeling misunderstood and misrepresented. The new term will hopefully convey the right message.

Cultural Adaptation Transition Syndrome (CATS) will now make me feel described as someone who is – adjusting and adapting with all the NORMAL ups and downs while also experiencing set backs, frustration, and anger, but also growing and seeing good changes happening, realizes that there have been some amazing blessings along this journey so far, and yet exhausted from the changes and the thought of a million more adjustments and changes to come. (excuse the run on sentence).

ALL of that is normal and natural. By not going through these stages – I might not grow as much as a person. I would be numbing myself and not truly living an authentic vulnerable whole hearted life if I didn’t truthfully live and breath these stages. So I will take the down moments, the pain, the confusion, the disconnection, the anger, and the frustration because I know it is strengthening me – I won’t wish it away and I won’t rush through the transition stages because I can learn something in each stage about myself and about others.

(Note – It is wonderful that others have already gone through this and can see these stages from the “other side”. Those people can be a great blessing in your life if they are good listeners and can relate to you without pushing you to be where they are now. They have the benefit of time and space to reflect and see what they learned. Just like parenting, we want to teach our kids every tough lesson we ever learned, but sometimes the best thing we can do is let them know we love them, offer them grace and forgiveness when we see them making our same mistakes, and give them what we wish others had given us – lots of understanding and a shoulder to cry on if they need it.)

  • Remove the Zombie Shock Image. With the new term I can finally delete that image of a Zombie walking around in shock. Instead, I can now confidently embrace the image of a person taking normal adjustment steps towards transitioning into a new country, language, culture, home, and way of life.
  • It is a Great Acronym. Not only does it accurately describe the situation, but the name spells CATS. And when you are going through Cultural Adaptation Transition Syndrome (CATS) sometimes all you need is a little bit of laughter to brighten your day.

Republished with kind permission of Judi Fox via The Wander Weg: Renaming Culture Shock….

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  1. I wasn’t shocked when I first moved abroad, although I expected to be because everyone told me I would be. When I arrived, I looked around and thought “it’s not all that different here”…and then was surprised by how difficult my adjustment was over the next several months! I had over-assumed similarity based on what I saw on the surface (because at the time I thought culture was only food, clothing, etc.) and hadn’t anticipated just how difficult the identity, relationship, and class issues would be. It felt much more like “fatigue” than “shock.”

    Same goes for re-entry! I always hear the terms “re-entry shock” and “reverse culture shock” but it wasn’t a shock to me at all. After the first couple of weeks, it was a slow burn. It was fatigue in the opposite way it was when I moved abroad. And it was all so much more emotional than I’d expected!

    1. I too wasn’t shocked when I first moved abroad and it was VERY different from home. I had more issues when I moved to a place that WAS similar to home! But yes, I agree with fatigue – everything is more tricky; from finding a doctor to simply buying groceries – it’s all a huge learning curve.

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  3. Personally I think we need to lose the word ‘culture.’ For most people that implies culture shock is all about reacting to the new host culture, but in fact culture shock encompasses far more, including loneliness, loss of identity, adapting to new routines and generally the stress of handling so much that is new and different all at once (death by a thousand cuts). I’d prefer to call it ‘relocation shock’ as ‘culture shock’ sounds like something that can be fixed by intercultural training. While that can help, it doesn’t cover everything.

    1. I think I prefer Judi’s “Life Turned Upside Down Condition (LTUDC)”! And also Transition Fatigue. But there are just too many syllables ;- ) which is why I think Culture Shock remains well used and globally recognised.

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