Culture shock has been described as a state of psychophysical stress, experienced by an individual who is abruptly immersed in an unfamiliar cultural context, with the subsequent loss of emotional, cognitive and practical landmarks.
When one leaves the social environment he knows and in which he feels safe and comfortable, in order to move to a
foreign country, he confronts the need of adapting to a new environment and a new culture. Many studies confirmed that,
by coming into contact with a new socio-cultural context, each individual finds himself dealing with a longer or
shorter period of culture shock.
The intensity with which this phenomenon is individually lived, depends on different factors, such as previous intercultural experiences, the level of knowledge of the host culture, the degree of proficiency in the language, as well as one’s own personality traits and predisposition to change. However, it has been proven that everyone, even if differently, finds himself facing four phases in the course of the adaptation process.
The first phase is normally represented by an initial period of euphoria, connoted by energy and excitement; the second one leaves room for a comparison with one’s own culture, which arduously points up the differences with the host one. Nevertheless, it is possible that in the third phase one has become particularly familiar with the new culture, to the point that he rejects the one of origin, disdaining his own customs and traditions. Many individuals tend to get “stuck” in the second or the third stages, thus risking not being able to reach the level of integration of the two cultures, which is typical of the last phase and would allow for a thorough assimilation of ways of thinking, acting and living, which are different from the ones of the origin country.
Over time, a similar condition of psychophysical stress can hinder the possibility of living the change in a positive way and lead to the manifestation of full-blown anxious or depressive symptoms. Early intervention, with psychological support, eases and shortens the process of integrating the new culture and the return to a state of well-being, thereby preventing (or counteracting, should they be already present), anxiety and depression symptoms.