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Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Today’s article will be about culture shock and its consequences. Since I experienced it too, I will start with a general description of this phenomena, presenting my personal experience at the end.  

What is culture shock?

Let’s use Wikipedia’s concise definition to explain the term:

“Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life. One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign environment. Common problems include: information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, formulation dependency, homesickness (cultural), boredom (job dependency), response ability (cultural skill set).” (1)

In other words, when you move to a culturally different place, you may be overwhelmed by a multitude of feelings, such as anxiety, loneliness, confusion, etc., because this new place feels far away from what you normally experience in your daily life. Everything is strange and unfamiliar and dealing with this feeling of unfamiliarity brings you anguish and inner stress.

In some cases, this psychological disorder can turn into a physical problem: it is not uncommon that after some time you start to suffer from stomach pain, insomnia or, in my case, kidney pain, etc.

The process of culture shock is divided in 4 stages:

  • Honeymoon: in this first stage everything seems new and beautiful and you feel euphoric for very little detail in your new life, but unfortunately this initial happiness is bound to end.
  • Negotiation: this is the worst part, in which nothing seems right anymore. You are angry, because you begin to realize that things are not going as you thought, you are sad because you feel lonely and you miss your family and friends, you feel anxious and uncomfortable, because you start comparing your new life with the old one and you realize that your old life had good points too. Fortunately, this stage will also come to an end.
  • Adjustment: after 6 or more months you will finally adjust to the new routine, the difficulties no longer seem so difficult to overcome, as in the previous phase, and everything is going back to normal.
  • Adaptation: you have now adapted to your new life and are experiencing a sense of belonging, feeling at home in what was a new environment at first.

When you finally reach the 4th stage, a re-entry culture shock may arise when you go back to your old place, forcing you to reexperience the process of culture shock all over again.

Now, explaining what a culture shock is and experiencing it are two completely different things and I know what I’m talking about, because it happened to me too.

When I first arrived in Japan, I couldn’t believe how happy I was to be there. I was fascinated by every little thing, from road signs and buildings shapes, to restaurants and shops. I remember my first calls to family and friends, full of excitement and hope for a bright future in Japan. If I’m not mistaken, I also remember telling them that I wanted to live there forever, or something like that.

All that lasted only 2 months and my negotiation phase started when I came back to Japan after spending my Christmas holidays at home in Italy.

I was devastated: I continuously thought about Italy and all its positive aspects. I missed everyone back at home and I couldn’t believe I was so exited at first, because I couldn’t think about any pros of being in Japan anymore: people looked unfriendly, road signs were too strange, fruits and vegetables costed too much, the room I rented was too small, etc.

In brief, I felt like I was living in the wrong place, a place in which I could never belong even if I tried and that feeling of uneasiness didn’t help me sleep (yes, I also suffered from insomnia).

After a while, when my boyfriend came to Japan for a month, I started being happy again and I was trying to adjust to my new life, when my study and work experience came to an end and I had to return to Italy.

Since I didn’t have the time to adjust completely I didn’t have to suffer from a re-entry shock, but I couldn’t go through all the stages, so, right now, I feel like retrying that same experience to prove myself that I can finally find a new home.

I don’t know if I will do it, but be sure that, as soon as this pandemic end, I’ll be back to Japan.

To conclude, if you really want to move to a culturally different country, be aware that all the inner and outer things you will experience are normal and that if you are very determined to build a new like a completely new environment, you can do it, because you will always adjust to it in the end.

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_shock

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Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.danieletrevisani.com

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I wasn’t really sure about the topic of today’s article, because there are actually too many things to say about being a foreigner in Japan, but I decided to list some pros and cons that had a special impact in my daily life there.  

The first thing I must underline is the fact that I’m Italian, so please note that my point of view may be different from yours if you do not come from the same culture as mine. Furthermore, everything is based on my personal experience as a working student, so be aware that my list of advantages and disadvantages can be considered incomplete by those how had a different experience.  

Being Accepted   

First of all, I would like to start with a negative issue: being accepted in Japan can be very difficult.  

This doesn’t mean that people make you feel unwelcomed, maybe some people do, but there are very few of them. What I mean is that they will always see you as a foreigner, even though you speak their language perfectly or you own a house and car and have lived there for more than 20 years.  

The worst thing is that there is nothing you can do to be fully accepted, because it is impossible to have the requirements: being born and raised in Japan by Japanese parents, or, in other words, being a pure blood Japanese.  

The good thing about all of this is that, since you will never be considered a real Japanese, you won’t have to put up with social pressure, trying to live up to the expectations of Japanese society, which are very high.  

Feeling Safe  

As it is well known, Italy is one of those countries with a high level of petty crime. When I have to go the station or when I have to go out alone during night hours, I’m always scared of bumping into some pickpocket, that wants to steal my bag. When I was in Japan, I always felt safe when walking down the street, even when I had to head home from work at midnight.  

Another example to explain this incredible fact is the following: when I went for the first time in a food court inside a shopping centre, I noticed that people left their bags on the tables to occupy them without anyone to check on them.  

That really surprised me, because I couldn’t believe they weren’t afraid of someone stealing them, but that’s how Japan is and it’s great.  

Human Relationships

Here comes my Italian side. People in Italy are usually very direct: we are used to openly express our emotions and ideas, without fear, while Japan is totally the opposite: people do not speak their mind and interpreting their thoughts is a hard task.    

Creating long-lasting relationships was the most difficult part of my experience. The truth is I made many friends, but no one was Japanese. I had Chinese friends, Korean friends, Italian and American friends, but I couldn’t make a single true Japanese friend.  

But as I explained before, maybe that is something related only to my personal experience and nothing more. 

Cleanliness and Punctuality  

This is probably something you have heard more than one time about Japan. The Japanese have enormous respect for society and social harmony. For this reason, it is unacceptable to leave a place dirty or to fail one’s word, failing their duties by arriving late.  

This is why everything is always clean and punctual.  

It may happen that, for example, a train arrives late, but usually it is due to some major problem, like accidents or poor weather conditions.  

During my stay in Japan there was only a time when my train was late and that was when a big snowfall created some damages on the trainline. I remember that I took the train at 11 p.m. after finishing my work and I arrived at home at 2:30 a.m… I was devastated, but fortunately I didn’t have to repeat that experience for a second time!  

The Japanese Language  

This is the last, but not least part. As I said before I was a working student in Japan, so I was there to work and learn the language. I must say that at first, I couldn’t speak Japanese quite well and for that reason, many things appeared more difficult than it actually were.  

If I have to use one of my experiences again, I would choose the first time I went to an hospital, 2 days after my arrival in Japan.  

I wasn’t very lucky, that’s true, because I contracted a kidney infection during the flight, that caused me many problems.  

I clearly remember it was Sunday and hospitals were closed, so I had to call an ambulance to have an immediate complete check-up. The people on the ambulance didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t well explain how I was feeling and, at the same time, they couldn’t understand what my emergency was.  

Fortunately, my Italian flatmate, who later became my friend, helped me, coming with me to the hospital to mediate. This way, I could overcome the language gap and cure the infection.  

After improving my language skills there were no more problems like that, so, for those who decide to go to Japan, please remember that you may be lucky and find someone who speaks English, but usually if you do not know the language, you may encounter many more obstacles, than necessary.  

To conclude, being a foreigner in Japan is not easy, but if you begin your experience with an open mind, ready to find a different world made of different values and a different language, you will be able to overcome all obstacles and maybe find a new place to call home. 

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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