Culture Shock-What to Expect

Culture is tricky business. The best analogy I've come up with is that it's like learning to ride a bicycle in your 20s, except that when you arrive to learn to ride, you find your bike is an alien hover bike, your only instruction is a small manual, and failure doesn't mean a scraped knee, but offending hundreds of Thai people. 

Most visitors to a foreign country often experience a phenomenon referred to as culture shock. 

Stephen Rhinesmith, one of the world's leading experts on global leadership divides the experience that many people feel upon arrival into a new culture into 10 phases. 
  1. initial anxiety
  2. initial elation
  3. initial culture shock
  4. superficial adjustment
  5. depression–frustration
  6. acceptance of host culture
  7. return anxiety
  8. return elation
  9. re–entry shock
  10. reintegration

Here are some graphs to help illustrate. 

Graph #1

Graph #2

A successful method to help ease culture shock is to learn about the country and culture you will be entering. This is a huge part of my preparation for departure and is required by my program.  So here are just a few cultural facts I've learned about Thailand
  • The feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body, while the head is considered the most sacred. You have to be very careful where you place your feet in Thailand, how you sit is extremely important. Years ago a tourist family was imprisoned for climbing onto a giant Buddha to pose for a photograph (essentially putting the least holy onto the most holy.) Their plea that they did not understand Thai conventions and meant no disrespect was dismissed in court. 
  • There is some internet censorship and √®se majest√© laws. The musical The King and I is actually banned in Thailand because of its portrayal of the King. 
  • Social hierarchy is extremely important to all social interactions in Thailand. This determines who pays for meals, what verbs and nouns to use and other social conventions. Because it is so important to know who is the superior in every social interaction, Thais are not afraid to ask personal questions about age and salary immediately upon introduction. 
  • Mai Pen Rai: Often, the Thai will deal with disagreements, minor mistakes or misfortunes by using the phrase "mai pen rai", translated as "it doesn't matter". The ubiquitous use of this phrase in Thailand reflects a disposition towards minimizing conflict, disagreements or complaints.

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