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Culture Shock - A Comparison To Teaching


It is certain that the majority of teachers coming to Japan, either short-term or long-term, have experienced culture shock at some point during their stay. It can be experienced both in a positive or negative way. 

There are several stages of culture shock, but the most common versions are the 4-stages and 5-stages. Here, we shall go over the 5-stages version, and attempt to make a comparison between culture shock and teaching.

The 5 Stages Of Culture Shock

Culture Shock Stages

Comparison To Teaching

I. The Honeymoon Stage

When you enter a new culture, the differences are intriguing. Everything is interesting and stokes your curiosity. As the name speaks, like a real honeymoon, all is fun and romance, but it comes to an end at some point.

Starting out on a new school assignment can be scary as well as exciting. You will meet new co-workers, the school system is most likely very different from your home country, and/or the new school may be totally different to your previous one. The differences will be interesting at the start, but at some point it may start to get...

II. The Distress Stage

Usually sets in after a couple of months. Cultural differences can create stress. The new experiences are no longer new, and in some ways it can make you feel down. There will be pressure to communicate, and your proficiency of the language might be insufficient. Feelings of confusion, isolation, and inadequacy may set in. You begin to realize that your familiar support systems are not readily available or easily accessible.

If you had a wonderful experience in your previous school(s), the new one might not be your cup of tea at this stage. The JTs' communication style, teaching style, team teaching style, and English proficiency may start to irritate you because the previous school was so great. You will make comparisons and think up excuses why things are not going the way you are accustomed to. The co-workers that you have built relations with are no longer there, and it feels tedious to have to build new relations over again.

III. The Re-Integration Stage

This is when the 'Japan-bashing' stage starts. Complaining about everything, disliking everything from the culture, language, food, you name it, everything is rejected as inferior to your home country's. You may feel angry and frustrated, and may even become hostile to the people of your host country. Even with all the negativity in this stage, it is actually a normal and healthy reaction. It means that you are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and culture. Most people will start adjusting after this and begin to accept the new environment. Things start to make sense and negative attitudes dilute.

Teachers move from school to school every couple of years. As humans, we always make comparisons and are biased - we tend to favor the positive things, and the 'good old days' back at School A. Everything in School B seems to be so backward and you really don't like it at all. The students are too rowdy, the JTs don't manage or discipline the students well enough, the JTs' English ability is poor, the JTs make mistakes on the board, the JTs don't like your teaching style - you name it, and will find an excuse for everything. For most of us, we begin to accept this different environment, and the way things are done at School B start to make sense.

IV. The Autonomy Stage

Towards the end of the Stage III, you begin to accept this new environment. You begin to feel like yourself again, your confidence comes back, are able to cope better with whatever problems you had in Stage III, and start to embrace the new environment. You can start appreciating where you are. 

After a few more months, or more time, spent with School B, you understand better the situations of school management, the students, and teachers. You have learnt to deal with any previous problems with less friction, and you may begin to like School B - maybe even better than School A in some cases.

V. The Independence Stage

Finally, this is when you can truly experience and appreciate your new home. The feeling of independence and acceptance will come, and you will no longer feel isolated. You will understand and appreciate both the differences and similarities of your own and new culture. It may begin to feel like, or become, your second home.

From here, everything should go smoothly with the School B. Both sides understand and accept each other, and finally you can have genuine and fun communication with students and teachers, as well as have fun classes all the time. The end of semester/year has come, and it's time to say goodbye to School B - you feel as if you are leaving a family.

Culture shock can be experienced both positively and negatively. In addition to that, everyone adapts to it at different rates. For some the Honeymoon Stage may last a very long time. Others seem to take forever to get over Stage II and Stage III. Some may experience the Distress and Re-Integration Stages only briefly with minimal negativity. Unfortunately, there are also some who are stuck in limbo and cannot make it to Stage IV. They really don't know what they are missing out on! The real experience starts from there. 

At EduCareer, we emphasize the importance of learning the Japanese language whenever possible. Not only is it important for enabling effective communication with co-workers, but also culturally enriching. It also shows that you respect the culture of the host country. Most importantly, it will help you get through the stages of culture shock more smoothly, and you can enjoy and appreciate your second home a lot better.

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