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Hearing Culture: Culture Shock and its impact on teachers Packing up and moving to a new country,
Packing up and moving to a new country, even if it's close to your native one, can be a jolting experience and stressful adjustment. The term 'culture' embodies a plethora of meanings and notions that represent certain people, countries, locations or communities of various kinds. The term 'culture shock', then, refers to the ways in which the various aspects of a culture are impacting the normal state of mind of a person who is new to that culture. Culture shock is a very real and often easily observed condition, which makes it an important topic for discussion when considering teaching in a new country and how to be the most effective teacher. There are undoubtedly more effects that can occur on people moving into new cultures then will be discussed here, however, the following is a discussion of some of the most pertinent and challenging effects. The brevity of this paper demands that the causes of culture shock not be fully determined, rather, we will primarily discuss the ways in which culture shock manifests itself and some basic ways for teachers to avoid letting them affect their teaching.
The first two characteristics of culture shock to be discussed are sleepiness and mild depression or general unrest. Culture shock can have an affect on a person's alertness, making them feel tired more so than normal. Overwhelmed by the vast amount of new stimulation a person can feel sleepy or groggy during the heart of the day, despite having had a full nights sleep. Furthermore, there are numerous reasons why someone may feel slightly depressed or despondent and those feelings can exacerbate the sleepiness. This scenario can easily be flipped the other way around in which feeling sleepy can lead to feeling unproductive making a person depressed. Either way, these are two states of mind that can drag a classroom environment down tremendously, making the teacher unmotivated and unenthusiastic. A tired and distressed teacher will not be able to focus on lesson planning and the multi- tasking necessary to be an effective teacher. Frustration and irritability can arise as a result of these first two conditions or independently of them.
All of these characteristics of culture shock can occur in varying degrees of severity, but, usually, the greater the change in culture the greater the shock. Plowing head first into a new culture, as is often required of EFL teachers, can give rise to an enormous amount of unanswered questions about why certain aspects of a culture are the way they are. Couple the unanswered questions and general uncertainty about one's surroundings with the other difficulties of a new culture'e.g. language barriers, finding a place to live, new smells, sounds, and sights'and a teacher can become frustrated and irritable. Frustration can lead to discouragement and dissatisfaction with the new culture, which will translate into the same emotions and traits experienced with depression and sleepiness. Irritability, though, can mean even worse things for a teacher. An irritable teacher can be quick to snap at students or loose their patience as students of a new language struggle to produce basic and easy words. This is especially true with teachers of younger learners who have to control behavior and rambunctious kids. Patience is often tested with teachers who are not experiencing culture shock, making it even more imperative for the teacher with culture shock to be aware of their feelings.
Awareness is paramount in overcoming culture shock and preventing it from affecting the classroom. One of the best ways to combat feeling depressed and sleepy is to form a routine and stay busy. Just as the problems feed off one another so too do the solutions. Habit and a busy schedule can alleviate stress because it doesn't allow a teacher to focus and dwell on negative feelings. Staying preoccupied means two things for a sleepy teacher. First, they will become used to doing each chapter of their daily routine, requiring less thought and more instinct as each day goes by. Second, a teacher who has a long and productive day will be tired and sleep well at night. If all else fails, enough cannot be said for good cup of coffee or tea in the morning; there's nothing wrong with letting caffeine do its job in making this type of transition easier. Irritability and frustration require a bit more on behalf of the teacher to quell. When the cacophony of a new culture is rattling through the head of a teacher, efforts must be made to put these metaphoric sounds in order. One of the best ways to do this is to read about and experience the culture in an ordered and un-chaotic way. This means the teacher should go to the museums and places of interest in the city. The Internet can be a good resource and any literature apropos to the new culture should be sought out with diligence. As a teacher understands more and more through organized, accessible information, S/he will be able to recognize, digest and make intelligible the vast amount of previously cacophonous stimulation. And, if we continue to think of adjusting to and understanding culture in terms of sounds, making these kinds of efforts will turn clamor and dissonance into euphonious melody. A cultural symphony will take shape before us and the pleasures of travel and teaching can be realized.