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Culture Clash vs. Culture Shock

What exactly is the difference between these two types of cross-cultural exchanges?

What are the similarities?

We live in a nation more diverse than ever before. And as more and more people have the opportunity to interact with many different cultures via the Internet and traveling, culture clashes and culture shocks are inevitable. Indeed, there have been many Hollywood movies focusing on the profound impact that cross-cultural interactions can make, like Crash and Babel. But these emotional exchanges do not have to be negative. The difference is when we suspend our assumptions and judgements and instead become present in the moment with an open mind and heart, willing to be wrong, to learn, and to compassionately teach.

Culture clash is what happens when there is tension between people because one or both people feel threatened by what the other believes, values and practices. This can be based on a person’s ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, age and/or gender.

Culture shock more accurately describes what an immigrant might feel when he or she first arrives in a new country, submersed in a culture with customs so different than their own. A more mild example on the culture shock spectrum would be what a person who did not properly prepare for his or her first camping trip might feel. You might also feel culture shock in another neighborhood of your own city or in a country on the other side of the world.


Source: MSN Travel

What culture shock and culture clash have in common is that they are both cross-cultural experiences and they both can be negative or positive, depending on our willingness to be respectful about another person’s culture as well as acknowledging our own biases and stereotypes. Mainstream media oftentimes create stereotypical lenses with which to view each other from, but we must resist taking the easy way out and instead embrace the complexities our brains grapple with at times. This diverse cultural spectrum is a web and we are all connected, so why not embrace the opportunities to increase our cross-cultural communication skills? Debating is not the same as arguing so keep in mind that not all cultural clashes have to be negative and we can respond to culture shock in a positive way – the key lies in keeping an open mind and a positive outlook.

Kaira Portillo

Kaira Portillo-Espinoza was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. She is grateful for having grown up around such a wide spectrum of diversity, which makes the Bay Area the unique place it is. Her first published book, Poems About This Roller-Coaster Ride Called Life, is a collection of poems she wrote throughout high school and college and explores issues of injustice, resistance, sexuality, and empowerment.