Culture Shock

What is culture shock?

“Culture shock” is a term used to describe the anxiety one feels when he or she travels or moves to a 
new and unfamiliar country. We know that being in a new environment or country presents new and 
different experiences from the language to the culture.  For some students, school may even be 

If you have ever worked at learning another language, you know how tired you became after listening, 
speaking, reading and writing the new language.  Your ELL student may be tired after just an hour in the 
classroom, yet he or she must remain there for the rest of the school day listening to and acquiring a 
new and foreign language!

Differences in Education

Schools in many countries are generally autocratic with teachers being stricter than in the United States.  
Lessons are more formal, meaning stringent rules, and also corporal punishment is allowed.  
Students learn by rote memorization and are required to stand while reciting what they have memorized; 
they may be punished for errors made.  
Students have a high degree of respect for formal ways whether or not they like their teacher.  

How does this affect children coming into American schools?

One might think that newcomers would be glad to be in a more relaxed environment; however many feel 
that Americans classrooms are too chaotic.  
They feel that the discipline is lax and the education inferior.  
The classrooms are often run in a manner that reflects the informality of the American culture.  
They can be uncomfortable with this lack of structure and may have trouble understanding what is 
expected of them.
Hands on learning and critical thinking might be a new concept for them. 
Students who come from cultures that value group identity may have trouble adjusting to an 
environment that values individualism. 
Students need time to adjust to new ways and to a new routine.
Students are dealing with a lot of changes, language, including a new alphabet and sounds, being only 
one of them.  
New foods, customs, behaviors, locale (rural area to urban or a war zone), perhaps being in school for 
the first time, or if adopted are attempting to adapt to new parents.

What are the effects of School Shock?

Physical and emotional reactions are apt to occur as a result of this strange and new environment.  
Behaviors may manifest themselves in a variety of ways: anger, apathy, fear, fatigue, depression, and 
loss of appetite, refusal to participate, passivity or aggression. 
Students who have no same-language classmates face total linguistic isolation and are at greatest risk 
of headaches and depression.  

Other American school differences include:

Students calling each other by their first names
Dress is casual (no school uniforms)
Girls and teachers wearing pants to school
Everyone wearing their outside shoes inside the school
Boys and Girls sitting next to each other in the classroom
Boys and Girls having physical education class together
Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning prior to the school day beginning
Students either bringing their lunch to school or buying hot lunch
Students eating lunch together in the cafeteria without their teachers
Students changing class for music, art, gym, computer and other subjects
Students riding the bus to school, or some parents choosing to drive them
Classrooms designed differently
Textbooks showing men doing women’s work and women doing men’s work
Some students talking during class or disobeying the teacher 
Teachers asking students to express their own opinions
Teachers encouraging students to participate and ask questions
Students expecting to raise their hand to speak
Teachers may be male or female, and boys and girls are treated equally
After school activities are offered including interest clubs, sports, homework help, and recreational 
Students eating snack at different times during the day and choosing what they eat 


Learn about our ELL student’s cultural behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs and to be considerate of 
differences.  A good relationship between you and the ELL student provides miraculous power in helping 
newcomers cope with new challenges.  

Cultural Shock Links:


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