Culture Shock: What It Means and How to Navigate It

by Oyinade Afe
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Nigeria is a multicultural society, with 371 ethnic groups and 36 states. There is bound to be a culture shock when someone from one state with a particular culture migrates to another region with a different culture from the migrant’s culture.

What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock, just as the term implies, is a surprise feeling you experience when you become exposed to a new culture. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is a sense of confusion sometimes mixed with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to a new culture or environment without preparation.

Types of Culture Shock

  1. Inter-state

Interstate culture shock in Nigeria occurs when someone moves from one state to another within the country and experiences some confusion or discomfort because things are not as they’ve known them to be. It’s like feeling a little surprised and unsure because the way people do things or the traditions in the new state might vary. 

For instance, an NYSC member who was posted to another state will most likely be shocked and confused at the food, language, clothing, or customs. Whether it’s understanding different traditions or getting used to new social norms, inter-state culture shock is part of the journey. 

With time, individuals will find themselves embracing the rich diversity that characterizes each state’s unique culture.

Read also: 7 Effective Ways to Encourage Cultural Heritage Preservation in Modern Nigeria

  1. Inter-ethnic

Inter-ethnic culture shock in Nigeria happens when someone encounters differences in traditions, languages, or customs as they move from one ethnic group to another within the country. 

Feeling uncomfortable with the way people do things in the new ethnic group because they are different from what you’re used to. For example, the food they eat, the way they greet each other, and the celebrations might also be new and take a little time to get used to.

  1. Rural-urban culture shock

Rural-urban culture shock occurs when someone moves from a rural area to an urban region and experiences shock due to the adjustment and different settings. Feeling a little out of place and uncertain because the way of life, pace, and environment in the new setting might be different from what you’re used to. 

For instance, the hustle and bustle of city life or the quieter pace of rural living could be new and take some time to get used to.

  1. Generational culture shock

In Nigeria, older and younger generations can experience culture shock within their own families. This can happen because of the fast pace of technology, changing values, and different communication styles. Younger people may be comfortable with texting and online platforms, while older generations prefer face-to-face talks. 

Also, they may have different views on topics such as politics, religion, and social norms. This can lead to misunderstandings and a feeling of being disconnected.

It is important to recognize and address generational culture shock to promote understanding, respect, and harmony between different generations. 

By fostering open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to learn from one another, we can bridge the gap between generations and create a more cohesive and inclusive society.

  1. Religious culture shock

In Nigeria’s diverse religious landscape, culture shock can occur even within the same faith. The two main religions ‘ practices and interpretations of Islam and Christianity can vary greatly. Individuals encountering unfamiliar traditions or interpretations of their faith might experience discomfort and confusion. 

In some religious communities, strict social norms and expectations regarding dress codes, behaviour, and interactions can create pressure to conform, leading to discomfort for those who choose not to comply. Sadly, religious tensions can exist between different communities in Nigeria. Members of minority religious groups may face discrimination or prejudice, leading to feelings of isolation and insecurity.

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Examples of Culture Shock

  1. Language barrier

Going into a lively marketplace, to explore and experience, but the surrounding chatter sounds like a foreign language, leaving you feeling lost and confused. This is the experience of a language barrier, a common form of culture shock. With the inability to understand or communicate effectively, you struggle to navigate your surroundings and connect with others. 

The unfamiliar words and sounds create a sense of isolation, hindering your ability to fully engage in the vibrant environment. This example illustrates the challenges and frustrations of encountering a language barrier, a significant aspect of culture shock.

  1. Food

Imagine your senses overwhelmed by unfamiliar sights, smells, and tastes. You eagerly take a bite of a local dish, expecting familiar flavours, but instead, your taste buds are bombarded by spices and ingredients, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. This is one surprising experience of food culture shock. The unfamiliar textures and bold flavours can be unsettling at first, challenging your expectations and forcing you to step outside your comfort zone.

Read also: Dreadful Cultural Practices in Nigeria That Need to Be Abolished/Reformed

  1. Gestures

A simple gesture like a thumbs-up can lead to unexpected complications in a new culture. For example, you confidently offered a thumbs-up to someone, expecting a positive response, only to be met with confusion or even offence. This is the reality of gesture-related culture shock. 

Unfamiliar hand gestures and body language can lead to misunderstandings and awkward interactions. What might seem perfectly normal in one culture can be interpreted differently in another, highlighting the importance of cultural awareness and sensitivity to avoid unintentional mistakes.

  1. Weather

Stepping from a cool, air-conditioned airport into the sweltering heat and humidity of Lagos can be a shocking experience. The sudden change in temperature and overwhelming moisture can feel oppressive and uncomfortable, especially for someone accustomed to a different climate. 

The intense sunshine and relentless heat can drain energy and require adjustments to clothing and lifestyle. Adapting to new weather patterns can be a challenge, but it also offers an opportunity to appreciate the resilience and resourcefulness of those who thrive in such environments.

  1. Dressing

A bustling marketplace in Kano, with a sea of heads adorned with colourful hijabs. This unfamiliar sight, where most women’s hair is covered, can cause initial shock. The contrast with your own culture, where hair covering is less common, can feel strange and even restrictive. 

While the initial reaction might be one of curiosity or even confusion, understanding the cultural significance of hair covering as a sign of respect and religious devotion offers a deeper appreciation for the diverse customs and beliefs that shape Nigerian society.

  1. Customs

The traditional practices and social protocols can feel confusing and awkward at first, especially if they differ significantly from your customs. Arriving in a village in Nigeria, you witness a greeting ritual unlike anything you’ve seen before. Elders are bowed respectfully, hands are tightly clasped, and greetings are exchanged in a language you don’t understand. 

This is the initial shock of encountering unfamiliar customs in a new culture. However, observing the respect and warmth exchanged during these rituals can offer a glimpse into the values and traditions that hold a community together.

Read also: Exploring Cultural Diversity in Nigerian University Campuses

How to Navigate Culture Shock

Have you gone through any kind of these culture shocks and ever wondered how to navigate it? Here’s your compass for crossing cultural divides and embracing the unexpected:

  • Learn the destination’s basic culture.
  • Be friendly to locals.
  • Have an open mind.
  • Always ask questions.
  • Learn the local language.

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In navigating the richness of cultural diversity in Nigeria, where culture shock is inevitable, embracing the unknown becomes a transformative journey. Whether it’s the vibrant markets, the diverse languages, or the intricate customs, each encounter adds layers to our understanding of this multicultural society. 

Recognizing the various types of culture shock, from inter-ethnic transitions to generational gaps, allows us to approach differences with curiosity and respect.

Edited by Priscilla Ajayi.

About Author

Avatar of Oyinade Afe
Oyinade Afe
Oyinade Afe is a versatile writer, designer, and filmmaker with a passion for telling stories. With more than 3 years of experience in content writing, she excels in crafting compelling narratives, visually stunning designs, and producing engaging films. Oyinade is dedicated to authenticity, creativity, and inspiring others through her work.

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