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Cross Cultural Shock: Case Study from a Cultural Perspective

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The intention of this report is to provide an analysis of a given case study from a cultural perspective. The case study involves Paula Peters who is a woman from an African country and has recently moved to Australia with her family. However, as she encounters a culture different from her home country’s she experiences culture shock. This report looks at the antecedents and effects of her culture shock as well as evaluates Paula’s self-awareness rating. Some recommendations on how to alleviate the issue will also be provided.

Case Study Analysis

Antecedents of Paula’s culture shock

After Paula arrived at Australia and went through a short period of excitement, she soon realized there existed an extensive cultural gap between Australia and her country. From the lens of the U-curve model by Lysgaard (1995, cited in Fitzpatrick, 2017), Paula had already undergone the “honeymoon” phase which involves a feeling of fascination triggered by the entry to a new environment. She now reaches the second phase, which is referred to as “crisis”. This is when the expatriate feels frustrated and helpless in an unfamiliar cultural setting. Such a situation is called culture shock. It occurs when a person is exposed to a new culture and feels disoriented and confused (Moufakkir, 2013). This section explains the antecedents of culture shock experienced by Paula.

It can be seen that Australia and Paula’s home countries are culturally distant, which can be manifested through the differences in their national cultural dimensions. The individualism versus collectivism dimension, one of the five facets of national culture as identified by Hofstede (1991). While her culture is characterized for collectivism, Australia is an individualistic culture. According to Hofstede Insights (n.d), the individualism dimension of Australia scores 90/100 points. In terms of workplace relationships, in a highly individualistic culture like Australia, the relationship between an employer and their employees is contractual. On the other hand, collectivist employees often perceive themselves as members of an extended family and their company should be able to look after the needs of their staff beyond the terms and conditions in the contract (Braje, Klindžić and Galetić, 2019).

In addition, individualist employees are anticipated to display a certain degree of independence and prioritize personal success while those from a collectivist culture tend to place a stronger emphasis on collective work and are relatively dependent on a social unit (Forsyth, 2013). Such a discrepancy has posed a great challenge for Paula. To be more specific, previously, she might be used to rely on the support of her colleagues and supervisors in the workplace. In the new cultural setting, she lacks such support and is expected by both her peers and boss to be self-reliant on her tasks. Moreover, individualistic societies differ from collectivistic societies in the ability of grown-up family members to offer financial support (Jeffrey, Greenhaus and Powell, 2016). Specifically, while in collectivist families, one family member (often the father) can financially support his entire family, every adult in individualistic cultures should have a job and fulfil his or her financial obligation.

The case study also highlights the power distance dimension of national culture. Australia has a low degree of power distance. This indicates that Australian companies are attributable to a flat internal hierarchy, easy access to information and superiors as well as a fairly equal distribution of power. In contrast, in collectivist organizations, the communication flow is formal, the relationship between superior and subordinate is polarised (Oliver and Foscarini, 2014). Even though Paula sees this change as an opportunity for her to play a more participative role in the organization, she might have to put much effort in adapting to the new organizational structure. She might not feel comfortable engaging in informal and direct interactions with her superiors. It is also worth mentioning that the cultural adaptation process of a newcomer can be affected by his or her network in the host country (Zhou et al., 2008). It appears that Paula and her family do not have any relationships with the locals prior to their departure. This can contribute to her difficulty in adapting to the new environment.

The reason why her culture shock is so severe can be explained by the fact that she was not prepared for her entry to a new cultural environment. She also admitted that she had unrealistic expectations. She should have conducted research on some typical attributes of Australian cultures so that she might be more aware of the changes, and thus, feel less overwhelmed. This is referred to as informal learning. According to Noman et al. (2020), new technologies such as Google and social media are deemed conducive to obtaining information about the new culture. In addition, Paula should have known about the four stages of culture shock, as the framework could help her to be better prepared against relevant psychological impacts (Lin, Chen and Song, 2012).

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Effects of culture shock

Culture shock can bring about numerous negative effects on newcomers. In the case of Paula, she is psychologically affected by culture shock. She feels anxious and moody. This can be referred to as acculturative stress, which is defined as the migrants’ poor psychological and social states caused by the negotiation process between two different cultural settings (Wali and Renzaho, 2018). Lin, Chen and Song (2012) also argued that the negative feelings caused by culture shock can have a negative impact on a newcomer’s confidence and self-esteem.

In an organizational setting, according to Chen, Lin and Sawangpattanakul (2011), culture shock might also be associated with poor work performance, which would hinder the cultural adaptation process. As mentioned above, there is a significant difference in the individualism and power distance levels of Australia and Paula’s home country. For instance, Paula used to rely on collective work while the new company requires her to work alone. Her being unfamiliar with the new corporate culture might exert a negative effect on her ability to fulfill her job-related tasks. In addition, her work-life balance is affected as a result for her effort in trying to minimize the gap between two cultures.

Five dimensions of self-awareness

The five dimensions of self-awareness include personal values, self-assessment, learning approach, attitude toward change and emotional intelligence. It can be said that Paula scores low on the self-awareness rating. Firstly, emotional intelligence is confirmed to have a positive relationship with cross-cultural adjustment (Koveshnikov, Wechsler and Dejoux, 2016). Emotional intelligence can be described as people’s capacity of being aware of and managing their own and other people’s emotions (Salovey and Mayer, 1990; cited in Konanahalli and Oyedele, 2015). It appears that Paula has limited emotional intelligence considering her mood swing situation.

In addition, she seems to take a passive approach to learn considering the fact that she was not prepared for the culture shock prior to her arrival to Australia. In terms of attitude towards change, even though she was not reluctant to accept a lower job position and work long hours, she seems to be quite concerned about the exchange rate. The level of her attitude towards change might be moderate. Little is known about her self-assessment and personal value. However, it might be safe to say that her level of self-awareness is average.


There are several methods Paula can adopt to minimize the impacts of culture shock and quickly move to the last phase of the phenomenon, which is adaptation. Firstly, it is vital that Paula should enrich her social capital, or in other words, build a network of relationships in her new environment. She can take part in the local ex-pat community. This will be a chance for Paula to gain experience in dealing with culture shock from other non-Australian people. Seeking social support from local nationals is also considered to be an efficient method to deal with culture shock (Chen, Lin and Sawangpattanakul, 2011). In addition, Paula should be more active in her cultural learning process. The language barrier still exists even if she is fluent in English. This is due to the fact that the Australian culture has some distinctive body language cues and slang terms. Therefore, it is advisable that Paula register for some forms of cultural adaptation courses.


In conclusion, Paula is faced with culture shock when she enters a new and unfamiliar cultural setting. Such a phenomenon is caused by the discrepancy between the cultures of Australia and her home country in two constructs of national culture namely individualism versus collectivism, and power distance. Cross-cultural issues give rise to several problems such as psychological well-being, lack of work-life balance and performance at work. Some recommendations on how to alleviate the issue include enriching social capital and being active in the learning process.


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