HAWAII – PACOM Community

Culture Shock

The previous section mentioned some of the differences that you may experience with a tour in Hawaii. “Culture shock” is a term used to describe the anxiety that is commonly experienced by virtually everyone who attempts to go about his or her daily affairs in the absence of familiar patterns of communication and social interaction.

This most frequently happens when a person visits another culture for an extended period of time. The newcomer’s expectations, as shaped by the hidden dimensions of the home culture, clash with the expectations of his or her hosts, as shaped by the hidden dimensions of their culture. This clash of expectations tends to make the newcomer want to “fight or flee” as a way of coping with the confusion, frustration, isolation and homesickness that characterize most cases of culture shock.

Culture shock does not necessarily occur only following prolonged interpersonal contact with culturally different people. For some people, the absence of familiar food or the need to become accustomed to different sleeping habits can be sufficient to cause culture shock.

There are stages to culture shock. After an initial period of energy, you may find yourself with less energy, more interested in watching television than going out for a walk. You may find yourself thinking more about home and making comparisons between home and Hawaii. You may also feel lonely, away from your family and friends. This is the beginning stage of culture shock.

During the middle phase, you may find you have even less energy, almost none at all. You may want to sleep all the time or eat when you’re not hungry. You may withdraw from people and activities around you. You will begin to glamorize your own home in your thoughts, remembering only the best things about it. You may find yourself getting irritated over minor things, things that never seemed to bother you before. As you think about the comparisons between the two places and their peoples, you might find yourself making value judgments, being critical because people in Hawaii do not do things the way you do them, when that way seems obviously better.

You can decide when to end culture shock. When you come to the realization that you are a visitor spending probably a short time of your life in Hawaii, you will be coming to the end of your culture shock.

Mainland visitors experience culture shock in varying degrees; some hardly notice it at all. Here are some of the common symptoms of culture shock:

  • You may feel isolated and frustrated.
  • You may become nervous and excessively tired.
  • You may sleep a lot, even after you should have recovered from jet lag.
  • You may be excessively homesick. It is normal to miss your home, your family and friends, but if you are thinking of nothing else and writing letters all the time, perhaps even crying a lot, you are probably suffering from culture shock.
  • You may feel hostile toward Hawaii as the cause of your discomfort. Minor irritations may make you inordinately angry.
  • You may become very dependent on your fellow service members. Of course, these friendships are important and extremely supportive. However, if you make friends exclusively from among your fellow military members and families, you will deny yourself one of the main benefits of your assignment — meeting, interacting with and making new friends from Hawaii.


Almost all visitors must cope with culture shock to some degree. The following suggestions may be helpful:

  • Maintain your perspective. Remember that thousands of military members and their families have served in Hawaii.
  • Evaluate your expectations. Your reactions to Hawaii will be products both of the way things are and the way you expected them to be. If you determine that your expectations were not completely reasonable, you can do much to reduce the amount of dissatisfaction and unhappiness that you feel.
  • Keep an open mind. People in Hawaii may do or say things that people in your state would not do or say. Try to understand that people are acting according to their own set of values, and that these values are born of a culture different from yours.
  • Do not withdraw.
  • Get involved in activities sponsored by the military and civilian community such as craft fairs, music concerts, sporting events, talent shows, etc.  
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