Culture shock is a common experience for people living abroad. It results from the emotional shock people feel when they encounter cultural values and viewpoints that differ (sometimes drastically) from their own.
It is important to understand culture shock so that you can identify when you are experiencing it. Likewise, it is also important to notice signs that are more serious than culture shock. Culture shock generally has four main stages:
- Honeymoon Phase: This phase is brief, lasting up to a month, but exhilarating because things are new, different and interesting. You’ll find yourself enthusiastic to explore your new surroundings.
- Negotiation Phase: During this phase, cultural differences and language barriers will become more frustrating as you learn to navigate the unfamiliar. You might feel a sense of homesickness, confusion, anxiety, discontent, anger or loneliness in the new culture. You might even have trouble eating, sleeping or focusing on your tasks.
- Adjustment Phase: Having developed routines, you will start feeling more comfortable with the language, food and customs in the host culture. Your frustration and loneliness will fade away. You will become more involved in social activities and even start to enjoy some of the new culture’s customs.
- Acceptance Phase: While acceptance does not mean total understanding, it does mean that you will have a stronger sense of belonging to the new culture. You will be able to appreciate the positive aspects of the new culture and find contentment in the realization that you are a functioning member inside the new culture.
Tips for adjustment and acceptance include practicing optimism, flexibility, adaptability, humor, asking questions, observing and matching behavior, writing, drawing, or otherwise expressing your reflections, taking care of one’s self physically, and seeking out support when needed.
While culture shock can sometimes be very difficult, it is important to distinguish between it and more serious symptoms.