Understanding Culture Shock

'Culture shock' is the term used to describe the process of adjustment that happens to everyone when they move to a new country. Everyone who lives in a foreign country will have experienced culture shock to some degree.  

Accepting that it will happen is important because:

you will not be so upset or confused when it happens to you, and you will then be able to put your energy into working through it rather than worrying about it.  

Understanding the Stages of Culture Shock:  

1. Excitement! The honeymoon period. Everything is new and interesting. You\'re walking through scenes on the Evening News or in the pages of National Geographic. Plenty to write home about.  

But then, new and interesting becomes disorientating and slowly the relentless disorientation feels exhausting. There is no where you can hide to relax. Even in your own home you are still getting used to new products, the different style of appliances, the drinking water. The different light switches and electrical sockets can become symbols of disorientation when you just want to relax in a safe, familiar environment.  

This exhaustion is not an ideal time to begin setting routines in daily life, and yet it is at about this point when you have been in the host country a few weeks, getting to know it before settling in, that you have to start in with the routines: school, work or support from home.  

2. Honeymoon is over. When you first arrived and things were new and interesting you had the Travel Framework to use, a model of travel that can be applied to almost any travel experience. However, when you try to set up home and run a daily routine in a foreign country a mismatch occurs between what you expect to happen (based on your Model of Day to Day Life from home) and reality. This mismatch and the struggle to correct it causes frustrations, anxieties, even anger to build up.  

You may express this in conflict with local people. Or, in an attempt at making sense of what is going on you may even become hyper-critical or make fun of local people and customs.  

This is a difficult time. Adjusting to the new life and not realising that this difficult period will end makes some people choose to seek out other expats and withdraw with them and just endure the time they have left to live in the host culture, criticising and mocking until the day they leave.  

Other people will experience these same difficulties and slowly begin to accept the differences as different not wrong. These people will get to know more locals, begin to understand how they think, make some friends and gradually the host culture feels less disorientating and little pockets of familiarity, safe havens begin to develop and slowly grow bigger and bigger.  

3. Adjustment. When you become comfortable with your new routines, you can relax and enjoy the experience again. It becomes easier to push the boundaries, to explore a bit further, make more friends, and through this new network discover easier ways to do things or get things done, thus making your life in the host culture more enjoyable.  

Of course, it is the people who have made an effort to get out and get to know local people who will ultimately find living in the host culture easier and more enjoyable. These people gain a better command of their surroundings and find it easier to accept the differences of the host culture. Those who withdraw and limit their socialising to expats will severely limit the amount of resources and information available for living well in the host culture and will return home experience-poor.  

4. Home in the Host Culture. Some people adjust so well that they may even begin to prefer the new culture to their own. For many expats, it is liberating being a foreign national as the host culture cannot classify you. You are free to act just outside the boundaries because they accept that you will act a bit differently.  

Culture shock happens to us all when we move to another country to live, whether pop star, banker, partner of an international employee, diplomat or military personnel. The main things to remember are:  

it happens to everyone to some degree,  

it is a process that you can control to some extent, and  

it will end.  

This article was written and submitted by Michelloui.

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