Culture shock is a common type of disorientation in a new country, new home, or new cultural setting. It’s very common for international students and immigrants while getting to know a host culture.
While some culture shock is somewhat inevitable, there are ways to minimize the impact this phenomenon has on your experience in your new home.
5 Stages of Culture Shock
The five different stages of culture shock are honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, acceptance, and re-entry.
The Honeymoon Stage
The first stage of culture shock is initially the ‘honeymoon’ phase. This is (sort of) the best phase of culture shock because you probably aren’t feeling any of the ‘negative’ effects yet.
When you’re in the honeymoon period, you generally love everything about your new surroundings. You’re embracing your curiosity, exploring your new country, and ready for more.
Yet, it can often be the ‘overdoing’ of the honeymoon phase that can lead to the negative effects of culture shock. When you go all in and immerse yourself in another culture, it’s common to start feeling fatigued.
What once were exciting new challenges can often become minor hindrances and grow into major annoyances.
The Frustration Stage
The first ‘negative’ phase of culture shock is frustration. We all get frustrated by our day-to-day lives, but this frustration can be even more upsetting when we’re immersed in a new culture.
In our home culture, we often get frustrated when we’re not heard, can’t communicate, or feel invisible. These frustrations can feel exaggerated when we’re in a new culture. Not only are we dealing with everyday annoyances, but we’re dealing with these annoyances at a ‘level 10’ instead of a normal level.
Frustration can manifest in a host country through language miscommunications and cultural differences.
You might even feel frustrated because you don’t know your way around, are unfamiliar with the transportation system, and find yourself getting lost all the time.
The Adjustment Stage
The adjustment stage is when things start getting a little bit better. You’re getting used to your new surroundings and getting a hang of local languages.
While you might not feel like a local, you’re starting to get used to the differences between your way of life and your host country’s.
The Acceptance Stage
The final stage of culture shock is acceptance and assimilation. This usually happens after a few days, weeks, or months after arriving (often depending on how long you plan on staying).
Acceptance is when you finally start feeling like one of the locals. This often happens when you least expect it!
You suddenly understand how the public transportation system works, you start ‘getting’ inside jokes, and the language is less of a struggle. It may take years to fully integrate into a new culture, but you probably will still feel more comfortable during this stage than you did in previous stages.
Re-Entry Culture Shock
One more type of culture shock happens when you return home to your own culture. This is a type of reverse culture shock.
You may feel like your own home culture simply doesn’t fit your lifestyle anymore or that friends and family don’t ‘get’ you. This is extremely common when traveling between developing and developed nations.
It may take days, weeks, or months to feel normal again. This common type of culture shock simply shows you that you’re not the same person you were when you left your home country.
Tips for Preventing Culture Shock
If you’re worried about culture shock (or are already feeling the effects of it), there are some ways to make your transition a little easier.
Learn the Language
Before you head to your new home, start learning the language. Even if the locals speak your first language, you’ll want to start learning a few words and phrases to help you communicate.
Download a translation app to help you learn some of the most basic words and phrases. Apps like Vocre (available on Google Play for Android or the Apple Store for iOS) provide voice and text translation and can even be used offline. You can use these types of apps to learn the language before you leave home — as well as to help you to communicate with locals.
It’s totally common to have expectations of a new culture. Yet, most of our pain and suffering comes from unhealthy expectations and our realities failing to live up to such expectations.
If you’re moving to Paris, you might expect to eat baguettes every day while strolling along the Champs-Élysées, speaking French to everyone you meet. While in reality, you end up finding out you hate French food, can’t communicate with locals, and get lost on the Metro at every turn.
It’s important to let go of expectations before moving to a new country. The idea of the culture and the reality are often two completely different experiences.
Join Local Expat Groups
One reason many ex-pats find themselves in isolation is that it’s hard to understand what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land — unless you’ve done it yourself. Many locals don’t understand culture shock because they’ve never experienced an immersion in a different culture.
One way to find a crew that understands your frustration is to join an ex-pat group. These groups are comprised of ex-pats from around the globe and other cultures, so you’re likely to find a few friends that remind you of home.
Embrace Reminders of Home
Even if you’re planning on moving to another country forever, you’ll still want to ease into any different culture. Don’t forget to bring some reminders of home with you.
While discovering new foods is always fun, you’ll still want to enjoy the food that reminds you of home. Search for ingredients to make food from your own culture. Introduce your own culture’s traditions to your new friends. Don’t forget to call friends and family back home.
Culture shock isn’t always easy to deal with, and it’s usually somewhat inevitable. Luckily, there are ways to make the transition a little easier.