Whether traveling abroad or living in a new country due to immigration, most are likely to experience some form of culture shock. Culture shock is more than unfamiliarity; it is described by experts as the feeling of disorientation when confronted with a different culture, way of life, and attitudes. This feeling is normal and understanding the four stages one typically goes through can help get through them.
The Honeymoon Stage
The exhilarating feeling of being in a completely new environment with new people is hard to beat. This stage is positive and leaves the traveler feeling like they are about to embark on an exciting adventure with endless opportunities. Many people are familiar with the honeymoon phase from short vacations, where the other phases do not have time to set in.
This stage is a sobering one. The exhilarating feeling that first hits is now dulled and frustration caused by unfamiliarity is now in its place. Language barriers and new customs can be a cause for miscommunications and frustration. Symptoms of this stage include boredom, withdrawal, fatigue, and an overwhelming need to be home. Paying attention to immigration ads and community resources can be helpful in this stage.
After frustration comes adjustment. Eventually, the traveler or immigrant becomes more familiar with the language, navigation, and other cultural norms. This tends to be less of a strain on the individual as they feel less of an outsider and more included in the community. To help in the adjustment stage, outsiders should pay attention to ads in local papers and online forums for activities. Involvement in foreign customs and practices can help in understanding and feeling comfortable in a new culture.
The final stage, acceptance, is reached when the traveler has enough familiarity and understanding of the foreign culture to function easily. Breaking down language barriers, making friends, and joining organizations or clubs are all helpful in reaching the acceptance phase.
One stage that is often left out is the feeling one gets returning to their native culture. Once away from home for long periods of time, it is easy to let memories and nostalgia create expectations of what it will be like when one returns. This often causes disappointment upon return, and it is not what was expected.
Although these stages are commonly experienced among all people, the extent and timing of them vary. While one may come to acceptance in a few months, other’s may reach this stage in a few years. To speed these changes along, experts suggest avoiding isolation and taking advantage of community activities.