CULTURE SHOCK : THE 5 STAGES

Living abroad, a place where you can explore a different environment, new people, new cultures: a new world with new views. Living abroad can be very exciting and exhilarating. It will be an experience that you will never forget and will encourage you to discover yourself and the new place where you live. Although, all this sounds positive and fun, it also has a downside, namely the culture shock.

Do you want to see a very easy explaination video of what the culture shock is, click here .

The culture shock is a well-known phenomenon. For those who are not familiar with the culture shock, a short explanation: the culture shock is an (disorientation) experience a person may have when they move or travel to a different cultural or social environment than they are used to. Even the most open-minded and people who travelled before are not immune to the culture shock.  The culture shock is more than simply being unfamiliar with social values and norms or the experience of eating new foods. Later I will tell my own experience combined with the 5 stages of the culture.

The culture shock moves through 5 different stages, namely the Honeymoon Stage, the Distress/Frustration Stage, the Re-integration stage, the Autonomy Stage, and as last the Independence Stage (Swallow, 2010). All individuals experience the above mentioned stages differently and one person will be affected more than others. The 5 stages will give you a bit of a guideline how to handle the culture shock and how to adapt to the new culture.

Figure 1. Culture Shock Model

1. The Honeymoon Stage

In the honeymoon stage, the first impression of the new culture is overall positive. It feels like this is the best thing you c

ould ever do in your life. You will fall in love with the food, the social experience, the people, and the new environment.  Especially when you will make a long trip or movement, this will feel like a perfect vacation. Everything is great and exciting. In this stage, you will love the differences.

If you are going for a short trip, the honeymoon stage can take over the entire experience. That does not mean that with short trips the culture shock is not common. On the other hand, if you are going for a long time this stage will happen eventually. The honeymoon stage can last for days, weeks or months. While being in this stage, a person might have the feeling that everything familiar from home still feels close.

Figure 2. Beach

I moved from the Netherlands to Thailand for 10 weeks to study. If I look at my own experience, I can tell that the first week felt like a vacation. Everything was beautiful, I went to the most beautiful places in Bangkok. I liked the food, even though it is different than I am used to. I liked the people, the environment, and the social environment. I noticed right away that this was different than the Netherlands, but I liked it. 

 2. The Distress Stage

Of all stages, the Distress Stage is the most hard and difficult. This is the time you will notice differences, even small differences, and those differences will create an impact. Everything you have experienced no longer feels new. In fact, you will start to feel more down. In this stage, you mostly feel confused. Small things like losing your keys, missing the bus, and not being able to order normally in a restaurant, because of the language barrier, may trigger different emotions like feeling isolated or inadequate.

Feeling Lost

Figure 3. Feeling Lost

While being in this stage, I was not aware that I was being grumpy to people and was feeling more down. I thought that I was feeling sick instead of feeling down. Afterwards I can say that I was a bit confused, because of all the new impressions. I isolated myself, I stayed at my accomodation, because that place felt familiar. I tried to have more contact with home, but even that was not working to get rid of my feeling.

3. The Re-integration Stage

The Re-integration Stage, also known as the ‘’The Frustration Stage’’. Within this stage you will experience that you will dislike the new culture. You dislike the language, the food, the environment, and the people. Furthermore, you may develop some prejudices towards the new culture. In this stage of the Culture Shock you may feel angry, frustrated, and being cranky. Everything from home will be compared with the new culture. You will wonder why you made the decision to left your familiar environment for this new culture.  However, this is a normal reaction and this is a sign that you are adjusting to the new environment.

After the first week, I noticed that I felt more down. All I was thinking was: WHAT AM I DOING HERE?!? I was irritated by the differences anfelt a bit home sick. I experienced that things like garbage everywhere, the heat, the language barrier, the traffic, the big distances, not having the facilities that I have at home, and the big culture difference were too much for me. Coming from a small city, Bangkok is a big city in comparison, also population wise. Everywhere people are walking, scooters are driving all over the road and cars are driving like idiots, without any rules. This was very new for me.

4. The Autonomy Stage

Within this stage, you will start to accept the new culture. This stage is also known as ‘’ The Emergence Stage’’. Now you will feel that you are becoming ‘you’ again. It will feel like you can live in this new culture and will accept the differences. In this stage, you may feel like being more confident and being more able to deal with problems. You will look around and finally be able to enjoy what you see. The isolated feeling will disappear and you will think more positively.

I started to notice a difference within my own feeling. I started to feel more confident with everything that I saw around me. I still felt a bit down actually, because I still found the differences difficult. Talking with my friends helped me lot with dealing with my down feeling. I was going out again. I started to see the beauty of Thailand instead of all the negative impressions.

5. The independence Stage

Finally, after weeks, months or years of wrestling with the emotional roller-coaster mentioned in all stages above, the final stage has arrived, namely The Independence Stage. In the Autonomy Stage, you begun the feel more like yourself, now in this stage… you are yourself again! The new culture will be embraced and everything you see will be experienced in a positive way. This does not mean that the new culture is completely understood. Now, you feel more comfortable and confident about yourself.

After 4 weeks, I started to feel different. I was confident and could see the positive sides of my trip to Thailand. However, I still missed home. But I think that is normal when you leave for a while. I was full of energy and wanted to enjoy my time being here. If I speak for myself it is important to accept the down feeling and it will fade away after a while.

Some tips how to deal with the Culture Shock

Here are a few tips that may help dealing with the culture shock:

  • Be open minded and willing to learn

    Figure 4. Tips

    about yourself and the new culture you are in. This will make adapting to the new culture way easier!

  • Bring a few things of home, such as photos or things that smell like home. When I went to Bangkok I brought a vanilla candle, because this reminds me of home.
  • Keep in touch with people at home and always maintain a sense of humor!
  • According to Mandi Schmitt (2015) learning about the new country as much as possible also helps to handle with the differences you will fade.
  • Ask people how they coped with adapting to the new culture.

 

Links that helped me:

Medium – Global Perspectives
Helen Ziegler
InterNations
Deborah Swallow

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