“Culture shock is a very real experience for people who move to another country.  Anyone who has lived or traveled extensively in another country has lived through some level of culture shock even if your decision to move was one well thought out. […] When you move to a new country, everything is unfamiliar: weather, landscape, language, food, dress, social roles, values, customs and communication.Your patterns are off-kilter; the smells, sounds and tastes are unusual and you can’t communicate with the locals. This is culture shock.

Signs and symptoms of culture shock are:

  • a feeling of sadness and loneliness
  • headaches, pains, and allergies
  • insomnia or sleeping too much
  • feelings of anger, depression, vulnerability
  • idealizing your own culture
  • trying too hard to adapt by becoming obsessed with the new culture
  • the smallest problems seem overwhelming
  • feeling shy or insecure
  • overwhelming sense of homesickness
  • feeling lost or confused
  • questioning your decision to move

The Culture Shock Model

Step 1: The Honeymoon Stage: Like any new experience, there’s a feeling of euphoria when you first arrive in a new country and you’re in awe of the differences you see and experience. You feel excited, stimulated, enriched. During this stage, you still feel close to everything familiar back home.

Step 2: The Distress Stage: Everything you’re experiencing no longer feels new; in fact, it’s starting to feel like a thick wall that’s preventing you from experiencing things. You feel confused, alone and realize that the familiar support systems are not easily accessible.

Step 3: Re-integration Stage: You’re angry, frustrated and even feel hostile to those around you. You start to idealize life “back home” and compare your current culture to what is familiar. You dislike the culture, the language, the food. You reject it as inferior. Don’t worry. This is absolutely normal. You’re adjusting. Think back to when you started a new job or moved to a new house or a new city or when you moved in with someone. Any adjustment can cause you to look back in awe and wonder why you made the decision to move.

Step 4: Autonomy Stage: This is the first stage in acceptance. I like to think of it as the emergence stage when you start to rise above the clouds and finally begin to feel like yourself again. You start to accept the differences and feel more confident and better able to cope with any problems that may arise. You’re able to look at the world around you and appreciate where you are.

Step 5: Independence Stage: You embrace the new culture and see everything in a new, yet realistic light. You feel comfortable, confident, able to make decisions based on your own preferences. You no longer feel alone and isolated. You appreciate both the differences and similarities of your new culture. You start to feel at home.”

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