Culture shock describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one which is unfamiliar. It is an experience described by people who have travelled abroad to work, live or study; It can be felt to a certain extent even when abroad on holiday. It can affect anyone, including international students. It includes the shock of a new environment, meeting lots of new people and learning the ways of a different country. It also includes the shock of being separated from the important people in your life, maybe family, friends, colleagues, teachers: people you would normally talk to at times of uncertainty, people who give you support and guidance. When familiar sights, sounds, smells or tastes are no longer there you can miss them very much.
The process of culture shock can be broken down into five stages.
1. The honeymoon stage. When you first arrive in a new culture, differences are intriguing and you may feel excited, stimulated and curious. At this stage you are still protected by the close memory of your home culture.
2. The distress stage. A little later, differences create an impact and you may feel confused, isolated, inadequate as cultural differences intrude and familiar supports (ie: family or friends) are not immediately available.
3. The re-integration stage. Next, you may reject the differences you encounter. You may feel angry or frustrated, or hostile to the new culture. At this stage you may be conscious mainly of how much you dislike it compared to home. Don’t worry, as this is quite a healthy reaction. You are reconnecting with what you value about yourself and your own culture. This is the stage I am currently experiencing.
4. The autonomy stage. Differences and similarities are accepted. You may feel relaxed, confident, more like an old hand as you become more familiar with situations and feel well able to cope with new situations based on your growing experiences.
5. The independence stage. Differences and similarities are valued and important. You may feel full of potential and able to trust yourself in all kinds of situations. Most situations become enjoyable and you are able to make choices according to your preferences and values.
When can I get to stage 5? I’m depressed. I have no friends, no family, I can’t even speak the language. Simple tasks are extremely challenging and I just spend the day on my computer. All I want is to go out for a beer and have a conversation with someone, but again, I don’t know anyone. I want to cry, but the shock is too paralysing. I don’t know where or who to turn to and my mind is going soft.
Today is a bad day. Tomorrow I hope will be better.