Culture shock is a very real experience for many people who move to another country. Anyone who has lived in another country has tasted and lived through some level of culture shock. At the time it may feel more like homesickness, but culture shock has definite stages one goes through when adjusting to a new language, country and culture.
What is culture shock and what causes it? When you move to a new country, everything is unfamiliar; weather, landscape, language, food, dress, social roles, values, customs and communication - basically, everything you're used to is no longer in place. Your patterns are off-kilter, the smells, sounds and tastes are unusual and you can't easily communicate. This is culture shock.
Symptoms of Culture Shock, adapted from The Spruce
- a feeling of sadness and loneliness
- an over-concern about your health
- 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
- become obsessed with cleanliness
- overwhelming sense of homesickness
- feeling lost or confused
- questioning your decision to move to this place
The Honeymoon Stage
Like any new experience, there's a feeling of euphoria when you first arrive to 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.
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.
During this stage, you start refusing to accept the differences you encounter. 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. Don't worry. This is absolutely normal. You're adjusting. This is actually a pretty common reaction to anything new. Any big adjustment can cause you to wonder why you made the decision to change.
You start to accept the differences and feel like you can begin to live with them. You feel more confident and better able to cope with any problems that may arise. You no longer feel isolated and instead you're able to look at the world around you and appreciate where you are.
You are yourself again! You embrace the new culture and see everything in a new, yet realistic light. You feel comfortable and confident. You appreciate both the differences and similarities of your new culture. You start to feel at home.
How to Help Yourself
There are several things you can do to help yourself through the stages of culture shock. First, fight the urge to retreat and join a club, try out for a sports team, volunteer, attend a local church or take a language class. Mixing, meeting new people and forcing yourself to become part of the community will help you!
Get out. Walk around your neighborhood. Volunteer (see the Tick-or-Toiletries opportunity in this newsletter!). Be seen. Smile. You'll soon be recognized. There's nothing that says you're home like a friend saying "hello" in any language. Get to know your city, its history and culture. This will help ease you into life in your new home.