Living Abroad: 4 Phases of Culture Shock and How to Cope

Culture shock is a roller-coaster of emotions that one may experience when living abroad for a long period of time. But fear not! Read the following text and be prepared for what may (or may not) happen. In this blog post we shortly present to you the four stages of culture shock.

An airplane landing

Signs of a Culture Shock

  • Feelings of sadness and loneliness and homesickness
  • Over-concern about your health
  • Headaches, pains, and allergies
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • 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, lost and confused
  • Questioning your decision to move to this place

Honeymoon

This first stage is overwhelmingly positive. You are extremely enthusiastic and excited about the new language, people, food and surroundings. At this stage, the move seems like the greatest decision you’ve ever made. It’s an exciting adventure you never want to end. On short trips, the honeymoon stage may last throughout the whole experience. On longer stays abroad, the honeymoon phase will sooner or later fade away.

Frustration

In a way, this stage is the most difficult of them all. Eventually, it is familiar to anyone who has lived abroad. You are conquered with a feeling of fatigue of not understanding local gestures, body language and tired of miscommunications that may be happening frequently. You may be tired of constantly having to explain your train of thought. Small things, such as missing the bus or unable to find your favorite food in local restaurants, may trigger frustration. At this point, you might start to think that moving abroad was the biggest mistake of your life. The feeling of homesickness might overwhelm you. Bouts of depression are common during the frustration stage. But do not despair, it will be over soon.

Adjustment

Frustrations might diminish as you begin to become more familiar and comfortable with the people, food, language and general culture around you. It is easier to navigate in these new environments. You have established friends and other communities of support and you can better recognize the local languages.

Five happy people outdoors

Acceptance

Depending on the person, it could take weeks, months or even years of battling with the emotional stages described above. Sooner or later, the acceptance stage of culture shock will arrive.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you completely understand the culture and behaviors around you. It rather means that you realize that complete understanding is not necessary in order to function and thrive in these new surroundings

Even though it can be one of the most difficult parts of moving abroad for your studies, culture shock is just as fundamental to the experience as people, food and scenery. There is no recipe for culture shock prevention, but every individual is effected by cultural contrasts in different ways.

Don’t let culture shock scare you! Embrace every moment of it, as it will shape your experience and mold your character.

Living abroad can be an exciting experience that encourages new world views, increases cultural curiosity and supports wanderlust. However, it may also bring a sense of personal disorientation because of experiencing an unfamiliar way of life.

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