While living abroad, have you ever asked yourself, why do you feel so bad and everything feels so pointless, but one week later you are completely excited about your life and things that are going to happen? Are you depressed? Maybe it is dark winter time or spring fatigue. Could be too. Although every newcomer or expatriate is probably experiencing culture shock, that may cause mixed feelings.
The term culture shock was made by the anthropologist Oberg in 1960, who explained the symptoms and the process of adapting to a new and different culture. Upon the arrival of expatriates in the new country, they usually have general uncertainty about acceptable or unacceptable behavior in this country. Living and working in a new culture can produce a number of reactions, including confusion, anxiety, frustration, exhilaration, isolation, inappropriate social behavior and even depression. Expatriate can also feel emotions such as anger, depression, and homesickness. Other authors used different names to describe the phenomena, such as culture fatigue, difficulties in communication, language shock and role shock. In any case, culture shock is a normal and predictable phenomenon, although those experiencing it may feel that they are not good enough or weak, even believing that they are suffering some form of mental illness. The recovery process may take place three to six months after arriving in the new country whereas some other experts believe all stages of culture shock take place within six to eight months.
Four stages of culture shock
1. Honeymoon stage
The honeymoon period is the first phase of living abroad and the first stage of the U-Curve model (on the picture), which is going well with a sense of euphoria and optimism, a general feeling of excitement associated with being in a new country. Expatriates report unrealistic and positive appraisals of their environment. For example, during this period, the differences don’t exist or you don’t care about them. Everything is exciting and amazing and you can’t wait to start volunteering/working, meet new friends, join clubs and discover the city. This honeymoon stage lasts from a few days or weeks to six months, depending on the circumstances.
2. Confrontation stage
This stage is associated with a negative evaluation of a new environment. Expatriates begin to notice the sources of irritation in the host culture when their own tried ways of behaving fail to achieve the required results. For example, after some time you become less excited about your host environment and become confused and frustrated. You believe you will never learn the language, the culture doesn’t make sense, you’re discouraged, and as an international volunteer, your family will not be here to support you so you become homesick. As such, this is the most difficult stage of adjustment. Usually, it lasts around three months.
3. Adjustment stage
Expatriate becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more normal. One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture and begins to accept the culture's ways with a positive attitude. The culture begins to make sense, and negative reactions and responses to the culture are reduced. For example, with time, you will grow accustomed to the new culture and develop routines. You understand what is expected of you and can successfully navigate the culture. You may still be homesick but your host culture starts to make sense and you look forward to learning more throughout the rest of your time abroad. This stage usually lasts around six to twelve months.
4. Adaptation stage
The fourth phase is one in which the expatriate falls in love with the new culture and at the same time sometimes rejecting the original culture. On the other hand, the fourth stage signals that one accepts the new lifestyle and adjusts to the new circumstances. For example, you can effectively and confidently communicate and interact in your host culture. While you still don’t understand everything about the culture, you have adopted many of its ways to your own. You realize you will miss your new environment when you return home.
Signs you are dealing with cultural confrontation
Psychological stress reactions can be shown as excessive sleep, boredom fast irritability, and anger. You may notice that you have mood swings or excessive concern about cleanliness. Homesickness and have a desire for home and old friends is also very common sign you are experiencing cultural confrontation. Sometimes you can get stuck in doing one thing and notice that you are compulsively eating, drinking or have gained some weight. Expatriates also report about their host nationals stereotyping and having suicidal thoughts.
Tips for dealing with the Confrontation stage
Don't wait that your feelings and behavior go away by themselves. Talk to somebody, like a mentor, friend, teacher or parents. If you talk to your friend you may discover that he or she feels the same way as you. You can take photos of your new home and show them to your family back home. Explain why you love these photos and what they mean to you. You can plan and start to write your journal or online blog, where you can express your feelings. Get involved by joining a local community or subscribe to a local gym. That way you can make friendships with locals and you can invite them to spend time with you. Very important is that you limit your use of social media. Learning what your friends are doing at home will make you miss them and feel worse. Last but not least, be patient with yourself and give yourself the opportunity to get used to new country and culture. Accept unpleasant feelings and realize they will transform into more pleasant with time. Through this entire period, you are also making critical progress in becoming cross-culturally aware and developing strategies to help you cope.
Naeem, A., Nadeem, A. B., Ullah Khan, I. (2015), Culture Shock and Its effects on Expatriates. Global Advanced Research Journal of Management and Business Studies (ISSN: 2315-5086) Vol. 4(6) pp. 248-258, Available online http://garj.org/garjmbs/index.htm