Culture Shock II – What is Culture Shock?

This is a part of a series of 6 articles I have written on the topic of dealing with Culture Shock while living in China. To read the previous article, click here.  |  To read the next article, click here.

Culture shock is complicated, it affects people differently and I am definitely no expert on the subject. But I am sharing my personal experiences with you, and hopefully you can learn from them and my mistakes. But culture shock affects everyone, they might be affected in different ways and show different signs, but it happens every time, to everyone.

The simplest models of culture shock, describe 4 stages that a traveler or an expat goes through when visiting- or moving to another country.

Culture Shock Curve

The first stage is called Euphoria or The Honeymoon Period. I described this one above and basically, this is the time when everything is new, exciting and interesting. And even in cases where there is a language barrier or a cultural difference, you shrug it off as an experience and go on to enjoy the rest of your time. This is also called positive culture shock, and this is partly why we enjoy going on holiday. To see and experience something new, whether it is the food, the scenery or something other.

The second stage is sometimes just called Culture Shock or also referred to as the Depression stage. This happens when you have been in a new place for long enough, that things have become trivial. You start to feel powerless because no one speaks your language, in certain situations others are not acting the way you expect them to and you are starting to miss home and your family. You can become sad, irritable and even depressed in this period and it is important to have someone around you that you can talk to and it usually helps to stay in touch with friends and family as much as possible. Some people escape from this stage very quickly, some do not and really have to fight to get through it.

The third stage of experience culture shock, is called Adjustment. In this stage, you start to overcome your depression and you start to learn about why you feel the way, that you do, and what you can do to overcome your depression. You are already on the right path, and this is further than some people will ever get. Things will get better and you will start to understand more about the people around you, and the things you see every day, outside, at work or at home. We always fear what we do not understand, but your understanding is coming, and it will help.

The last and final step in experiencing culture shock, is called Acceptance and Integration. After having felt depressed and lonely, you have started on your path to learn and understand your surroundings which has, in turn, broadened your view of the world, made you more open minded and more tolerant of how things are in a different place. At this stage, maybe you have started to learn the local language, you have local friends who help you understand and process what you see and life is finally starting to get easier and comfortable. Maybe you will never quite reach the honeymoon phase from the beginning, but you will be comfortable, you will feel like you belong and from here on out, life will be full of surprises and adventures.

Culture shock is not a mental disease. It is not something you should be afraid of. In fact, acknowledging that you have culture shock, will be the first step towards getting better.