Culture shock is something experienced by people who travel extensively or who live in another country. It often feels like homesickness, but it’s just us processing the adjustment to living in a new culture. We’ll look at the different stages of culture we go through when adjusting to a new culture, but first let’s take a closer look at what it is. If you are aware of the process, it can certainly make your move abroad easier.
On the online Oxford Dictionary, culture shock is defined as a feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. That’s a pretty good definition, but let’s look at it a bit closer.
When you move to new country, things are new and unfamiliar – the language, the food, the weather, the way people dress, societal norms and values, customs and traditions and well, everything you are accustomed to is changed in some way. Your daily routine changes, the way you did things at home is different, your work is different, your kids lives are different, shops not only have tons of new stuff you’re unfamiliar with, but they’re open different hours. Things smell, taste and sound different, you find yourself not being able to communicate well enough to even ask directions. Enter the world of culture shock.
Symptoms of Culture Shock
Now let’s take a look at how you’ll feel when you’re in a state of culture shock:
- You feel sad, lonely or confused
- Have insomnia or be sleeping too much
- Be overly concerned with your health
- Have headaches, pains and allergies
- Feel angry, depressed, shy or insecure
- Thinking about your home culture a lot
- Maybe the smallest problems will seem overwhelming
- You become a bit obsessed with emailing and Facebook to keep in touch with people back home
- Have an overwhelming sense of homesickness
- You may even start to question why you even moved
Sounds like fun, huh? No, seriously, you can relax, it won’t be that bad – few people are going to experience all of these symptoms at once.
Stages of Culture Shock
Let’s take a look at the different stages we go through:
- Honeymoon Stage
With most new experiences, we feel everything from happy to excited. There’s lots to see and do and overall – you’re feeling really good right now. Not missing home, as you still feel very connected to everything and everyone back there.
- Distress Stage
All of these new experiences aren’t feeling so new anymore. You may start to feel lonely, confused and start questioning your purpose here in this new land. You feel like you have few supports in place and are really missing home right now.
- Re-integration Stage
Now you feel angry and frustrated about your surroundings. You are constantly comparing this place to back home. You don’t like the food, the culture, etc, etc. Ok, don’t fret – this is just a stage and it will pass. And not everyone is going to go through these stages remember, so if you’re reading this, don’t think that this is absolutely going to happen to your family too.
- Autonomy Stage
Ok, so things are looking up now. You’re starting to feel like yourself again. You are accepting the cultural differences and all it brings with it. You don’t feel so alone anymore and are appreciating your beautiful surroundings.
- Independence Stage
By this time, you’re embracing everything around you (well, almost everything) and are starting to feel at home. Everyone is happy now we hope!
Here are some ideas of things you can do to help you adjust as you make your way through these stages of culture shock:
- go on a tour – get to know your area and what’s around you
- volunteer – there are lots of family volunteering options to check out
- take a class – anything you or the kids are interested in such as language, painting, yoga, swimming
- take time to set up your new home – walk around the neighbourhood – start visiting the same store, shop, café, restaurant so you start to build simple relationships
As you can see, culture shock is going to affect everyone’s life differently. Some families will find it easy to adjust while others – not so much. But when living abroad, you’re likely going to experience it in some way. Just take time to prepare yourself and involve your kids in the process too. That way you’ll all be aware of what’s happening and be ready for anything! Remember, you came this far – you can make culture shock just a part of the adventure!