Culture Shock – The Four Stages

June 24, 2013

While there are many ways to learn about other countries, travel is the only way to really understand and appreciate their unique beauty and culture. An international internship provides the opportunity to live and work in another country, which further enhances the educational experience. Completing an internship abroad gives you the opportunity to see another part of the world in a very unique way that a vacation simply cannot offer. There is no other way to immerse in another country’s culture than to live and work there.
Of course, before taking part in this wonderfully enriching experience abroad, you’ll want to perform some research on your destination so you can have some advance understanding of its culture and traditions. This will allow for a less turbulent immersion and a quicker adaptation. Still, if you’re completing your internship in a country whose culture is vastly different from yours, you will likely experience culture shock. The best way to combat culture shock is to understand its phases. In this way you won’t overreact to its symptoms, rather you’ll likely move through them more quickly and with no anxiety.

What is Culture Shock?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture shock as ‘a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation’.

What are the stages of Culture Shock?
People who go through culture shock typically go through four stages: Honeymoon, Negation, Adjustment, and Mastery.  The length of each stage will vary from person to person, but most people will go through all four with extended immersion in a different culture.

Stage 1: Honeymoon

This is the period immediately after you arrive and begin to experience the new culture. Everything is new, and bright, and you’re excited about all of the opportunities that are offered to you there. The entire thing can feel like an extended vacation.

Stage 2: Negation

Eventually, though, the honeymoon ends. All of those new, exciting things about the new culture are still there, but they start to become less new and exciting. Instead, you start to pay more attention to how those things are different from the experiences that you’re used to, and you start to miss the life that you left behind.

Stage 3: Adjustment

After a while, you start to become more comfortable with the new culture that you’re living in. You become more familiar with the language, the “different” parts of the culture become more familiar, and you begin to settle comfortably into your “new normal”.

Stage 4: Mastery

Depending on how long your stay is, you may never reach this stage. The Mastery stage describes a point where you’ve become completely comfortable with the new culture – arguably as comfortable as you were with the culture that you left.

What can I do about Culture Shock?
The first thing to realize about culture shock is that it’s perfectly natural to experience it. Despite how often culture shock occurs, though, a lot of people are resistant to talk about it, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you feel yourself going through culture shock, take some time to reach out to others, especially other travelers, for help in adjusting to your new culture.

One of the other things you can do is force yourself to engage more in the culture that you’re immersed in. This can be difficult to do, because part of culture shock is feeling unhappy with the culture. But, as Robert Frost once said, “The best way out is always through.” Going out and interacting with the culture that surrounds you is going to help you overcome some of the difficulties you’ll be encountering.

Another thing that many people don’t think about is making sure to stay healthy while in their new home. One of the things that people with culture shock are tempted to do is stay home and eat junk food. It’s understandable, but it’s also unfortunate, because eating well and staying physically active can play an important role in not only staying physically healthy, but mentally healthy as well.

Staying in touch with your family and friends back home can be an important tool to help you avoid culture shock. Luckily, today it’s easier to do this than ever before – in addition to making long-distance phone calls and writing letters or postcards, you also have the option of using tools like webcams, email, and social networks to take part in more immersive conversations with people. Family and friends are often the foundation that we build our sense of self upon, so keeping the foundation strong can be essential in working through your feelings of culture shock.

Lastly, make sure to keep a realistic perspective. The honeymoon stage of culture shock involves you getting an unrealistically positive idea of the culture you’re immersed in, but the next stage involves an unrealistically negative idea of it, coupled with an unrealistically positive idea of your culture at home. Like they say, “the grass is often greener on the other side” – it’s important to keep a level head about your experience and remember that neither side is full of green grass and roses.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply