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Culture shock : what it is and how to deal with it.

culture shock

Let’s be honest, the word culture shock is kinda of scary. I think almost any expat has heard of it and most of them get scared, the word shock itself is not encouraging.

culture shock
culture shock

Wikipedia refers to culture shock as

“the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life”.

Well in fact there is nothing to be scared of, the culture shock is just a process, a process in which any expat in some way will go trough during his first years(s) in the new country. In the worst (very few) cases brings to insomnia or anxiety, but these are really “edge” cases that, obviously, do not represent the average.  Culture shock is basically the description of the various phases that an expat has to face until it reaches is position of “master”. So, let’s see it in details.

Culture shock is divided in 4 different phases :

  1.  Honeymoon phase
  2.  Negotiation phase
  3.  Adjustment phase
  4. Mastery phase

let’s have a look at each phase and how to overcome it without problems.

The Honeymoon phase.

I guess the name should suggest something to you, and yet this is the period when you are just arrived to your new country. This period lasts from few weeks to the first month. During this period everything is seen in a romantic way (hence the name) and basically the expat will fall in love with everything.
From food to people, culture, habit everything (since it’s new) will look beautiful and so “romantic”. But what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that true? Well .. it is and is not .. but the excitement for this new adventure will “fake” your view of everything  you will discover during this period, regardless if is it true or not. There are 2 important mistakes to avoid during this period :
1 – Comparing everything with your home country.
Stop doing that, this is not how it works. You don’t need to thing how nice is that station compared with the one your old town, you need to understand how trains works when you go to work or how to find a house. For how beauty is the new country, making comparison will obviously put the new country in a better position, and you might do mistakes. (e.g. trust every one like a nice and trusted person).
2 – Learn everything you can. Are you in UK? Do not stop visiting London, go also on other places, town. Visit different places, Uk is not only London like Netherlands is not only Amsterdam. Learn the story, their culture their habit. Learn, explore don’t be scared or excited, be curious.

Negotiation Phase.

Well .. the bad part .. this is where most of the expat they reach their limit of . It happens usually after 3-4 months and the culturale difference became so evident that the expat starts feeling frustrated, like not able to integrate itself in the society. A good example is when listening people talking in the language you don’t understand, and you have the feeling that they are talking to you. Or just the name of a medicine that is different, or explaining a symptom to a doctor. All of this situation bring frustration, this is the part in which I see also many people give up. Is the negotiation phase so hard? Well it is, but it’s normal and there is a lot you can do to deal with it, let’s see.
1 – Learn the language. Seriously do it. There are courses, free meetups, just start learning it even if you do not need at work and we know everyone can speak english nowadays but learning the language let you enter in the new experience from the frontal door.
2 – Avoid to go back home. Really I am not joking, if you are living this phase and are aware of that, going home will just make things worse, much worse.
3 – Don’t hang out always with people from your country. Meet expats, locals new people but try to stay away from leaving and talking the same way you were doing, is a bit like going back home, you know it .. nostalgia ..
4 – hang out with expats, experts. Yes, try to meet expats that live in the country since years, talk with them learn from them. Ask questions, they will be happy to help you.

Adjustment phase.

Well .. chillout, it’s almost one year! Here you are, “counscious” of your role in the society, you know what to expect any time. Like some unexpected problems to the commute at work, or doing a document or just going to the grocery. Is a phase where you are starting to really understand what expat life is, you do not panic now for problems and don’t yell at people because don’t understand what they say. There is nothing much to do in this phase because it won’t cause you trouble, but I know many expats started to travel more after living this kind of period. I also saw many of us, including myself, changing mind and life style after this period.

Mastery Phase.

Congrats you made it till the end! You reached the mastery phase where young expats come begging advices from you, because you are the master! 🙂
Or more simply, you are an now an expat, and if you are at this point, congrats to yourself, you made an important step in your life!

And you? Have experienced culture shock? Let us know in the comments!

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