Relocating to a different country is a thrilling and invigorating adventure. Being in an unfamiliar setting amplifies your senses and makes you feel more alive. You encounter new sights, indulge in different cuisines, hear unfamiliar languages, and experience a diverse climate against your skin. However, after some time, these overwhelming sensory encounters become burdensome. The once pleasurable experiences now feel tense instead of stimulating, and joy transforms into unease. This is what is commonly referred to as culture shock.
Culture shock impacts individuals of all backgrounds and purposes for entering a new culture, including tourists, business travelers, diplomats, and students. While not everyone encounters culture shock in the same manner, experts generally agree that it entails five distinct stages. Initially, individuals feel exhilarated by their unfamiliar surroundings. They encounter minor obstacles such as using the telephone or public transportation but perceive these as minor hurdles that can be swiftly overcome.
You are excited about the new culture and are eager to connect with people and explore new cuisine. Eventually, you start noticing more differences in behavior and customs, which marks the second stage of culture shock. Since you are unfamiliar with the social norms of the new culture, making friends becomes challenging. For example, you struggle with engaging in “small talk” and casual conversations. While sitting in the school cafeteria, you happen to overhear a conversation.
Although you comprehend all the words, the significance eludes you. The reason behind everyone’s laughter remains uncertain. Is it directed towards you or a joke that went over your head? Moreover, navigating through shopping can be perplexing. Is this establishment self-service or do you need to await assistance from an employee? If you inadvertently purchase an ill-fitting sweater, can you exchange it? These are not trivial obstacles; they serve as significant exasperations. In the third phase, your enthusiasm for the new culture diminishes. You start to believe that moving here was an error.
Being unable to easily make friends has led to feelings of loneliness and isolation. As a result, you find comfort in seeking out individuals from your home country and seeking out restaurants that serve familiar dishes. This pursuit of familiarity even extends to your obsession with food, consuming much of your time as you meticulously plan, shop for, and prepare meals from your native culture. These actions indicate that you have reached the fourth stage of culture shock, where negative emotions dominate your perception of almost everything.
At this stage, individuals reject the new culture and feel critical, suspicious, and irritable. They believe that people are unfriendly, landlords are trying to deceive them, teachers have a negative opinion of them, and the food is making them sick. Physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, insomnia, fatigue or other illnesses may also occur. Finally, individuals move on to the fifth stage where their language abilities improve and they have some success in socializing and negotiating.
You have the ability to exchange a sweater that was too small and engage in successful conversations about weather changes with strangers on a bus, which enhances your self-confidence. As you come to the realization that you cannot alter your surroundings, you start to embrace and tolerate the differences. For instance, although the cuisine may never be as delicious as that of your home country, you can now consume and occasionally appreciate a variety of dishes. Additionally, while you may not be fond of how some individuals dress or behave in public in your host country, you do not perceive their attire and conduct as incorrect – they are simply distinct.