The 5 Stages of Culture Shock We Know All Too Well

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Culture Shock: A state of confusion and anxiety experienced by someone upon encountering an alien environment.

Or in other words, a bizarre and peculiar feeling of disorientation that most of us who have lived abroad or immigrated to another country have become far too familiar with. After the initial stage of bliss and excitement that comes with deciding to leave your home country, alas, a series of mixed emotions start to settle once you begin to encounter the strikingly different customs and traditions of your new home.

To better understand your newfound confusion and disorientation, we’ve compiled together a list of the 5 stages of culture shock that you’re likely to experience upon moving to a foreign country.

1. Ignorant Bliss

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This stage- commonly referred to as the “Honeymoon Stage” by psychologists– references the set of euphoric emotions that come with your initial move to a foreign country. Everything is different- the infrastructure, the smells, what people eat for breakfast- but it’s still EXCITING. All of these new phenomenons give you a rush, and you’re just eager to learn more about your new home.

But alas, all good things must come to an end…

2. The Breakdown

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Also known as the Aggravation Phase, the euphoric rush experienced during the Honeymoon phase starts to be replaced with feelings of isolation and anxiety. You start to seek any and every reference to home that you can find, whether that be scouting the city for other people from your home country, or finding a restaurant that specializes in your country’s cuisine. But the people you find have already lived here for decades and speak of home as a distant friend they lost touch with after high school, and the self-proclaimed ‘authentic’ food at the restaurant is a pitiful Americanized imitation of your country’s cuisine.

3. The Integration Phase

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This phase is marked by feelings of disdain and contempt for the customs of your new home. What you once thought was a peculiar but interesting way of eating breakfast is now annoying, and you start to compare your new country’s way of life with that of your home country. Why do people shake hands instead of doing a bise? Why do Americans ask you how your day is but then appear surprised and even agitated when you start to tell them? Why don’t New Yorkers on the subway smile back when you smile at them?!

4. The Merging of Both Cultures

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Ok, things are starting to make a little more sense now. It doesn’t necessarily have to be us vs. them, and you start to adapt and merge elements of both cultures into your new identity. You might drink Dunkin Donuts coffee now but you still greet new people with a bise, and your prior disdain for the MTA has now been replaced with acceptance and even a sense of gratefulness as you start to recognize the horrors of New York City traffic.

5. The Independence Stage

The Independence Stage is the addition to the rollercoaster of emotions you’ve experienced moving abroad. You now navigate your new country with ease and security, and you’ve accepted that your new identity is a fusion of both cultures and the experiences you’ve gained living away from home. Things aren’t starting to look so bad after all…

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What follows after the above stages of Culture Shock? Well, you simply move to the assert Phase.

The Assert Phase

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This is the phase where you know your values, and what you bring to the table in your host country. You feel like no one should undermine that, or treat you like a stereotypical alien. You are hardworking, you respect others, and you seek to be respected in return. You feel you are a part of the strength, weakness, failure and success of your host country. The experience of your host country is your reality and perhaps the only reality you know.

The assert phase is where you feel you’ve been fully integrated despite all odds. If they don’t invite you to a seat you know fully well belongs to you, you wait for no invitation to claim what’s yours. Unlike the Ignorant Bliss stage of Culture Shock, where you might use profanity the wrong and amusing way, now when you pull the F word, it fits right in. The assert phase is when you are not only saying “I’m here, assimilated or not, I belong here”.

What are some other stages of culture shock you know, or what follows in the assert phase?


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