If you’re reading this blog (a big thank you from your fellow travel obsessors writing it), it’s probably a safe bet that you’ve had at least one overseas adventure. Oh, to relive the first steps in a foreign land. The excitement, the nerves, the anticipation of adventure. But also sometimes the fear, the anxiety, the restlessness of thinking over and over “what is to come?” Anywhere new always gets the blood pumping, but what about three weeks in, five weeks in, five months in? We’ve dug in and done the research (and put into practice) what to expect when when you merge into a new culture long term. Navigating the very real rollercoaster of culture shock can be a wild ride, but hopefully with this knowledge in tow, your settling in can be smooth sailing.
Phase 1 – Euphoric / Honeymoon
Where the country newcomer is in love with the sites, the sounds, the food, the culture, the people. Everything is new and shiny and he or she thinks they’ll never want to leave. Lap this phase up. Welcome in the different and revel in it! In hindsight, though, it’s also helpful to remind yourself that this high will melt away as the real adjustment begins. Being mindful of the change that is coming really takes the edge off the disappointment that not everything will remain sunshine and rainbows. No culture shock yet.
Phase 2 – Withdrawal
At this point, everything ‘new’ about the culture the traveler loved suddenly becomes frustrating, burdensome, strange and just not fun anymore. Enter the culture shock. A wave of homesickness and a thirst for the old and familiar of the home country become strong. The most important thing to know about this phase is that it will pass. So adopt a sense of humor. Instead of cursing the train that you misread the schedule for, or the food that came out late again, honestly just laugh about it, because soon your frustrations will give way to something great.
Phase 3 – Adjustment
Here you adjust to the circumstances of the country, pick up a routine and jive with it. You feel less isolated, more a part of things and comfortable. This a pretty sweet place to be. Nothing beats the feeling of settling in, kicking your feet up for the first time and finally feeling like you can relax and enjoy. This phase is like that but for your soul.
Phase 4 – Enthusiasm
Here’s the ‘home’ feeling. The person feels adapted and thriving in the culture, actually preferring many of the characteristics to those of their home country, and adopts certain behaviors. It’s awesome to get here. Integrated, at peace with all that is new, but also preferring where you are and all the things that were once different. It’s here where you’re now a true local and can claim a new stomping grounds.
Like em' or not, phases 1,2,3 and 4 of culture shock are here to stay! They occur as sure as science and are ready and waiting for you as you embark on a long-term expedition. The best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with these phases, embrace them and enjoy the ride.