The four phases of culture shock

It creeps up on you when you least expect it and pushes you out of your depth as you try to comprehend these abnormalities that are actually now normalities. In fact, you’re the abnormal one now. Culture shock.

Two and half years into my expat journey and as much as I have embraced the German culture, (I actually chose to move to Germany for Germany, not just for work) there are just some things that I guess I’ll never fully adapt to.

There are four phases of culture shock:

1. The Honeymoon Phase

Where everything is amazing and going perfectly well. The food is good, the people are funny, it’s different but you’re embracing every aspect of it and wouldn’t change a thing about your new location. If abroad for a short amount of time, the entire experience can be within the honeymoon phase, which I guess I’d consider as lucky.

2. The Frustration Phase

Having to adapt every aspect of your life is hard. Not being able to read everything on the menu is annoying, you can’t find your usual products, you bought shampoo instead of conditioner and you didn’t understand what time they said to come to your doctors appointment. Ugh.

3. The Adjustment Stage

And take a deep breath as the annoyance becomes an appreciative understanding. You become more patient when trying to get things done and although it’s not always easy, you are happy to be where you are and know that deep down that you still wouldn’t change this enriching yet challenging experience for the world.

4. The Biculturalism Stage

As expats we eventually come to accept that this is our home. This can take months, or even years. Daily activities become easier because you’ve made an effort with the language and culture, and it’s certainly paying off. There are still parts of your home culture that you’d love to have with you now, but that’s life there and this is life here.

I’d say culture shock is a question of nature vs. nurture, and nurture wins every time. But whilst adapting to a new culture has its ups and downs, there’s always room to nurture yourself if you put your mind to it. So if we’re feeling uneasy, it’s important to remember that it’s a phase of the journey and our hard work will soon pay off. What stage would you say you’re currently at?

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