By: Geneva Simons
Visiting or moving to a new country can be an exciting experience, one filled with wonderment at the prospect of encountering a new culture. When preparing to leave, you should not only be concerned about travel details and the cost of the trip, but a very serious problem that many travelers face: Culture Shock. In China, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of expatriates leave earlier than expected due to Culture Shock. If you’re planning on moving or traveling abroad, don’t be discouraged! As a person who experienced Culture Shock first hand, I can tell you that it is manageable and you will get over it. As long as you can identify what you are experiencing, getting over Culture Shock is entirely possible.
Going to another country can be daunting no matter how prepared you are. When I moved to China, I had taken 3 years of Chinese language courses, traveled there for a month, and had many Chinese friends. Despite all of these preparations, I still experienced Culture Shock when I moved. Psychologists break down Culture Shock into four phases: The Honeymoon Phase, The Negotiation/Withdrawal Phase, The Adjustment Phase, and The Assimilation Phase.
The Honeymoon Phase
The Honeymoon Phase occurs when you first arrive in the country. Everything seems new and fascinating. You are amazed at the stark differences between your culture and the new one and view it in almost a romantic light. The food, people, dress, language, all seems wonderful. This stage may last a few months or only a few days, depending on the person.
The Negotiation/Withdrawal Phase
After spending some time in the country, customs that you were once amazed by become annoying or frustrating. Also, unnoticed customs now become an everyday encounter. For example, in China and many Eastern Asian countries, face value plays a very important role in how you interact with others. Unlike Westerners who directly resolve conflict, the Chinese prefer to save face or reputation of both parties, and will often avoid conflict. This, however, may leave problems in the workplace unresolved, and may prove frustrating for an expat. Other sources of frustration may include language barriers (not only knowing the language, but local sayings and idioms), mores and values, and even hygiene differences. This state is where many expats get stuck, some moving away as a result of these feelings. If, however, you’re able to stick it out, you may just move on to the next phase.
The Adjustment Phase
During this phase, you begin to get used to the customs that once frustrated you. You begin to accept these differences and see it as “the way things are”. You feel less negative then in the last phase and become accustomed to the culture.
The Assimilation Phase
Now, not only do you feel that the culture is more normal, you also are able to participate fully within the culture. You even start to prefer some aspects of the culture over your own and feel as though you can call the country home.
Dealing with these phases is not always easy—especially once you reach the Negotiation Phase. It may seem that you will never assimilate into the culture. When I moved to China I deeply missed my family, holiday traditions, and being able to freely interact with a culture that I was comfortable with. As time went on, however, I found that I could fit into the Chinese culture and even have a great time while doing it! Trust me, you CAN make it to the next stage, it just takes time and a willingness to live out of your comfort zone. Once you’re able to do that you will see and understand things about the culture that would never have been possible. Good luck on your travels and remember: you can overcome Culture Shock!