Culture shock

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The term culture shock refers to the difficulty in adjusting to a new environment which most expatriates experience at some point when they move to a new country.

The most common result of culture shock is depression which may cause some individuals to give up and return home. The best way to ameliorate culture shock is to understand the nature of the process.

The stages

Culture shock progresses through a recognisable sequence of stages. Some authorities give different names to the stages and include more sub-stages.

1 the honeymoon phase

You have moved to a new country and everything seems wonderful and strange. You feel like you are on one long holiday.

2 The Crisis or Cultural Shock Stage

The Culture shock stage. You don't understand the language; things that seemed exotic now simply seem weird and wrong; you feel people are taking advantage of you; you feel lonly, incompetent and overwhelmed.

3 Acceptance

You make friends, you learn some of the language, you start to really understand how the culture works.

4 Re-entry shock

If you have lived in a culture for a number of years and become assimilated, then going home may also be a problem. Your memories of "home" will not have changed over the years - but home itself will. Consequently it may feel as though you have been transported to a parallel universe where everything is similar but at the same time different. Your friends will be older, greyer and fatter, and so will the presenters on TV and the politicians. Prices will have changed, trees will have grown and children may be adolescents.

Furthermore your years abroad will have changed you in ways that will make you strange to your friends. You may also see them in a different, more parochial light.

Solutions

Both culture shock and re-entry shock are best treated with a good dose of preparedness.