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Cultural Adjustment

Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg initially theorized the idea of cultural shock in 1954. Cultural shock is a feeling of uncertainty or anxiety that affects people that are immersed in a culture that is different or new. It occurs in four stages, excitement, irritation, adjustment, and adaption.

Excitement - Honeymoon

This is the first stage and occurs on arrival. In this stage everything is new and exciting. You are intrigued by cultural differences and similarities. There is a feeling that you could conquer anything and that there will be no trouble adjusting. 

Irritation - Culture Shock

After the honeymoon stage wears off the focus begins to shift to a negative view of the cultural differences. There is often a sense of helpless frustration. People often withdraw in this stage. This is when feelings of homesickness are most prevalent.

Adjustment – Perspective

Adjustment take s place gradually. You start to become comfortable as understanding of the language and culture increase. You are now more confident that you can manage life in your host country. You begin to see multiple perspectives and question your own assumptions about the world. 

Adaptation - Feeling at home

Eventually the host culture is no longer new and you begin to feel at home. You may prefer certain traits of the new culture over your home culture. You might even begin to adopt cultural behaviors. Depending on the length of your stay you may never reach this stage.

Being aware of the four stages of culture shock can help you to recognize it and find ways to cope. Some of the best ways to survive culture shock include:

  • Learning as much as you can about your host country (before and during your time abroad).
  • Maintain your health and get plenty of sleep.
  • Be flexible. Allow yourself to fail.
  • Find something about the host country that you enjoy every day.
  • Recognize and appreciate the differences.
  • Make a local friend. This will help you to better perceive the host culture.
  • Blog or keep a journal.
  • Stay positive. Think positive and you will have a positive experience abroad.