Culture Shock & The 4 Stages of Adaptation

When we move to another country, we are often exposed to a culture different from ours and need to go through four stages of transition: Honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and adaptation. Some people are excited about the foreign culture for months, and others start to get frustrated on day one. And then there are those who experience a culture shock that is so strong that they leave before adjusting.

the full story
01 Culture shock

When we study in another country or move into a new town, we are often exposed to a culture different from ours and need to go through four stages of transition: Honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and adaptation. During stage two, some experience a real culture shock, severe forms of which can lead to reactions that may need medical attention. But before we come to that, let’s first look at what happens typically.

honeymoon
02 Honeymoon

In stage 1honeymoon — everything is beautiful. The people are friendly, the culture rich, and the way of local life fascinating. We are optimistic and excited about all the differences. 

frustration & culture shock
03 Frustration

In stage 2 we feel frustration. Reality sets in. We have come to understand that there are plenty of barriers to connecting with people and have difficulty with the social norms. We start to reject local traditions and begin to feel homesick.

adjustment & familiarity
04 Adjustment

The stage of adjustment is characterized by a growing familiarity with our new way of life. We begin to understand the new customs, acquire language skills, and make local friends. We start to feel more comfortable.

adaptation & mastery
05 Adaptation

Last is adaptation. Duringthis stage, we gain a sense of belonging and are able to fully participate in the new culture, even while maintaining our own native identity. Known as the stage of mastery, we now start to feel at home. However, not everyone arrives at this point.

Some people are excited about the foreign culture for months, and others start to get frustrated on day one. And then there are those who experience a culture shock that is so strong that they leave before adjusting.

the paris syndrome
06 Paris syndrome

The Paris Syndrome is the most extreme form of culture shock. It typically strikes some Japanese tourists who come to the French capital full of excitement and romantic expectations but are then confronted with filth and arrogance.

The 20 or so travelers that are reported to be hit each year, experience a wide range of psychiatric and psychosomatic symptoms, including anxiety, hallucinations, and vomiting. And so they leave deeply distressed before they adjust.

reverse culture shock
07 Reverse culture shock

Those who have adapted to a new society, may face a surprise when they eventually return home. After another honeymoon, they often enter a reverse culture shock, realizing how much they have been estranged from their old way of life. But it can get worse.

forced transition
08 Forced transition

The ones who are pushed into a new culture without being asked, often skip honeymoon altogether and enter straight into the stage of frustration. If that happens without the right support, they never really settle in, can’t adjust, and remain frustrated indefinitely.

preschool anxiety
09 Preschool anxiety

Studies show that toddlers who are sent for their first days at preschool without anyone to accompany them, experience so much anxiety that they can’t bond with their teachers. As a result they remain freighted to go and clock significantly more sick days for their entire preschool years. This is why good schools often demand that parents stay with  their children until they can fully settle in.

lysgaard’s research
10 Lysgaard research

The original research on culture shock was conducted by Sverre Lysgaard in the 1950s after the sociologist had talked to many Norwegians who had spent time in the United States — mostly for academic reasons. Analyzing his interviews, he saw a clear pattern.

The culture shock curve with happiness on one axis, and months in a foreign country on another; shows that, on average, the honeymoon period lasts for around 2 months. Then there are about 6 months of frustration before adjustment happens. Adaptation starts after close to a year.

share your travel story
11 Your travel story

What about you? Did you ever travel abroad or move to another country where you experienced the 4 stages? Share your thoughts about the theory and your personal experiences in the comments below!

Sources

Dig deeper!

Classroom activity

In this activity students will learn about culture shock and what causes it. 

  • Ask the class what they like about their country or their city: traditions, events, foods, transportation etc…
  • Ask students if they have ever been to another country, even on holidays where things were completely different. What did they enjoy? What was more difficult to live with? 
  • Show the class Sprouts’ video about Culture Shock. 
  • Ask students if they ever experienced a culture shock?
  • Ask students what they think could shock people when they come to their country or city: What are specific traditions or ways of doing things that are not the same as other countries?
  • Ask students how someone could learn to adapt when coming to their country, and how they could help people see the positive sides of their culture. 
  • Ask the class what they would like to bring home from other countries they visited, and would benefit their way of life. 

Collaborators

  • Script: Ludovico Saint Amour di Chanaz and Jonas Koblin
  • Artist: Pascal Gaggelli
  • Voice: Matt Abbott
  • Coloring: Nalin
  • Editing: Peera Lertsukittipongsa
  • Production: Selina Bador
  • Sound Design: Miguel Ojeda

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