A roller coaster ride
No matter where you are from and which country you are visiting, you will experience feelings similar to falling in and out of love with your host culture. The roller coaster ride of emotions is commonly referred to as culture shock. However, we prefer to name it cultural adaptation.
The process of cultural adaptation typically follows these steps:
- Feeling everything in the host culture is great, interesting and fascinating
- Feeling confusion and resentment towards the host culture
- Adjusting and feeling comfortable with the new culture
- Feeling greater awareness of yourself and others
- Developing a multi-cultural identity
When arriving in a new country, most people initially feel happy and fascinated with everything around them. This feeling is typically replaced by a feeling of confusion or resentment of the new culture, perhaps after an unpleasant experience. This is followed by a stage of coming to terms with the culture again and later reaching a greater awareness and in-depth understanding of both yourself and the people around you. Ultimately, you might feel just as much at home in your host culture as you do at home.
You know you are adapting if…
… you experience feelings such as helplessness, withdrawal, irritability, homesickness, boredom or resentment towards your hosts. These feelings are a normal part of your learning experience and will ultimately help you understand your host culture and your own cultural background better. So when your cultural adaptation kicks in, your learning experience is unfolding, just like you wanted it to before you came.
Another roller coaster ride
Now you probably expected to go through some ups and downs during your stay abroad. What you probably didn’t expect was to go through a similar adaptation process when returning to your home. But as a matter of fact, most people who have lived in another country for a longer period of time experience a similar adaptation process upon returning to their home country.
How to cope with cultural adaptation:
- Learn as much about your host culture as you can in advance to be prepared for your experience.
- Remind yourself of the goal of your stay and why you where passionate about going.
- Know that your learning experience is really kicking in when it starts to get tough.
- If you are irritated by the people around you, remember that one of the reasons you came was to gain cultural awareness.
- When you feel the urge to isolate yourself, force yourself to engage in the world around you instead.
- Accept that living in another country is not always easy, and remember that most foreigners experience the same feelings as you, even though they might not talk about it.
- With the knowledge you already have of your host culture, which things do you think will trigger your adaptation process?
- What will you remind yourself to do and not to do when you are finding it hard to adapt?
References for this text
- Paul Pedersen: “The Five Stages of Culture Shock: Critical Incidents Around the World”, 1995.