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Adjusting to a New Culture: The Transition Stages That You May Experience When You Live, Travel or Study Abroad

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In this post, we describe the five stages of cultural adaptation that may impact your experience to living, working or studying in abroad.

By being aware of these stages before departure, you can better navigate these highs and lows.

The stages of cultural adaption

1. Honeymoon stage

2. Culture shock stage

3. Recovery stage

4. Adaption stage

5. Reverse culture shock


These stages may not always play out in a successive order.

Some people do not experience all of the stages.

Each person has their own timeline for how long they take to move through the stages.

Honeymoon stage

The initial jubilation and excitement of arriving to a new place.

Pedestrian activities like grocery shopping or navigating your way around town feel glamorous and novel. This positive energy is confirmation of your decision to sign up for the journey.

Culture shock stage

The initial excitement fades and a new reality begins.

Time and power dimensions, societal structure, customs and values may carry different meanings than back home. Because of this, you become aware of your own behaviors, tendencies and preferences.

Expressing yourself verbally and nonverbally may become a challenge. The same jokes, cultural references may not land the same way they do back home. If you haven’t yet mastered idiomatic expressions or the local vernacular, you may feelings that you can’t communicate effectively.

As a result, it may be difficult to make friends, date and interact with authority figures or people from a different gender.

You may feel homesick, sad, anxious, regretful, rejected and irritated.

Recovery stage

Feelings typical of this stage are a mixture of the first two stages.

You begin to a grasp the new culture and examine your own behaviors with a critical lens. This helps manage demands and conflicts that arise when trying to reconcile the differences between two cultures.

You may regain a sense of appreciation and excitement for the experience.

Adaption stage

You are now more comfortable navigating how to function like a local, are familiar with the culture’s behaviors and attitudes, and knowledgeable about how to communicate in a different culture.

You developed a refined sense of the attributes that characterize your new country, and a sense of similarities and differences between your new and old home country’s.

This period is filled with reflection, tolerance and openness towards being able to weigh both cultures and reflect on how they impact your life.

Reverse culture shock stage

As your time in your new home comes to a close, you may look at your experience with nostalgia, fondness and overall positivity, despite some of the challenges you may have faced in the culture shock stage.

Upon returning home, you may face a new cycle of cultural adjustment. You will question why things are structured the way they are.

You will compare your home culture to your adopted culture and feel possible upset or confusion that your friends and family at home are not aware of these differences that feel so acute to you. You may even feel some level of negativity towards your home culture.

Over time these feelings may relax or heighten as you now have a different experiences to compare.

Have you experienced these transition stages? Please comment below and share your story.

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