Navigating Culture Shock Abroad

When you go abroad, you’re going to experience new everything - from cultures and languages, to people, food and even sounds. All of this newness, combined with the lack of familiarity may cause you to experience anxiety. This type of anxiety is called cultural shock, and is something almost everyone who leaves their 'comfort zone' will experience to some degree.

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When you go abroad, you’re going to experience new everything - from cultures and languages, to people, food and even sounds. This is especially the case if you are leaving home for the first time, or even getting on a plane for the first time! All of this newness, combined with the lack of familiarity may cause you to experience anxiety. This type of anxiety is called cultural shock, and is something almost everyone who leaves their 'comfort zone' will experience to some degree.


Culture shock can take place over four stages. Once you become familiar with the stages you will be better able to combat it.


Honeymoon Stage

Think of the first stage of cultural shock as the honeymoon stage. Much like the honeymoon phase in a relationship, you're typically very happy and positive because you're experiencing something brand new. This occurs in the first few days of you arriving in your host country.

Symptoms of honeymoon stage:

  • Excitement and euphoria
  • General anticipation of everything that you are about to experience
  • Everything and everyone you encounter is new and many times exciting
  • You’ll probably be eager to learn the language spoken in your host country

During the honeymoon stage you will be poised to take on the challenges of living broad.


Anxiety Stage

After the honeymoon stage your initial excitement may wane. You also may start to feel frustration or anxiety, hence the onset of this stage. Anxiety can occur for various reasons.

Symptoms of the anxiety stage:

  • Some of your initial excitement dissipates
  • Feelings of anxiety, anger and homesickness creep in
  • You might reject your new environment and begin to have a lack of interest in your new surroundings
  • You’ll become frustrated with trying to speak a foreign language

Tips for dealing with the anxiety stage:

  • Don’t blame the host country or its people for your feelings. Your anxiety and frustration happens to millions of people who study, work or travel abroad.
  • Remember, you’re in a new environment and getting accustomed takes time. How you handle this frustration that determines how you to grow from your experience abroad.
  • Don’t be negative; you’ll only prolong the feelings of frustration.
  • Stay positive. Think about the experience you’re having living abroad and learning about new people, food, and culture.
  • Try keeping a journal chronicling your experiences.


Adjustment Stage

The adjustment stage occurs when you develop a more balanced and understanding view of your experience abroad.


Characteristics of the adjustment stage:

  • You become adjusted with the culture, people, food and language of your host country
  • You will have made friends, possibly with locals
  • You become less homesick
  • You’ll be more comfortable with speaking and listening to the language spoken in your host country
  • You become more comfortable and relaxed in your new environment
  • You develop ways to positively handle previously frustrating situations


Acceptance Stage

During the acceptance stage, you will begin to accept and appreciate the host environment for what it is, and you may even begin to feel like you belong.

Characteristics of the acceptance stage:

  • You’ll be able to compare the good and bad of your host country with the good and bad of your home country
  • You feel less like a foreigner and more like your host country is your second home
  • You laugh about things that frustrated you at earlier stages of cultural shock

Once you reach acceptance, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you can live successfully in two cultures. This is a huge milestone, and something to be proud of!


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