Working or Studying Abroad: How to Manage the 5 Phases of Culture Shock

By Ingle International

Whether you’re spending a semester studying abroad or planning to teach English overseas for a year or so after graduation, it is likely that, for you, living in another country means tropical weather, foreign foods, vibrant colours, and lovely aromas! For people born with an innate cultural curiosity, the idea of life outside of their own country is one filled with mystery and excitement. It is rare that these types of individuals will ever even consider the negative side to travelling or living overseas. And that’s great! But a little bit of realism never hurt anyone. Before making a move as huge as this one, it’s important to be aware of the customs, etiquette, and laws of the country that will soon be accepting you as a long-term guest. And, of course, study up on that crazy thing called culture shock!

Culture shock is a phenomenon that cannot be avoided by even the bravest of adventurers. It is a psychological condition, made up of 5 distinct stages, that hits most long-term travellers and expatriates—no matter how well-travelled. But not to fear! Culture shock sounds scarier than it is. Give the brief descriptions of the 5 phases below a read to gain a better understanding of what to expect in your host country, and avoid being shocked by culture shock!

The Honeymoon Phase will find you enchanted by your new surroundings. You will wonder at the fact that the locals have such delicious foods, such hot weather, and such friendly smiling faces! According to you, life couldn’t be any better than this – and you have no qualms sharing just how great your new life is with envious loved ones back home.

The Rejection Phase is just as it sounds. You will find yourself rejecting the ways of your host country and questioning why the locals dress that way, talk that way, and do things that way. Suddenly, life in your home country couldn’t sound any better. You find yourself missing family, friends, home-cooked foods, and favourite hang-outs! Those long winters? Suddenly they seem like paradise compared to where you are right now.

The Adjustment Phase sneaks up on you when you least expect it. One moment you’re complaining about the fact that the locals are too formal (why do they bow instead of shaking hands?), and the next minute you’re bowing too – without even thinking about it! You still aren’t 100% comfortable with certain aspects of the culture and you may still be known to commit some cultural faux-pas, but little by little, you will start to feel more content with your new (and very different) life.

The Acceptance Phase is the point of no return – in a good way! You’ve finally reached a point where your home away from home feels like… home! Customs no longer seem odd (and, in fact, they now come naturally to you), and you may even find yourself explaining certain ways of doing things to newbie expats. You are no longer idealizing life in either your host or home country, but you’ve accepted things the way they are and are feeling much more secure and relaxed.

Reverse Culture Shock may end up being the biggest shock of all. Once you’ve adjusted to life in a new country, going “home” may be a lot harder than you think. Certain cultural nuances may no longer make sense to you, and you may be separated from some of your closest friends by an invisible wall. Feeling like a stranger in your own country can result in real feelings of loneliness that are most often beaten by taking part in events and hobbies that relate to the country you called home for the past year (or two!).

Don’t let Culture Shock scare you from taking a leap as life-changing as this one. As long as you are in the know when you head overseas, facing the difficulties and overcoming the challenges is somewhat easier. Always keep an open mind, and remind yourself that things in this strange land will make sense if you just give yourself a little time.

Bon voyage!

This article, written by Kathleen O'Hagan, is provided by Ingle International, specializing in travel insurance since 1946.  Ingle International has partnered with StudentAwards to provide students with the best travel health solutions for their overseas adventures. For more information, visit our partner site at http://inglestudents.com/studentawards/.

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