Moving to a new culture has its own unique set of challenges and for many, being a newcomer in a foreign country can be an overwhelming experience.

Research suggests that after death and divorce, third on the list of most stressful activities for people is moving. Whatever the reason for your move, it’s essential to realise that adapting to a new culture and a new way of life can take some time. As you adjust, you may feel a rollercoaster of emotions, otherwise known as culture shock.

The term culture shock was introduced by Kalvero Oberg in 1954. He claimed it as a very normal occurrence of cultural adaptation affecting almost all people who are new to another country and/or culture.

This interesting phenomenon describes the commonly felt disorientation people experience when they move between different social and cultural environments – for example, when one moves to another country.

Read on for more information on what it is, the phases and stages you might experience, and ways to help overcome it.


Phases of Culture Shock

It’s suggested even in its mildest form, culture shock consists of distinct phases.

However, people each experience culture shock in differing severity and these phases tend to develop in cycles or waves, rather than in a smooth, linear process.


‘Honeymoon Phase’ – During the arrival into a new culture, this ‘incubation’ phase highlights the differences between the old and new. It is characterised by fascination and the view through ‘rose coloured glasses’ towards the new environment – the architecture, food, daily habits and so on all seem very interesting, exciting and appealing.


‘Negotiation Phase’ – The euphoria begins to wear off and you long for the way things were done at home, how the food was prepared – your old way of life. The things you found quaint or exciting in the beginning can start to become annoying, and there is rejection and dislike for all that is different. There can be strong feelings of dissatisfaction, impatience, anger, sadness or incompetence while you negotiate your new surroundings.

This transitional phase takes time – maybe days, weeks, or even months.


‘Everything is OK Phase’ – In this next phase, you regress into a safe haven and have gained a better understanding of the new culture. You have now developed a sense of humour and feelings of pleasure with your new situation. There is an increased sense of familiarity with the new environment and more of a sense of balance.


‘Adjustment Phase’ – There comes a realisation that both cultures have both positive and negative to offer. You start to feel more integrated in your new environment and there is more of a sense of normality.


‘Mastery phase’ – There is a strong sense of comfort and belonging, and participation in the new culture becomes part of daily life. You embrace your new culture and start to feel at home once more.


Reverse Culture Shock

Sometimes called ‘re-entry shock’, this occurs when you return to your country of origin after acclimatising to a new culture. It describes a period of readjustment and is known to produce the same or similar culture shock effects described above.


Symptoms Of Culture Shock

Warning signs of culture shock can be both physical and emotional and can include a range of symptoms such as:

— Eating more/less than usual – weight gain/loss
— An increased need for cleanliness
— Overwhelming longing for family and contacting them more than usual
— Trying too hard to adapt
— Anger, irritability, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others
— Loss of identity, lack of confidence and shyness
— Insomnia or increased need for sleep
— Feelings of sadness and loneliness
— Preoccupation with your health
— Aches, pains, and allergies
— Unable to solve simple problems and a sense of disorientation
— Idealising your home country and feeling sentimental


Coping With Culture Shock

Managing and coping with culture shock can take some time, but there are a few things you can do to assist to make your transition as smooth and stress free as possible:

— Recognise that you are in a cultural transition and don’t be too hard on yourself.

— Be open-minded about your new country; research the island and its culture before you arrive and try to familiarise yourself with local customs.

— Build a strong network and support system; find friends, a ‘second’ family and like-minded colleagues who will listen and support you when you need them.

— Connect with the community in the new country – develop a hobby or volunteer for a charity.

— Make physical activity a regular part of your daily routine.

— Relax and meditate – these are proven to be very positive for people passing through periods of stress.

— Be constructive – if you encounter an unfavourable situation, learn from it and avoid putting yourself in that position again.

— Develop a sense of humour – laugh to reduce any built up tension.

— Allow yourself to grieve for the things that you have left behind: family, friends, your old culture. — Be thankful for the good things you already have in your life and congratulate yourself on being brave enough to make such a big life transition.

Remember: if you’re feeling you still can’t cope with the stress, there are always professional resources such as a psychologist or therapist that you can use to help get you through the more challenging moments.


Stay Positive And Optimistic

Research suggests culture shock can in fact have many positive effects on those experiencing an intercultural transition. These include an increased level of respect for different cultures, improved self-motivation, and a better understanding of yourself.

Recognise and appreciate the uniqueness of both home and host cultures and most importantly, be realistic – you WILL settle in your own time and try to be patient with yourself while you adjust.

By: Brett Callaghan

About Totally Barbados (Edit profile)

Brett Callaghan is the founder and managing director of Totally Barbados. I specialize in writing content for the tourism industry for my island home of Barbados. I help companies build strategies to grow online businesses with SMART marketing, advertising, and social media goals.