While the process of adjusting to a new culture is exciting and fun at first, as time goes on the traveler is presented with an increasing number of problems and frustrations.
As the traveler continues their daily struggle to interact in a meaningful way with their new environment and culture, their sense of security and well-being suffers.
Only as they are able to gradually accept all the new culture has to offer does a traveler’s sense of stability and security return.
1. Early arrival, the tourist phase
This stage occurs just after arrival, when the traveler is still in the tourist phase, full of elation and ready to experience their new lifestyle. According to some experts, this period can last six months or longer, but every traveler is different.
During this stage, the traveler may encounter some problems or be confused by some things, but in general, they take it all in stride and accept the difficulties as just part of the newness, something to be laughed off.
2. Trying to settle in, the rejection phase
This stage begins when the traveler has to deal with problems regularly: the busses that don’t arrive on time, they can’t buy their favorite foods, the phones or electricity doesn’t always work, etc. At this stage, others who are used to the traveler being around don’t seem too concerned about the problems the traveler is having – an action that often reinforces the traveler’s feelings of alienation.
At this stage, the symptoms of culture shock begin manifesting themselves. This stage is actually a kind of crisis as the ‘disease’ of culture shock sets in with full force. It’s important for the traveler and those around him or her to recognize that their feelings are real and that their symptoms can actually become quite serious.
3. Conforming, the recovery phase
This is the stage where recovery begins. It’s characterized by the traveler starting to feel less concerned about the strangeness of their adopted culture and more understanding of it. The feeling of being a new arrival has faded and the traveler is better able to tolerate the cultural differences that initially caused so much distress.
At this stage, the traveler should begin to feel a new sense of equilibrium and they often feel pleasure in their new culture. The physical and emotional manifestations of their symptoms begin to go away and, while not completely settled, they’ve started to feel more at home in their new culture.
4. Assimilation, the complete adjustment phase
This is the stage where the traveler has accepted all the new culture has to offer: both good and bad. They understand why people act a certain way, how the transportation system operates, and how to work the appliances in their home, for example.
This is the stage of assimilation into, or complete adjustment to, the formerly new environment and strange culture. Of course, it’s often at this stage that the traveler also heads for home!
How quickly do the stages pass?
Every person goes through their own process at their own speed. A traveler’s physical condition, even their need for special medical care or a specific diet, as well as their personal degree of tolerance to having their natural rhythms disrupted can influence the severity of their culture shock as does their ability to cope with changes in altitude, climate, foods, pathogens, and more.
Next: Let’s review the tips for surviving culture shock.
This page is part of our Culture Shock 101 guide.