No, no, it’s not going to be a post about marriage, don’t worry.
Many smart books describe how the phases of the culture shock run, that there are four (you can find them under various names, but the idea behind them is the same): Honeymoon stage, Frustration stage, Adjustment stage and Acceptance stage.
With their description you might also find a very nice graph showing which stage comes when, looking more or less like this:
Although when I think about my experience it was a bit more like that:
Anyway, I do still value the awareness of these phases. Whether they come one after another, whether they take 2 weeks or 2 months is not that important to me. The most important thing we can learn from reading about this is the fact that you might experience a whole spectrum of emotions and a whole spectrum of reactions to the new world that you are now surrounded by. And we need to be prepared for this.
If moving abroad is your own choice you are most likely to experience the honeymoon stage right after you arrive. The honeymoon stage can be described by just a general fascination by the new country, the urge to get to know various places, meet people, do touristy things, explore… When you’re asked the question “How do you like it here/there?” you’re then most likely to say you “Absolutely love it! I think I’ll stay longer than I expected!”. Because you are enjoying it so much, that’s often also the time when your contact with friends and family at home is a bit looser and if you do speak to them you would often have a verbal diarrhoea wanting to describe all the things you’ve been experiencing. Would be good if both sides taking part in the conversation would be aware of it happening – expats, to stop talking at some point and get interested in your friend’s lives as well; friends and families back home, so that you allow some space for the expat to share all these feelings connected with moving to new home.
This phase and positive feelings can last longer especially if you have a fixed return date, like for example if you’re just on a project for half a year or on Erasmus. If you’re moving permanently, you’ll get to the frustration phase sooner or later.
If your move abroad is not entirely your own choice, for example when you follow your partner abroad or when a boss just assigns you to a project somewhere far away, there is a chance that the honeymoon stage will not happen at all or will actually be the last one to happen after you live through all the frustrations and challenges of living abroad.
As you can see, the culture shock stages topic is not as obvious as it might appear. How you experience it is very dependent on your current situation, on the reasons for you moving abroad, on your previous experiences or your values. Culture shock is a psychological phenomenon, related to a variety of emotions and frustrations you might experience. It’s not just about knowing where to buy the best groceries.
Let me know if you went on a honeymoon with your new home and if so, what were your experiences with it 🙂