5 stages of culture shock, causes and how to cope

5 stages of culture shock, causes and how to cope

Have you relocated to another country and are finding it difficult to adapt to your new environment because everyone and everything seems weird? That’s culture shock. Culture shock is an inevitable part of travelling to unfamiliar places.

Culture is the general way of life of people in a society. They share the same beliefs, traditions, values, behaviours, and symbols that bind society together. So when you travel to a new place with a different culture, you’re bound to experience some form of anxiety because their lifestyles clash with your own.

Nigerians love the idea of japaing to another country for greener pastures. What a lot of them don’t know is culture shock is real. You’re not going to japa and adapt easily to the country you’ve chosen to settle in. It also doesn’t mean that one cannot overcome culture shock. It is possible, and you will know how.

What is culture shock?

Investopedia defines culture shock as feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people may experience when moving to a new country or experiencing a new culture or surroundings. The feeling is normal since you’re unfamiliar with the environment. You may face a wide range of emotions as you learn to adapt to the culture of your environment.

5 stages of culture shock

You’ve been making plans to move abroad, and the time is finally here. Congratulations, you’re in the country of your choice. However, as exciting as the experience is, prepare yourself to be assaulted with different stages of culture shock, and there are five of them.

Stage 1: Honeymoon

culture shock honeymoon
Photo credit: Stocksy

Just like a newly wedded couple, everything is new, foreign, and exciting when you’re newly abroad. You experience the initial euphoria. You can’t wait to delve into the new culture and get things started. It feels so wonderful to try the new street food, dance at the nightclubs, and greet in the local language. Everything is fascinating and exciting and life is great.

Unfortunately, this feeling doesn’t last long and this is where the next stage sets in.

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Stage 2: Distress and anxiety

culture shock distress stage
Photo credit: Dreamstime

Ah, the initial euphoria has worn off and you’re forced to face the reality around you. Suddenly, the roses are not red and the sky is not blue anymore. Forget the food, nightclub, friendly people, everything is strange. You don’t know how to use their cutlery, how to order drinks at the nightclub or how to communicate with the people. You feel out of place and that makes you distressed and increases your anxiety. This is also the stage where you develop prejudices against the people around you as you express your discontent, confusion, frustration, sadness, or incompetence.

Stage 3: Adjustment

culture shock adjustment stage
Photo credit: Dreamstime

This is where you gradually begin to feel comfortable in your new environment. You relax better as you learn the new language and understand the culture and its people. Problems still exist but you’re finding ways of dealing with them without feeling like you’re falling apart.

Stage 4: Adaptation

culture shock adaptation stage
Photo credit: Istockphotos

Here, the language barrier is no longer a problem. You feel at home in your host country and almost feel like a citizen. It’s easy to make new friends and no longer feel alone and isolated. Your daily activities become part of your life.

Stage 5: Re-entry Shock

culture shock re-entry stage
Photo credit: Istockphotos

This is the last stage where you return to your home country and find that everything has changed… or you’ve changed and finding it difficult to adapt. Fufu becomes bizarre to you. Prostrating to greet your elders is archaic and your local language sounds like gibberish to you. It’s like you’ve been thrust into alien culture again except this time, the culture is yours and you’re the one who doesn’t know how to absorb it.

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Culture shock examples

  • Children in the US don’t call adults ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’. They call adults by their first names.
  • In France and Norway, women can go topless when laying in the sun. Don’t attempt to cover up someone to avoid answering charges of assault.
  • In the middle east, unmarried couples are not allowed to have sex. If you’re planning to travel to Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, hold your konji to avoid seven years in prison.
  • Central and South Americans throw their used toilet papers into the rubbish bin rather than flushed in the toilet.
  • You may find some dishes in Asian countries disgusting like eating cockroaches and frogs.
  • Asian alphabets and letters are very different. You may not be able to read road signs and so on.
  • Some Asian and African countries don’t believe in using toilet paper after pooing. Instead, they use water and hands to clean themselves up.

Causes of culture shock

  • New way of life: This is where you realise that your life from now is changed which causes anxiety and distress.
  • Language: You may understand the language but hearing the locals speak will be a shock. Not understanding the language is a bigger problem.
  • Weather conditions: Moving from a hot, tropical environment to a cold one and vice versa is stressful and can impact your health.
  • Educational system: For students, the academic system in your host country may be different from what you’re used to. You’re going to have to find ways to adjust after a number of culture shock incidents.
  • Societal rules: Honking your car anyhow may be acceptable in Nigeria but it’s not abroad, especially in Western countries. You will be shocked how you will travel for miles without hearing the sound of a car horn in the UK.
  • Homesickness: After all is said and done, there is no place like home. Your host country may have everything you need to live a fulfilling life but at the end of the day, you will miss soaking garri with your siblings.

How to deal with culture shock

  • Frankly admit to yourself that things have changed. It’s the first necessary step to finding a way to cope with your new environment.
  • Learn the rules of your host country so you don’t get into trouble.
  • Explore your new environment. Enjoy the art, food, sports, etc. Being interested in your host country’s culture will help you cope with culture shock.
  • Learn the language to communicate better.
  • Make friends with the people. Locking yourself up in your apartment or hotel room will not solve your problem. Go out there and make friends.
  • Stay in contact with friends and family back home. Communicating with them on a regular basis will always remind you of your roots which will help to ease the culture shock in your host country.
  • Do something that reminds you of home like listening to music from artists back home or trying any of your local dishes.
  • Take good care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, and relax. You travel abroad, you no kill person.
  • Explore the sights and have fun.

Finally, culture shock is normal and shouldn’t make you feel like an alien. Learn the different stages and coping strategies listed above and you will be fine.

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Nonye is a Thespian, screenwriter, creative writer and an unapologetic lover of books, great movies and sports. She has over 10 years experience in content writing on entertainment, movies, sports and lifestyle. Nonye is currently a content writer at Blackdot Media and founder of
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