Migration & Culture Shock


After a tedious process of dealing with visas, permits and forms, you find yourself on a plane or bus, holding your luggage and waving to your loved ones. You believe that you are finally done and arrive in your new country with all your hopes and dreams, ready to make it your home. But then another process begins, called culture shock.

In its simplest definition, culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by an individual subjected to a nonnative culture. It can be caused by a wide range of situations and circumstances, like tasting unusual food, facing complex language barriers or making a cultural mistake because one is not used to the local custom.

Culture shock usually starts with a sense of euphoria associated with the honeymoon stage, the first of the culture shock stages. At this point, you are probably exploring your new surroundings, meeting new people and trying different experiences. Similarly to the beginning of a relationship, you can’t find anything wrong with your new country. All and everything is beautiful, and you are pretty much in love.

Additionally, there are pressing matters to deal with. It’s time to choose the most convenient bank or maybe find the best school for your kids. You are busy establishing the foundations of your brand new life and feeling that every solved issue is a tiny victory.

Of course, the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever. At the end of the day, emigration and change are synonyms. You put yourself in a new place with different customs, maybe another language and with unknown societal expectations— many changes to get used to in little time. Additionally, you become aware of all the losses. Work, friends and family are some of the sacrifices shared by those leaving behind their countries and cultures.

The frustration generated by the lack of familiar context and the nostalgia for the life left behind leads to the next phase of the culture shock process. Depending on the author, this stage is referred to as rejection, negotiation or denial. At this point, one can feel confused, anxious and frustrated. It is common to suffer from loneliness and depression.

It is crucial to understand that these feelings are real and can become very intense. Often the newcomer enters a state of rejection towards the host country. When you or someone you know frequently complains and only notices the negative aspects of their surroundings, it can be a manifestation of the culture shock.

For some of us, this turmoil manifests itself in physiological symptoms such as insomnia, colds and stomach problems.

If you struggle with these emotions, you may find yourself walking into a new phase that some authors call regression. At this stage, you probably only focus on the good memories of your native country; all the obstacles that you faced there are forgotten, and you may find yourself wondering “Why did I ever leave?”.

Without noticing, you start moving backwards. Maybe you spend an unhealthy amount of time on social media watching news and content from your home country. Perhaps you are speaking in your native language more frequently again, neglecting the language skills needed to function in your new country. When we go through this phase, it is usual to search for integration in social circles exclusively made up of other expats, and not to try to meet locals.

If you endure this third stage successfully, you will move into what is called the adaptation phase. Comfortable would be the word defining this period. Problems with some of the societal cues are still there, and you probably don’t understand everything people say or do. However, you have now begun to adapt to your new culture. You start to realize that no country is better than another one: just different lifestyles and customs. Finally, you have adjusted to your new home.

The reverse culture shock or re-entry shock occurs when you return home after an extended stay abroad. You may quickly realize that things are different from when you left. It is totally normal to feel like you don’t belong anymore since many things have changed and people have moved on without you. It is not home anymore. And that is ok.

Generally speaking, it is essential to remember that not everyone experiences all five stages of the culture shock and that their order varies widely. Their impact also fluctuates depending on where you came from, how different the cultures are, and whether you have a support system.

In the end, it is on you. On your skills to adapt. On your ability to change and overcome obstacles. On how much you trust your strength to start from scratch in a different country looking for a different (and probably better) life.

By Amelia Flores (Copywriter)

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