Long-term travelers, digital nomads, exchange students or anyone who is moving abroad will face 5 stages of culture shock at some point. It’s natural that new environment, a different culture or a new language might mix up your feelings and trigger certain emotions, you would usually not experience at home.

You might feel lonely, frustrated, depressed, excited or afraid. These feelings are very common when you are adapting to a different culture. This phenomenon, so-called culture shock consists of 5 stages – the honeymoon stage, frustration stage, adaptation stage and acceptance stage. Last but not least there is also the re-entry shock which is often considered to be the fifth phase of a culture shock.

In this article, you will learn about the 5 stages of culture shock. You will also learn how to find out in what phase of the culture shock you are right now and how to overcome it.

How to find out whether you are experiencing a culture shock

When you move to a different country and are exposed to a different culture, language or traditions you might get symptoms that are strongly connected to a culture shock.

You might feel bored, isolated, sleepy, easily frustrated, helpless and close-minded. You might start to compare everything with your culture back at home and criticize local traditions.

These are clear symptoms that you are experiencing a culture shock – some might feel homesick. When you realize what’s going on, you can take actions to improve your state of mind and focus on your goal you aim to achieve in this foreign country.

5 stages of culture shock

In order to adapt to a different culture and overcome your culture shock, you need to be aware of the following stages.

1. The Honeymoon Stage

Usually, at the beginning of your trip to a different country, you might feel excited and overwhelmed with positive feelings. It can be your first trip overseas and you are just so grateful to see a new country and pursue new opportunities.

I remember when I first came to the US as an exchange student in 2008. I stayed five months in Georgia and the first thing I loved was the muscle cars, skyscrapers in Atlanta, free-refills and the best BBQ.
The honeymoon stage might last a few days. Usually not longer than a few weeks, depending on your schedule and the setup in your new environment. Eventually, this stage of a culture shock will phase out.

2. The Frustration Stage

Sooner or later you realize that not everything about your new home is as amazing as you have idealized it before. You start judging certain systems, rules, and traditions. Particularly those that you are not familiar with from your home country.

People that travel regularly are very familiar with this stage of a culture shock. Miscommunication with locals can often result in frustration.

During my first trip to the US, I realized how bad public transport is built. Teenagers can’t be mobile without owning a car. As an exchange student, I could not own the car. My host family was busy most of the time which caused me being dependent on someone with a car. In Europe, this isn’t the problem since you can easily move with public transportation to anywhere.

3. The Adaptation Stage

Eventually, you will start getting more familiar with the rules in the foreign country. You will basically get used to it. You will start to navigate easier, join some local communities, learn some basic of the foreign language and adjust to the local traditions.

At the end of 2018, I moved to South East Asia to spend the winter here. I traveled to Indonesia, Taiwan, and Vietnam before but now I moved to Thailand and I stayed for several months. Within Thailand, I stayed in different islands. I learned a few words in Thai, joined Muay Thai classes, went eat local food and rent accommodation with locals. If you know the drill, this stage will take only a few days.

4. The Acceptance Stage

The next stage is also described as the Acceptance Stage. To overcome this phase you might need months or years in the new environment. Ideally, you speak the language, are very much familiar with local traditions and know how things work. In this stage, you are thriving in a foreign country and it becomes comfortable for you to live here.

As a kid, I moved with my mum and sister from the Czech Republic to Austria, where I pursued my studies and stayed for another 12 years. I learned the language, went through the school system and adapted to the Austrian culture. Although I don’t feel like 100% Austrian I am very comfortable with the Austrian culture and its traditions.

5. Re-Entry Shock

During your travels abroad you will expand your knowledge and most likely become more open-minded. You might be a different person when you return back home. In many cases, you got used to the foreign culture that it can be quite challenging to adapt to your national culture. This is the last stage of culture shock. You might have difficulties with the language, people’s behavior, and certain traditions. This phase usually takes a few weeks if you encounter it the first time. As more you will travel, the easier it will become for you to adapt to new environments.

I remember when I came back from my exchange semester in the US. I had difficulties to talk German again as for five months I barely spoke German. Upon arrival, I also realized that nothing has changed, while I changed, which caused a certain disappointment. Eventually, I coped with my feelings and adapted.

How to overcome culture shock

There are many ways how to adapt to a foreign culture and overcome culture shock. If you have traveled for many years, you will be familiar with those strategies, however, if you are just starting traveling these tips can help you out.

1. Forget the stereotypes and prejudices about foreign cultures

When we travel to a different country we often arrive with prejudices and expectations. You might be aware of some stereotypes which cause you putting everyone in the same box. Be aware of those prejudices but don’t be blind and judge anyone in advance.

Do not judge locals based on their appearance, religion or traditions. Approach locals with a positive attitude and you will be more successful as if you would judge them.

2. Be polite to locals

It is always good to be respectful and polite to others. Even though if you don’t speak the language, politeness and positive attitude is appreciated worldwide. Next time you will get upset because of some cultural differences, think twice before you respond.

3. Learn the local language

If you plan to live in a different country, you should learn at least the basics of the spoken language. The English language is often perceived as the world language, however, in many countries, local’s won’t understand if you speak English. It’s often much harder to connect with locals without trying to speak their language.

4. Approach locals in the foreign country

If you want to become a part of the community and adapt to the foreign culture, you need to connect with locals. You can connect with locals at work, at school, in sports groups, public events or even meetups. You might face some resistance in the beginning. Often you might face resistance, particularly when you are new in the community. Locals notice when you show up at their events regularly and eventually you will get accepted.

5. Respect the local culture

As an expat, visitor or traveler showing respect shows your humanity and understanding towards the local culture. If you plan to visit a famous cathedral in the town, be sure to follow the dress code, in some countries, women have to be partly covered. This is just one of many ways that show your respect. In some countries, you might face tough situations, poverty, dirt, different political system. Be aware of that and don’t express your opinions in a rude manner that could offend the locals.

6. Don’t give up and make the best of your cultural exchange

Moving to another country without knowing anyone is tough. Apart from the initial excitement, you will need to find accommodation, work, friends. It is not always easy, particularly if you struggle with the local language. You might meet many people who want to live at your expense, that’s why you should be able to communicate and have some idea how things work out in the country. The initial excitement and curiosity might easily turn into a culture shock and later into the depression, that’s when you need to stay focused and positive minded. At the end of the day, you have made the choice to move to a foreign country. Remember why you have taken this decision. If you make mistakes, learn from it and move on.

Final thoughts on culture shocks

The aspect of cultural adaptation is nowadays an important topic due to the continuous population migration, globalization, and international education. People move to other countries to gain work or study experience, improve their living standard or simply explore the country and expand their horizons. Sadly, many of those don’t recognize the importance of various cultural values which are crucial for your successful acculturation. Use the information in this article to overcome the 5 stages of a culture shock and improve your experience abroad. Read more about my travel experience in my travel blog.

How are you dealing with a culture shock? Leave a comment

Share your experience with the mentioned 5 stages of a culture shock with fellow readers to help them have a good experience in a foreign country.