Cultural Adjustment Stages
Integrating into a new culture always requires a period of adjustment. This period, also known as “culture shock”, can be divided into four phases.
1. The Honeymoon Phase
This usually lasts a few weeks and is characterized by feelings of interest and excitement. You may even feel like a tourist.
2. The Negotiation/Hostility Phase
After a few months (though time differs with each individual), your initial excitement may recede, while differences between your home culture and the new culture become more troubling. This can lead to anxiety, insomnia, stomach upset, and feelings of homesickness, loneliness and frustration. This is the most difficult stage, but it does not last! (See below for some tips on how to overcome this phase.)
3. The Adjustment/Integration Phase
Generally after 6 to 12 months (again, depending on the individual), routines begin to develop and things start to feel normal. Homesickness subsides. You begin to feel more able to access information. You feel more relaxed and have fewer negative emotions.
4. The Mastery/Home Phase
You are able to participate fully in the new culture as well as your home culture.
What You Can Do
Americans typically enjoy explaining why we do things the way we do them. It’s perfectly polite to ask direct questions or to say “Help me understand why people here…” It’s probably best to ask more than one person, though, since Americans are a diverse group.
Try to avoid labeling new cultural traits as “good” or “bad”. Be patient.
Be kind to yourself
Know that it’s okay to be anxious. Nearly everyone in a new culture experiences this process. There is nothing wrong with you or with the new culture. You will make mistakes, and that’s okay, too. No one expects you to be perfect.
Do something physical. Take a walk or join a sports club. Exercise is good for your mind and body and can be a great way to make friends.
Seek out other international students or scholars who have been in the US longer than you have and are well-adapted. There are a number of cultural clubs on campus. Students may also connect with Counseling and Psychological Services.
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