The Final Stages of Culture Shock
The Recovery Phase
During the third of all five stages of culture shock, expats usually begin to regain a sense of appreciation. They have now spent quite some time in the new culture and are slowly learning to understand the different way of life.
Aziz (38) is experiencing this right now. He passed through the first two stages of culture shock rather quickly, as he slid into the rejection phase soon after he had left Lebanon and moved to Mumbai to become a teacher for Corporate Communication & Marketing at a local business school. “I thought, having grown up among Tripoli’s streets and markets, I was prepared for India. But I hadn’t expected Mumbai to be quite as nerve-wreckingly huge and loud and stressful.” After a while, however, Aziz got used to the hectic life in Mumbai.
“I still struggle sometimes,” he confesses. “But I’m starting to see the beauty of living here in Mumbai. It’s a city of extremes, yes, but its multiculturalism and its arts and entertainment scene are absolutely fascinating.”
This is the point when assimilation is starting to happen. Aziz is slowly learning to deal with everyday difficulties. For him it is getting easier and easier to adjust to his new life as he is getting familiar with social customs and everyday living in Mumbai.
The Final Phase: Adaptation
During the adaptation phase, people begin to understand the similarities and differences between their home country and the new culture they are confronted with. They begin to accept and appreciate those very differences and the aspects which are unique to the culture of their host country. This is the final phase among the different stages of culture shock.
When Holly (33) came to Cologne to work for a TV production company, she couldn’t help but notice how blunt people were. “In El Paso, people always try to be very polite and friendly. Here, they tell you upfront if something upset them or if they don’t agree with everything you do.” Today, Holly appreciates this bluntness which she considers typical for Germans. “I like the fact that they don’t beat around the bush all the time. You always know where you stand.”
Holly has stopped comparing her host country to her home country all the time. Instead she has begun to accept both for what they are. “I love El Paso for its southern flair, its friendly people and its sunshine, and I love Cologne for its straight-forward way, for its beautiful heritage and, of course, for Carnival season.”
In the adaptation phase, expats like Holly often gain a new sense of confidence, tolerance and flexibility. This is when they finally begin to feel at home in their host country and their journey through the various stages of culture shock has come to an end.
Reverse Culture Shock
But has culture shock indeed ended on going back home? Reverse culture shock comes unexpectedly for most people and catches up with them when they think they’ve left the various stages of culture shock long behind. Many expats, especially if they have been gone for a long time, experience it all over again upon returning to their home country.
After her five-year stay on a post-grad research project in London had ended, Samirah (30) returned to Dubai. “It had been my home for so many years. I thought coming back would be a natural transition.” But Samirah soon realized that she had changed a great deal throughout those five years in London. “Dubai really annoyed me when I came back: the dry heat, the complete lack of sufficient public transportation. I missed London.”
Samirah soon realized that she had to go through the same stages of culture shock that she had experienced when she first came to London. The change of environment, but also the changes Samirah herself had gone through required a whole new adjustment process. “I really have to work on readjusting to my old life here. It’s extremely tedious,” Samirah sighs, “but it’s getting better every day.”