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The Stages of Culture Shock

In my last post, I shared my experience in the first few months of moving to the UK. As promised, today I am talking about The Stages of Culture Shock. The fancy title to this is; The Stages of Cross Cultural Adjustment/Adaptation. What a mouthful!

I first came across this information from a book titled A great Move: Surviving and Thriving in your Expat Assignment by Katia Vlachos. This book is a very good read for anyone intending to emigrate to a different country especially before moving because it covers every aspect of the move from decision making to settling in.

However, even if you have already relocated to the said country, it is still helpful. It will give you insight and new understanding of what it is that you are going through. On days when you feel near depression in the first few months of leaving home, you will remember that you are at the bottom of the curve and it is only a matter of time.

Courtesy: Berkeley International Office

Before dissecting the stages, it is important to know that everyone’s transition is different. While a majority are likely to follow the curve, some people may never get to go through these stages. Others will go through the stages in a different order whilst others will spend more time in different stages than others.

Honeymoon/Euphoria Phase

This is the initial excitement one experiences after moving to a different place. At this point, every experience is new. You feel thrilled about your new environment and you are excited about the possibilities.

As nurses, we move for different reasons, ranging from seeking exposure to seeking adventure. The main reason usually is gaining financial freedom. During honeymoon phase you will make different plans towards financial freedom. Whats makes it even more exciting is that you are living rent free at this time.

Until you start paying rent, council tax and black tax, among other bills.

Crisis/Culture Shock Phase

After a few weeks or months in a new place, you are no longer a tourist, nor are you regarded as one. Routine sets in and with it disillusionment.

A Great Move by Katia Vlachos

At this stage reality has set in. In the UK nursing context, this is the stage where you are now a full Band 5 nurse. You have full liability for all your actions and you start to experience the pressures of work.

In your personal life you have to pay bills left right and center while saving for future plans. At this point also, you are missing home and your children and spouse/partner. And if you are single you just realize how lonely it is.

During this phase you will mainly feel anxiety and confusion. The same future that excited you is the one that will make you anxious. You will ask yourself whether you can survive in the country for long, leaving you in a state of sadness. You are also likely to experience physical symptoms like mood swings, insomnia and reduced appetite.

Recovery Phase

This phase results from overcoming the crisis phase. Getting to recover is an individualized process. We all have different personalities, backgrounds, circumstances, strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, some people get to recovery faster than others.

At recovery you have developed routines, you have learnt the system a bit and things now make sense. You appreciate the culture more.

For me the biggest indicator for getting to this phase was my participation in small talk. If you live in the UK you know that people always want to talk. Whether its in the supermarket queue or in a bus or train. Initially, I would shy away from such conversation. Now that I can hear the British accent better and have accepted mine, I can willing participate in such small talk with random strangers.

Adjustment /Adaptation

At this point, you have accepted the situation. Once again, you start to enjoy your environment. You may have even made a few friends here and there. Maybe your family has joined you or you’ve gotten into that relationship that feels right.

You start to feel at home.

Note that, having adjusted doesn’t mean that it is smooth sailing. You will still have different challenges and tough decisions to make. Just that now you will approach them with more sobriety and less anxiety.

As I finish, here are some suggestions to make your transition less stressful:

  • Appreciate that what you are feeling is normal. Its a stage in the process of culture shock or cross-cultural adaptation.

  • Indulge in self care. I always say that self care is all about how you do it best. Whether it is watching or sleeping or exercising, just do that.

  • Find your community. There may be online groups or people around who come from the same country as you. Join them as they will share information and ideas that may help you transition.

  • Talk to someone. If you start feeling overwhelmed, seek help. it may be a friend, a colleague or a professional therapist. You may also find a mentor or a coach like myself to walk with you.

  • Keep in touch with home. You can travel home from time to time but you can just keep up with things that remind you of home. Like the food, music or your favorite shows.

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