Cultural Adjustment

We are creatures of habit much more than we realize. Transplantation to another culture results in a loss of cues which guide our daily actions and decisions. Regardless of our tolerance, broad-mindedness, and empathy for the new culture, the loss of familiar props will result in some degree of frustration.

Pre-departure Anxiety Logistical concerns are priority. While preparing to live or work overseas, people often experience anxiety over their ability to handle the new opportunity. Many people anticipate cultural differences but do not really know what to expect or how they will react to adjustment problems. Indicators: insomnia, less interest in current activities.

Honeymoon Arrival Fascination and Excitement: Changes in routine are exciting and the new world is fascinating. Expectations for the experience are high. With lots of arrival introductions, the visitor is often overwhelmed with being the focus of attention and activity. S/he is shown a level of respect and concern which might be quite uncommon back home. Indicators: insomnia, stomach queasiness.

Initial Culture Shock The novelty of the new culture wears off after a few weeks. Unexpected problems with housing, transportation, food, language and new friends are common. Along with a sense of disenchantment, people may start questioning their own values and those of the host country. Indicators: tired, restless, irritable, crying, impatient, minor health problems.

Surface Adjustment After the initial "down" feelings, an adjustment takes place and people settle in to the new environment. Language skills improve and navigation through every day activities becomes easier. A fresh sense of curiosity and eagerness to try new experiences are common. Indicators: sense of accomplishment.

Mental Isolation At some point, the novelty wears off completely and the difficulties remain. Frustration increases, and a new more pervasive sense of isolation can set in. Separation from family and friends creates loneliness. Individuals may feel little stimulus to overcome the deeper and more troublesome difficulties. There may be unresolved conflicts with friends, hosts, or peers. Indicators: fatigue, colds, headaches, boredom, lack of motivation, hostility towards local people and customs, crying, lack of self-confidence.

Integration and Acceptance People begin to reconcile who they are within the local culture, and recognize changes within themselves, including changes in their values. A routine is established. There is a renewed interest in the host culture and a more constructive attitude. Having found an ease with the language, new friends, and society in general, people feel adapted to the host culture and in equilibrium with the host country. Deeper differences between self and others become understandable. Ways of dealing with these differences are found. Indicators: normal health.

Return Anxiety Finally settled in, the thought of leaving familiar friends, faces, new traditions and the new community raises anxieties similar to those felt during Pre-Departure Anxiety. The visitor begins to sense how much s/he has changed. People back home might not understand this "new" person with new awareness and feelings. This is a time of confusion and considerable pain due to the breaking of close bonds with no promise of renewal in the future.

Re-entry Shock Back home again, the contrast of old and new may come as a shock. Travelers have changed with their experiences and it will probably be difficult for family and friends to accept many of the changes. In addition, the returnee may not have anticipated changes which have taken place during their absence. There is surprise at having to get "reacquainted" with home. Returnees face the problem of adjusting to being "one of the crowed" again, while longing for the friends left behind. Returnees often find that no one is as interested in the details of their stay abroad as they feel they should be. Returnees are often frustrated by their inability to describe adequately the depth and nature of their experience abroad.

Reintegration Returnees must get involved in new activities and begin to integrate their experience and learning of the recent past into a plan for the future. They develop an understanding of self, home society and future development.

(Adapted from Bring Home the World by Stephen Rhinesmith pp 54-57.)