Culture Shock & Beyond
What is Culture Shock?
Moving to a new country with a new culture can cause strong feelings including excitement, fear and sadness. When living in a different culture, many people’s feelings follow a common pattern that we call “culture shock.”
Stages of Culture Shock
Culture shock has 5 main stages:
1. Honeymoon. In the honeymoon stage, people feel excited to be in a new country. Everything is exciting and interesting. You might have a lot of energy and be interested in meeting people, trying new things and exploring new places.
2. Anger. After the honeymoon stage, you might discover that you often feel angry. Rules and other people’s behavior might not make sense. People may seem rude and unkind. In this stage, everything feels too difficult.
3. Coping. After a while, you will probably feel less frustration. You will get used to the new ways to do things. You might find one or two people you trust and like to spend time with. Things won’t be perfect, but they’ll be easier!
4. Depression. After getting used to the new culture, people normally feel some sadness. You might miss home even more. You might feel like you can’t be your true self, or feel like most people don’t really know you. You might want to spend more time alone, and lose interest in going places. This stage can be very painful, and stronger than normal sadness.
5. Adjustment. Finally, most people become comfortable in their new country. You will understand the culture better. You’ll know more people, and feel more confident. You will still feel excitement, anger and sadness, but most of the time you’ll be ok!
These steps may come in a different order for you, and some steps might last longer or shorter times. It is common for people to go through the steps a few times, and you can also expect to go through the steps backwards when you go home (this is called “reverse culture shock”). But it gets easier every time!
Everyone experiences culture shock! The feelings can be painful, but they are also very common and normal.
Culture Shock and Mental Health
For many people, the anger and depression stages of culture shock can be extremely difficult!
If you feel that you want to hurt or kill yourself, call the suicide hotline phone number, 988. You can also text 988, if you prefer. You can ask to speak to someone in your language.
Culture shock affects the human brain. Stress, exposure to new things, and being without your family and friends all lead to changes in the brain. The brain prepares to help you through a difficult situation by activating its danger system. Science shows us that when the brain’s danger system is working for too long, it can be harder to sleep, think and learn a new language. It can cause stress feelings in your body. It can also make small problems feel like big problems.
How can we turn the danger system off? The best way is to talk to someone about how you feel. Talking in your own language is best, but any language works! Just using words to describe your feelings will calm your brain. However, if you ignore the feelings, or act like they are not important and don’t tell others, the danger system will become stronger and you might experience more difficulty.
Other things that help to calm the danger system are nature, music, art and moving your body. Going for a walk, especially where you can see water, plants and trees, can help you feel better.
If you are a student, your university counseling center should be accessible on your university’s website
Council For Relationships is a low-cost therapy center in Philly
Psychology Today is where you can find individual therapists in person and online who speak many languages
Open Path is a low-cost therapy website
Moving the Body