CULTURE SHOCK? How To Understand and Embrace It!

By: Gao

First and foremost…
What is culture shock? Culture shock is the array of emotions one feels when being exposed to a different cultural environment or perspective than their own. This can be applied to anyone and everyone in situations that are new to them. For me, it was moving two and a half hours away from home for college. For others, this may include: moving to a different state, starting a new job, going to workshops or conferences, and much more. There is not one way to experience culture shock; it is perceived and rooted differently for individuals because of their unique experiences, modes of processing, and backgrounds. 

The 4 Stages of Culture Shock

  1. Honeymoon Stage — this the first stage in a situation where everything seems to be going great! Life is good, no stress, new beginnings, all hopeful, and exciting expectations for what is to come. 
  2. Crisis — things take a turn and become more seriously rooted. You’re realizing this is completely different than what you expected, or wanted, and now you’re stuck. You don’t know where to go, you’re confused, anxious, or scared even. This is often the most difficult stage to be in. Breathe, it’s going to be okay!
  3. Recovery and Adapt — here, you identify the problem, speak your truth, understand the context, and find what is going to help stabilize you and neutralize the situation. You are finding your grounding and making the effort to battle your crisis. You’ve got your head in the right place, keep going!
  4. Acceptance — in the end, you come to accept it. Move along with your life, onto the next chapter, and let things flow. It is time to begin again and indulge in what you have gained from this experience. 

NOTE: This is not a set flow of how culture shock may hit YOU. Some people may go straight into the crisis stage, recover, adapt, and then honeymoon. Others, may jump back and forth between stages and that’s okay. 

Image: rock stacks on log on rocky beach shoreline
Text: culture shock: how to understand and embrace it.

Your experiences are valid!
My parents came from camps in Thailand during the Vietnam War as refugees. This makes me a first generation Hmong American womxn and fuels my unique experiences and understanding of life. However, my “adulting” journey and bicultural identity pushes different cultural perceptions and ambitions from those of my parents. Deciding to leave home to further my education instead of marriage, ignited a protest between me and my parents. Thus a crisis is born, and so the stages unravel. 

A few weeks into the semester, I started to find my grounding. I got a job, became close with my roommates, and accepted that my experiences and perceptions were valid. I discovered resources through my roommates, advisor, counselor, and even my job as a peer educator!  It made the reality of leaving my home an opportunity to create my own. Despite the many times I felt alone, confused, and scared I came to find that I wasn’t. There was a whole community here ready to support and help me; the honeymoon stage was finally kicking in.  

How can this apply to you?
As a college student, you are being exposed to a very different world around you. One you may not have ever known or have only dipped your feet in. It is a time where freedom is given, responsibilities run toward you, and motivation and passion begin to ride the highs and lows. And it doesn’t end here! 

The process and stages of culture shock will come and go all throughout your life. In your career, home, life goals, education, and much more. That is OKAY! These four stages will help you understand yourself and push through the many crises you will come across. It is not a program that you graduate from after you have completed the last step, it is an everlasting mechanism that aids you in recognizing the control you have on your life, and future.  

Of Possible Interest:
On the Job – all our blog posts on the topic
Diversity in the Workplace – all our blog posts on the topic
Now That You’re On the Job – our Pinterest board filled with articles & resources

Read Gao’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Markus Spiske

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