The stages of cultural shock

Anush Yepremyan

Did you know that there are five stages of cultural shock? Me neither, until I came across the article about it last week.

I was fascinated while reading it. When I read some of the symptoms, I felt like, “Check, check; I had that for sure.” It was that true. I am sure people who studied abroad or traveled outside the United States of America will know what I am talking about, because we usually do not tend to think about the culture we are raised in until comparing it with another one.

Most of us think that things are the same in other places; however, words, rules, customs, body language, signs, perceptions and values are different in different cultures.

Have you ever felt like you are just in love with a new country; you are delusional about it? Everything is so new and exciting that you find it hard to believe, and you ask the person next to you to pinch you. Congratulations and welcome to the club! You have experienced the first stage of cultural shock – “honeymoon.” I think the name speaks for itself.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon stage does not last long – just like the real honeymoon. The next stage is “rejection.” Now, we have to deal with transportation issues, communication barriers and others.

When I was in Armenia, buses would not come on time. That is not all – their buses are the ones that are designed for siting only, however, the drivers would let people in even when it was full.

You would end up standing, but you cannot stand straight because the ceiling is low – not the best feeling especially when you are wearing heels and a skirt. However, people are very nice. They share seats, and it is common that a male stands up for female to sit.

This stage of cultural shock is also characterized by one feeling as if the whole world has turned its back on him or her. They feel as if they are not really welcomed there. I was fortunate enough not to experience it.

The third phase is like moving backward, called “regression.” You may find yourself speaking your language, watching and listening to everything in your language. You remember only good things about your homeland and almost question your staying in another country.

I did not experience that either. However, I felt nostalgia, especially during the New Year; there are some traditional classic movies that are dedicated to the holiday. In addition, it is a huge family holiday and I am very close with my family, so it is natural that I missed them.

If you survived the previous stage, you can move to the “recovery” phase. You made it! Personally, I think this is the best one. You finally have found peace with yourself and another culture and now you can move on. It is such a relief to realize that there is no better or worse, or right or wrong – it is just different way of life. That is where I am right now.

This is not over yet; there is a “reverse cultural shock” too. That is when you go back home and realize that you are not really comfortable there anymore. Isn’t it horrible? But that is somewhat true.

I think when you travel, you open your eyes, you start thinking out of box, you develop different values and, most importantly, you appreciate things that were not that valuable for you before. You change.