You may experience a range of emotions when adapting to a foreign culture, from excitement and interest to frustration, depression and fear of the unknown. It is important to stress that culture shock is entirely normal, usually unavoidable and not a sign that you have made a mistake or that you won’t manage. The experience can be a significant learning experience; it will give you valuable skills that will serve you in many ways now and in the future.
Culture shock has five phases, depending on which source you read.
The Honeymoon Phase: This is a fun time. Everything is great, exciting, and new. You love the differences, meeting new people, tasting new foods, seeing different architecture, doing new things, working in your new job. This phase can last days, weeks, or months.
Irritability and Hostility: During this phase, you’re noticing differences, even slight differences, and typically not in a good way. You don’t like people’s attitudes; you have had enough of the food and just want mom’s home cooking. During this phase, a person often feels anxious, angry, sad, and/or irritable.
Gradual Adjustment: Essentially, during this phase you decide whether you will succumb to negativity or negotiate past it to make the most of your experience. If you’re successful, you regain your sense of perspective, balance, and humor, and move on to the next phase.
Adaptation of Biculturalism: You feel more at home with the differences in the new culture. Depending on how big a change a person has experienced. The person doesn’t have to be in love with the new country (as in the honeymoon phase), but they can navigate it without unwarranted anxiety, negativity, and criticism.
The Reverse Culture Shock Phase: Sure enough, this can happen! Once a person has become accustomed to the way things are done in a different country, that person can go through the same series of culture shock phases when they return home.
Learn as much as you can about the new location before you go. This means the good, the bad, and the simply different — from time zones, to what side of the street people drive on, to climate/temperature, to foods, political system, culture, customs and religion(s), to “Can you drink the water?”.
Be open-minded and willing to learning. Ask questions. Don’t withdraw! Travel within the country, and visit cultural events and locations, such as museums or historic sites.
Build new friendships. Associate with positive people. Maintain a sense of humor. (Perhaps the most important!)
Keep in touch with people at home by Skype, email, phone— whatever. This can give you some comfort while away, and it will help you to minimize reverse culture shock when you get back home.
We would love to know your cultural shock experience in India. Please write your story in the comment box.