The Stages of Cultural Adjustment – Part 2 of 3

Article published on EASY MILANO – September 1, 2016

In part one, we left off discussing stage two of the process of cultural adjustment, in which you were experiencing full-blown culture shock and all the frustrations and challenges that go with it.  Again, this can be the most difficult stage of adapting to a new culture and the time in which it is most critical to identify and seek sources of support, ranging from friends and family, to fellow ex-pats to professional counseling.

Stage Three: Adaptation

Now as you move toward stage three, you will slowly notice that your level of frustration and your feelings of separateness are giving way to familiarity and acceptance.  After having spent significant time in your new culture, you are likely beginning to resolve some of the conflicts you were experiencing.  You are regaining a sense of appreciation for the culture, similar to what you experienced in the initial stages of adaptation, but now the appreciation is mixed with a deeper meaning and understanding.  In fact, feelings in this third stage are often a mix of the feelings from the first two stages, and you are likely to find yourself more at ease and more comfortable with the ways and values of this new culture.

You can also expect to feel less isolated and more integrated as you develop a realistic understanding of the similarities and differences between your home culture and the new one.  You will have a clearer idea about what you like and dislike between the two cultures and at this stage, many people start to move in the direction of becoming bicultural, i.e., having or combining the attitudes and customs of two cultures.   You may find that you even prefer some aspects of the new culture to your home culture!

As you gradually grow steadier on your new sea legs, you will likely find both your sense of humor and your confidence returning.  It’s getting easier to laugh things off, and you’re better able to weather the high and low moments, realizing you can once again take things in stride that recently had you unglued and reduced to tears.  This is big!  Celebrate these moments and give yourself a huge pat on the back! 

Finally, since you have worked through the initial, emotional stages of cultural adjustment, you are now ready to enter a stage of deeper learning.  You might start to question long-held assumptions about your own culture and about the world.  This can be both exciting and surprising, as you realize new truths about yourself and the cultures and countries you’ve come to understand differently, including your own. Adapting to an entirely new culture is not for the faint of heart, and it’s important to recognize and celebrate all the progress you’ve made. Keep going!  In the next and final part of the series, we will talk more about biculturalism and reverse culture shock, for those who find themselves moving back to their home country after living abroad.


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