Month Three: The Stages of Culture Shock


As seen in Mexique 1900-1950

I stubbornly thought I wouldn’t have culture shock. “I’ve lived there before… I know what its going to be like,” I said to myself and others. Maybe it was me being confident. Maybe it was me trying to deal with completely packing up my life and coming across the sea. Either way, this past month has given me several trials and tribulations through, what I would say, is arguably the greatest risk I have ever taken.

There are 5 stages of Culture Shock¹:

  1. Honeymoon Stage
  2. Reflection Stage
  3. Surface Adjustment
  4. Deeper Adjustment
  5. Full Adjustment

    As seen in Mexique 1900-1950

The Honeymoon Stage – Most people experience this when traveling. It is the excitement of being in a new place and trying new things. Everything is great because you have so much to share with others back home and you realize how much there is to see and learn in this new place. This stage can last from a few days to a few weeks.

For me, this only happened with meeting the family and moving in to my new apartment. I knew Paris and had seen all of the major sites. I was excited to learn about the family, play with the girls and see my new town. I was also excited to unpack and get settled into my new space for the next year.

The Reflection Stage – Also known as the Rejection Stage, this can last from a few weeks to a few months. It is when subtle differences in culture become apparent and therefore can become frustrating. We may not know how to react or it is challenging to have to switch styles of interactions and other daily functions. This makes living in your new culture seem annoying and causes you to miss home, feel lonely and even isolated.

Personally, I knew it was going to take some time to get used to my new schedule and routine. But I did not expect it to take as long as it did. On top of that, it made me feel extremely homesick, which is something I did not expect. I’ve tried to stay in contact with friends and family, but the time difference is really challenging. The best things I’ve done during this stage was to keep an open mind and give myself more credit for everything I had done up to this point.

Surface Adjustment –  At this point, we have settled in and are aware of the differences between our home country and our new country. The same annoyances and frustrations from the Reflection Stage are more apparent and therefore easier to handle. We can start to have a routine and may even feel settled in. However, this stage can be confusing, as even though you are feeling better and more at home, you can still feel like an outsider.

By month two I was now aware of what was different and was trying to react to it with a different approach as well. While doing that, I think I tried too hard because I wanted things to be smoother for everyone (myself and the kids/family); but that made me not act myself. I got used to what my life would be in my new role but in some ways was always wanting it to be different.  This is when I realized I was in the next stage…

Deeper Adjustment – This stage is when it is hard to accept certain differences and when we can begin to question ourselves and our own culture. This stage takes the most energy out of us because we try hard to connect and make it work with what is given around us. Most people also begin to confront deeper personal issues.

This is the stage I am currently in. I have realized that I have to take responsibility for my happiness here. I realized my anxiety is worse than I originally thought. I’ve done a lot of soul searching and found that I had too many high exceptions about this experience. This stage has been the most difficult for me, as its made me feel very isolated and wanting to go home. It’s been my dream to live here for over 5 years so I’m not going to give up on myself. As stated in a post 2 weeks into this experience, I am strong, brave, adventurous and growing. I don’t want to prevent my personal growth just because this time is the toughest. I now know what I can get better at and I want to take this opportunity to work on it. 

Full Adjustment – When the cultural differences can be fully accepted and reflection on your own culture, or self, has changed.  The sense of self is reevaluated where you can now hoover above your own culture, habits and rituals to see them from someone else’s perspective.

Once I get to this stage I think my time abroad will be complete. I mentioned in last months post how finding my routine has made me realize things about myself that I wasn’t expecting. I think I was in between the Surface and Deeper Adjustment period. Now that I am completely in the Deeper Adjustment, I am working on myself. I am giving myself time. I am using this experience to teach me things I would never have learned otherwise. And for that, I am thankful.


LOVE – my new friendship necklace has several meanings to me

One thing I can always count on for stress relief are candles. See my favorite scent here!

¹ As stated on Barends Psychology Practice. They also have a great chart to show the ups and downs of Culture Shock.

Whats your experience with culture shock?


1 Comment

  1. Grace Burley November 8, 2016 / 8:54 pm

    Paula you are growing each day to the experience you are in. I love and miss you. MawMaw

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