Culture shock

Have you ever been in a foreign country for a longer time? Maybe for a internship or to study abroad? Then you most likely experienced culture shock. Perhaps you weren’t even aware of it, but if you felt alone, lost and confused or even questioned your decision to go abroad then you have experienced it.

Culture shock is commonly divided in four phases: honeymoon phase, negotiation phase, adjustment phase and at last the mastery phase. At first everything will feel like a holiday and people are still enthusiastic about their upcoming time, but as with most honeymoons, it’ll end at some point. Next up is a phase full of frustrations. You’re feeling out of place while the cultural differences start to become clear. This usually starts after a few months and you might start to judge local customs as wrong, based on your own culture. The important lesson here is that in most of the cases they aren’t, they’re just different and you should focus on understanding why that’s the case. The following phase is characterized by a deeper understanding of the host culture while you grow accustomed to the new culture. At around one year or even more time after the first arrival you finally manage to master the host culture and are able to fully participate.

Based on the theory I can assure that it’s real and I’m in the middle of it at the moment. I would say that I’m somewhere between the negotiation and the adjustment phase. There are definitely enough cultural challenges and it’s not always easy to cope with those. It starts with simple matters of daily life like getting from point A to point B or just getting breakfast, up to more complex matters of social hierarchy and a totally different language.

What for some might seem like irreconcilable differences can be a meaningful experience for others. While encountering new situations here I always try to reflect on the reasoning of why I’m used to do things in a certain way based on my cultural background and how I coped with similar situations when I came to the Netherlands two years ago. Based on this information I then try to ask myself why the people here in China do these things differently and discuss these points with one of the locals. This way you can learn not only something about the host culture but also about yourself. So based on my experience I encourage everybody who’s thinking of going abroad to not be afraid of a cultural shock but to see it as a challenge to broaden your horizon while learning more about yourself.

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