Culture shock is a natural psychological response to the stress of adapting to a new culture. It’s that feeling of being out of place, confused, and overwhelmed when one arrives in a new environment.

It can occur when a person travels or moves to a foreign country – such as an expat.

Experiencing culture shock can leave one feeling disoriented, but not just in the sense of jet lag or long days of travel. Instead, the new way of life and set of attitudes can make one feel they’ve lost their sense of direction.

Feelings of homesickness, helplessness, and isolation are usually companions of culture shock. It can be challenging adapting to a new culture, but one can overcome it to enjoy the experience abroad with the right tools and knowledge.

Adapting to a different culture as an Expat - Gabriela Encina

The Stages of Culture Shock – Adapting to a New Culture

1. The Honeymoon Stage

During this time, one will feel eager about their trip or move abroad. Full of excitement and open to new experiences, they’ll meet others and see the beauty in everything.

It’s crucial to make the most of this stage. Taking advantage of this thirst for exploration and infatuation with their new culture may help expats ease into the next steps.

2. The Frustration Stage

Sometimes called the “negotiation stage,” the frustration stage is marked by a sense of overwhelming regarding all the changes.

Feelings of excessive homesickness and irritation often mark the frustration stage. Frustration becomes familiar with even the small things, such as confusing road signs or frequent miscommunication with a barista when ordering morning coffee.

It is a natural stage as one starts to face the challenges of adapting to a new culture. It’s important to remember that this stage will pass, but patience and adaptability are invaluable.

Furthermore, it is a good time for expats to do whatever is needed to relax, recharge their batteries, and get back on the right track.

3. The Adjustment Stage

In this phase, one feels more comfortable in their new surroundings, beginning to see things more objectively.

Moments of frustration will still occur, but they will become less frequent and intense. Naturally, things get easier as one gets more familiar with all the changes – from the people to how they communicate and what they eat.

With less stress and aggravation in the picture, one creates the space for forming stronger relationships and even language skills. It’s during this stage that expats begin to make room for acceptance.

4. The Acceptance Stage

The acceptance stage is marked by being well adjusted to one’s new culture, where it may even start to feel like home.

A person may still have moments of homesickness, but they will likely be less intense and shorter in duration. At this stage, navigating everything from the country to the language and cultural aspects comes with greater ease.

At this stage, it’s about accepting and understanding other cultural differences than what someone is used to.

Embracing culture as an Expat - Gabriela Encina

How to Overcome Culture Shock

Overcoming culture shock is a process that takes willingness, effort, and time. While the stages of culture shock can be challenging and confusing, each is a necessary and helpful step toward eventually making the most of one’s experience.

The following tips for culture shock are less about “overcoming” culture shock in a rushed or pressured sense and more about being present and coping within each stage.

1.- Learn about the new culture.

Getting to know the locals to learn about their culture, social norms, and values; helps expats see more clearly how things are different from their home country, enabling them to adapt to a new culture and reminding them to see things objectively.

2.- Keep an open mind.

Some cultures may have very different customs from what we’re used to. The second of my tips for culture shock is keeping an open mind helps bypass judgments and form thoughts that lead to frustration.

3.- Be patient with yourself and others.

No culture is better than the other; they’re just different. It’s necessary to embrace these differences as much as possible and be patient when adjusting to them.

It isn’t easy to make the most of an experience with close-mindedness and negativity.

Talk to other expats or people who have moved abroad.

Meeting new people in a similar situation helps ease the transition by enhancing feelings of connectedness and companionship.

Overcoming Culture Shock - Gabriela Encina

4.- Don’t forget about the past.

While getting acclimated to a new culture is essential, it can be helpful for expats to remember where they came from.

But by actively placing both cultures, one can appreciate each more fully rather than getting stuck comparing the two.

5.- Keep in touch with loved ones back home.

It’s essential to stay connected with loved ones while living abroad to provide emotional support as needed. Living away from our social circle is difficult, but there are ways we can keep in touch via technology like Skype calls or texts.

6.- Talk to an expat psychologist.

If you’re struggling to cope with culture shock and adapting to a new culture, talking to an expat psychologist can be helpful. They will have experience helping people adjust to life abroad and offer practical advice on making the most of your cultural journey.

With the right tools and support, culture shock can become an exciting opportunity to grow and develop.

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If you are an expat woman who wants to live a joyful, successful and fulfilled international​ life, Gabriela is the Licensed Psychologist and Mentor you need.

She helps you reclaim your self-confidence back and design your expat life in your own terms. Gabriela has more than 20 years of professional experience, speaks 3 languages (sometimes in one sentence, like you!) and has supported more than 350 expats overcome anxiety and burnout, build meaningful relationships and enjoy their international lives, wherever they are, wherever they are heading.

Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.