Cultural Shock or Cross-Cultural Adaptation?

I never fully agreed with the cultural shock theory and its “U” curve because I never experienced it as something that, once you’ve been through all the stages, would never come back and ‘haunt’ you.

You are probably very familiar with the well-known cultural shock “U” curve we have always read about and from which we have memorized the stages as the timetables from elementary school: honeymoon, cultural shock, initial adjustment, mental isolation, acceptance and finally, integration. Even if the “U” curve takes into consideration ups and downs in between the stages, it explains the process as if you no longer have to deal with cultural integration ever again once you have reached the end of the curve, aka integration journey. I certainly have not experienced it like that, ever! Have you?

Now allow yourself to wear a different set of glasses to see things differently and consider this.  Cross-Cultural Adaptation Theory explains the stress of adaptation with a growth dynamic spiral instead of the traditional “U” curve. Meaning you’ll probably experience the ‘same’ stress over and over again (e.g. getting frustrated on language proficiency) on different settings as you begin to move forward. Following the example above, you would begin by being completely unable to understand what you read in the supermarket and by the time you manage to overcome that with a certain degree of mastery you face another challenge under the same umbrella: being able to understand people on the street, the market, reading headlines in newspapers and/or magazines, and so on and so forth, up to the final challenge of holding an interview in the host country’s language to get a job and perform it bilingually and fluently, to say the least.  Doesn’t it make a great deal of more sense?

This theory further argues, “we experience a gradual personal identity transformation- a subtle and largely unconscious change that leads to an increasingly intercultural personhood.” Here is where you develop a deep understanding of human conditions and maturity at perceptual and emotional levels. So, even if your ‘old identity’ can never be fully replaced, it can certainly be transformed. You are just not the same person you were when you first arrived here, are you?

In the end, Cross-Cultural Adaptation is a journey that compels us to make choices and to be accountable for the outcomes without exception. Every choice ignites a transformation process within you, and change is mostly challenging.

What I would like you to do with this information is to practice compassion, self-love and above all, acceptance of your everyday experiences. Be aware! When we move abroad we get into a spiral movement of changes and challenges that will keep coming at us with different intensity for a considerable amount of time.

Adapting or overcoming what we usually call Cultural Shock is not a linear path in which you dive through the stages once and then forget about them for good.  This is something that you will get to master gradually. Experiences, challenges, and stress will be repetitive events for you to skillfully solve it with minimum to null stress over time. Master the art of patience and love towards yourself and every challenge you face.

Author: Rebeca

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