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Feeling lost in a new country where you initially felt at home?
Are you trying hard to become an international citizen, but somehow can’t seem to crack the code?
Curious about culture shock? Let’s take Sara, a foreign student in Milan, Italy, as an example. It is her first time alone abroad and she has never been this far from home. During her stay, she experienced multiple feelings about the country and culture. In the beginning, she was busy with sightseeing, but as she was getting to know Milan she really noticed the differences between Italy and her home country. She started getting homesick and feeling down. What exactly happened to her and how can she get over this feeling?
Culture shock is something that many foreigners experience when they live abroad. People experiencing culture shock generally go through these 4 stages:
The first stage you will experience is the honeymoon stage. In this stage you, like Sara, will love everything about the country and culture. You feel like you have finally found the place where you think you belong and might stay forever.
Sara has always been very keen on being an international citizen who fits in, in all countries. However, after a few weeks this somehow blew up in her face. The honeymoon feeling ended unfortunately and was followed by the frustration stage. Sara is currently stuck in this stage. All the things she thought were so amazing are not that amazing any more. She is starting to miss simple things like getting familiar foods or speaking her own language. All this has also led her into her feeling homesick.
To get that amazing feeling back, as Sara had in the beginning, it’s important to adjust to the new culture. Sara needs to adopt a new lifestyle. This is called the adjustment stage. Psychologist John W. Berry has identified 4 different ways people can create a new lifestyle and adjust to a new culture: integration, assimilation, segregation and marginalization.
- Integration , the individual maintains his or her own cultural identity while at the same time becomes a participant in the host culture.
- Assimilation , the individual gives up his or her own cultural identity and becomes absorbed into the host culture.
- Separation , the individual maintains his or her own cultural identity and rejects involvement with the host culture.
- Marginalization, the individual does not identify with or participates in either his or her own culture or the host culture.
During the adjustment stage you will start to get the hang of things in the country you are in. How you choose to adjust is completely up to you. Looking back at Sara, we know she is someone who, like many of us, wants to fit in everywhere, because simply said it is in our nature. By working with the integration or assimilation approach she will feel at home faster in her new country. If you use the others, separation or marginalization, you reject involvement in the new culture. Which can lead to people not wanting to be involved with you.
How to adjust
If you, like Sara, are having a hard time adjusting to a new culture, there are a few things you could do that go hand in hand with the integration or the assimilation approach. For instance, stay in contact with your home front. However, not too much because this could increase your homesickness. In addition, talking about your feelings in person with others, there are groups on Facebook for people who travel alone. You could meet somebody there who may be going through the same thing. Be social and try to meet new people. And, at last, it really helps to learn to speak the local language. This will allow you to make more friends, fit in and integrate better into the culture.
How can learning a language help with adjusting to a culture and overcoming culture shock? We have asked Dr . Irem Bezciogl for help in understanding this issue. Dr. Bezciogl, who has a PhD in culture studies, is a lecturer at Avans University of Applied Sciences in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.
How many people react to this question is: ‘yes, of course!’ And, indeed, learning the language of the host country smoothens the stages.
Language facilitates the transmission of values and cultural norms. Similarly, learning more about the language can change your view on a certain culture. Some languages are ‘direct’ and they do have one single word for each and every action.
Learning about, for example, [cultural aspects such as] how people greet each other, how they socialize, how they spend their daily life, and appreciating them also opens the door for you.
Do you remember learning to read? A new world opened up just because you learned to read. Now imagine this feeling in a completely different country with new experiences where you can finally understand what people do and say around you. I bet you will not feel as frustrated or alone as you did before.
Once you have adjusted to the new culture the acceptance stage can begin. In this stage, you learn to accept cultural differences and how to cope with them. You might even integrate some new traits into your lifestyle and others you may just accept more easily. Sara will eventually find her way around in her new hometown, but this will take time. Some people may need weeks and others even need years to adapt completely. It is different for everybody.
If you go to a foreign country for a longer period of time you will most likely experience culture shock. As you progress from the Honeymoon stage, to the acceptance stage you will learn so much about your new culture. Indeed, it is really up to you how you decide to adjust to a new culture. Take it all in, partially integrate or reject it all!
You can’t wait to take it all in?
Now is the time to start learning a new language and fully accept the new culture.
ILS International Language School offers Italian courses both online and at our school in the centre of Milan. The courses are given by qualified mother tongue teachers who will support you in your personalized learning! You can start the course whenever you want.
Contact us today to take the level test for free if you are not a beginner and to know all the modalities of the course.