Cultural adaptation and "culture shock"

How long will it take to adjust?

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It takes time to adjust to a new culture and all of the new stressors in its environment. The amount of time needed will vary from person to person. There are studies that show distinct phases of adjustment.

  • The first phase is the “honeymoon” phase. This phase can begin, in the form of eagerness and anticipation, before even arriving in Spain. It’s the excitement that is felt when embarking on a new adventure. It usually doesn’t last for more than a couple of weeks after arrival.
  • In the second phase, termed “culture shock”, the excitement wares off and the distress of having to adjust to a foreign culture sets in. Symptoms of this phase include loneliness and sadness, sleep disturbance, feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy, irritability, resentment, criticism toward the new culture, social withdrawal and longing for home, friends and family.
  • In the third stage, one starts to feel a sense of balance as the culture starts to become more familiar (language, food, etc.), and new support networks are being created.
  • The fourth stage is when “adaptation” is achieved. The person starts to feel that they belong. They have an appreciation for the new culture and take advantage of what it has to offer.
  • The fifth, and final stage is called the “re-entry shock” phase. When it’s time to return to the country of origin, one can experience a sense of loss related to having to leave behind the new culture and its customs.

When should I seek counseling for “culture shock”?

When you feel like you’re not moving past the culture shock phase, especially after being in Spain for a couple of months, it may be time for counseling. If you’re experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, and utilizing the resources available to you isn’t working, counseling can be very effective. It can help turn an experience that feels overwhelming, and never-ending, into an opportunity for growth.

Try these strategies to combat “culture shock”

Remember that you are in transition and that what you are experiencing is normal and temporary.

  • Meet people. Get involved in the culture socially and professionally. Volunteer your time, pursue a hobby or join a club, but get out and get connected.
  • Don’t simply react to what is happening; be proactive and self-confident!
  • Make a list every day of at least 3 positive things that have happened, things you’ve learned and that you appreciate about the new culture (do this right before you go to bed!).
  • Don’t be ashamed to get help if you need it.