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  • Writer's pictureAya

Culture Shock

In the 21st century, people still experience culture shock when they live overseas.

10 years ago, not many people had smartphones (The first iPhone was released June 2007). 20 years ago, we didn’t have SNS (Facebook was launched Feb. 2004). 30 years ago, the internet existed, but it was not common (With Windows 95, many of us might have acknowledged the name “internet”).

With internet accessibilities, SNSs, and smartphones, we are able to reach information and the new world much easier than before. However, people still experience culture shock.

Culture shock is defined as “the feeling of uncertainty, confusion or anxiety that people experience when visiting, doing business in, or living in a society that is different from their own. Social norms can vary significantly across countries and regions. Culture shock can arise from an individual's unfamiliarity with local customs, language, and acceptable behavior.” by Investopedia (

In general, people go through 4 different phases (others say 5 phases) to adapt to the new environment. It doesn’t happen all the time and people may experience back and forth sometimes, however, many people might be able to relate to those phases. Let me explain those stages here.

1. The Honeymoon Stage:

The first stage of the culture shock is called “The Honeymoon Stage”. In this stage, you will find everything is exciting, interesting, and wonderful. When you encounter any difference from your home country, you take it positively.

You might find a big and busy crossing in Tokyo as an exciting place. And you might take pictures of the place, send those pictures to your family and friends at home.

When I look back, I had this stage for a few months. We were living in a temporary apartment in New York City. So we were more like tourists. We went to visit the Statue of Liberty, hop on the double-decker tourist bus and walked around every day. Grocery stores looked interesting, playgrounds seemed nice and the streets were full of excitement. In the second month, we moved into an apartment in a suburb. It was new and exciting as well. We chose a new sofa, found new TV shows for kids and learned the neighborhood.

2. The Frustration Stage:

The next stage is called “The Frustration Stage” and you start to feel the differences are inconvenient, annoying, and possibly less attractive/valuable. You might find the host country and/or host culture as dysfunctional, strange, and/or negative.

You might feel that you don’t have enough personal space in Tokyo. Especially when you take public transportation in the morning. And you might be fed up with the number of people in front of you and all around you.

A few months later, I still had a hard time finding a cereal we like, driving everywhere, and meeting new people I feel close to. Many things irritated me. For example, one day, we were supposed to receive moving boxes from Japan early in the morning. So I waited from 7 or 8 am, but the moving crew came close to noon. And I was very frustrated with the situation, and blame America and American culture.

3. The Adjustment Stage:

Sooner or later, the new environment won’t be new anymore. You will start to establish your new habit. You will start to get used to different systems, habits, and routines. This stage is called “The Adjustment Stage”. Streets, stores, and faces become more and more familiar and you might start to accept differences and new things. You still encounter new things, but you start to feel it is not so bad.

You might find a back street which is quiet and nice in your daily commute or you might find a better train car which is less crowded.

After a while, driving around doesn’t bother me anymore. Also, I started to meet people I like and found places and groups I belong to.

4. The Acceptance Stage:

“The Acceptance Stage” is the last stage of culture shock. In this stage, you don’t feel alone, being an alien, and isolated. You might feel comfortable and possibly start to like your host country. It doesn’t mean you understand the country and the culture completely, but you understand the differences and accept them.

You probably don’t like those crowded trains in Tokyo, but you accept it. You might find the least worst way to get where you need to go. Also, you might realize that it has become normal for you to have trains running on time all the time.

I started to realize great things in the States. Kids can be kids for longer period of their childhood here than in Japan, there are a wider variety of organic foods, and more. I still love Japan and its cleanliness, punctuality, and reasonably priced and tasty foods. But I also found the US and its flexibility, accessibility to nature, and the lifestyle that allows us to spend more time with family as good.

Some people might experience a different type (another stage) of culture shock, “Re-entry shock”. It is similar to the culture shock above, but it happens when you go back to your home country. You might feel like you are in a foreign country even though you are in your home country. For some people, it becomes more difficult to adjust back to your old habits.

It is not easy to live abroad. There are so many different things you need to learn. It becomes more challenging if you speak a different language.

Also, it depends on the person how long it takes from the Honeymoon Stage to the Acceptance Stage. Some people go through the whole stages within a few months and others might take years. And it is also not unusual to go back and forth those stages. For example, you feel like you are in the Adjustment Stage in one day but you find you are in the Frustration Stage the next day.

It is okay to feel frustrated in your new environment. It is not necessary to adjust to the new country. So don’t feel bad even if you are not following those stages. It might take time, or you might never be able to find comfort in the host country. And it is okay.

But if you don’t feel comfortable in your daily life, it might be helpful to talk to someone who is willing to listen to your story, feeling, and more. By talking to someone, you will learn about yourself and you might find your idea/thoughts become clearer.


If you are interested in talking about your expat life, concerns, challenges, and opportunities, please book a FREE session from here →

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