The Stages of Cultural Adjustment (Part 3 of 3)
In part two of the series, we left off discussing stage three of cultural adjustment, adaptation, in which you were beginning to reach a place of understanding and acceptance of your new culture, and you found yourself feeling more like the person you were back in your home country, but with a new twist. As that knowledge and appreciation mix with your returning confidence, you are now entering the final stage of the adjustment process.
Stage Four: Biculturalism
The new culture is no longer new! Instead of your adopted culture feeling new, foreign, frustrating or merely tolerable, it has become a home. Not the home you came from, but another home. One in which you live, move and maybe even work, at – or close to – your full potential. The aspects of the culture that are different from your own no longer affect you in a negative way, and you likely find yourself thinking about customs and attitudes in your home and adopted cultures in a new light. You are able to think more objectively – even critically – about the culture you come from, realizing it has plusses and minuses, just as there are both in your adopted culture, which you have come to understand, accept and enjoy.
By now you have reached a strong level of intercultural competence, which is defined as the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures. You may find that when friends and family come to visit you in your adopted country, you act not only as a language translator, but also as a cultural interpreter. Since you now understand the culture-specific concepts of perception, thinking, feeling and acting of those in your second (or third, or fourth!) culture, you will likely find yourself explaining to others how and why things are the way they are in Italy. You may also find that you feel proud, even protective, of your new culture.
Reverse Culture Shock
This is often an unexpected part of the cultural adjustment process and one that regularly occurs for those who find themselves returning to live in their culture of origin after an extended period living abroad. After going through the stages and processes of adapting to a new culture, it can be surprising and confusing to realize that a similar process of adjustment might await you upon returning “home.” This could be especially so if you haven’t spent significant or regular time back in your home country while living abroad. You may find that the changes within you (and possibly those in your home culture) while you were away, require similar levels of patience and effort that you exercised in adjusting to a culture that wasn’t your own. It is important to remember that re-entry isn’t usually a seamless process, and that managing expectations and discussing the effects of reverse culture shock in advance with friends and family back home can help.
So, what can you do to deal with cultural stress as you go through cultural adaptation, whether to a new culture or your home culture? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Personal Supports: Ways of Thinking and Feeling
- Understand the stages of cultural adjustment.
- Review your situations and reactions; be flexible; tolerate ambiguity; expect things to be different
- Be patient; don’t try to understand everything immediately; identify what helps you manage stress
- Identify ways of thinking positively; foster your sense of humor; don’t take things too seriously; give yourself permission to fail
- Identify your sources of support (local contacts, fellow ex-pats, professional counselor).
- Plan in advance how you will keep in contact with friends and family in your home country.
- Don’t isolate yourself! Seek out friends and groups that share your interests and can help facilitate your participation in social circles.
- Eat in a healthy way and get plenty of rest.
- Identify problems, e.g., excessive drinking, binge eating, anxiety, sleep issues, and make plans to manage them with the necessary professional support.
- Get regular exercise.
- Develop a daily routine.
Article by Karen Rigatti
Certified Professional Counselor
Easy Milano is the online publication for the international community of Milan. We offer practical tips, key information and essential insights about living and working in Italy. Easy Milano has been assisting English speaking expats in Milan since 1999.
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