The Four to Five Stages of Culture Shock

Published 2007-04-09

I’m having a lot of trouble lately coping with the depth of my homesickness. I’m amazed it can be so thoroughly consuming. Nothing I read or heard could prepare me for the totality of homesickness and culture shock.

Lots of articles on the Inter-Web describe culture shock as occurring in n stages, where n ≅ 4:

  1. Honeymoon: “Living in Foreignlandistan is a totally exciting adventure.
  2. Shock: “Daily life in Foreignlandistan is a baffling ordeal.
  3. Adjustment: “I could learn to like living in Foreignlandistan now that I’ve figured out the bus system.” (Sometimes the Authorities slip in another stage of culture shock, Relapse: “Now that I understand Foreignlandistan, it is merely a pain in the ass.”
  4. Acceptance: “I actually prefer Foreignlandistanian food to Backhomican food.”

I don’t think my experience is quite like this. I think I’ve gone through five stages thus far:

  1. Abject terror: “Holy shit what did we get ourselves into?”
  2. Denial: “I can’t belive we live here.”
  3. Shock and awe: “I can’t believe anyone can live here.”
  4. Reclusion: “Let’s order pizza and pretend we’re not in China.”
  5. Irritant: “Are we done with China yet?”

Yeah so I exaggerate...but do notice the lack of a honeymoon phase. This lack is getting me really depressed at the moment. Shouldn’t this, at some point, start to be fun? And I don’t mean “fun like the Saturday NYT crossword puzzle” I mean “fun like re-runs of Gilligan’s Island.” I appreciate a challenge as much as the next guy (OK more than the next guy) but does it ever get easy?

OTOH I am certainly learning a lot about myself. Not least of which: once we return to Oregon, I will never, ever leave again, for any reason whatsoever.