Culture shock

If you have seen "All That Jazz", the Bob Foss musicals, you might remember this  humorist who presented on a video tape typical human attitudes in front of death: surprise, denial, anger, …escape, acceptation. What the humorist described is actually a very spontaneous attitude we all experience, to some extent, when dealing with change.

For those who have lost their job, who must adapt to a new organization or to new processes , there is always a mourning period. The length of this stage  can vary, but individuals have to go through it, before being capable to go ahead: searching a new job, starting in a new activity, learning a new profession or using a new software.

In expatriation, the same kind of cycle applies to the way expatriates become familiar and adaptat to the host country. Going abroad implies many personal, family and social changes. Expatriation can be a fantastic adventure, but it also implies leaving a lot of beloved ones and habits behind.

As Jacques Brel put it: « What is difficult for a man living in Vilvoorde and wanting to go to Hong kong, is not to go to Hong kong but to leave Vilvoorde ».

The 4  main stages of the adaptation process

The adaptation process to living and working in a foreign culture can prove to be uneasy. It can grossly be divided into 4 stages : honeymoon, culture schock, reconciliation and adaptation

Honey moon

During the Honey moon period, whose length can vary, everything looks fascinating and beautiful; the expatriate feels like a tourist. He discovers the host country and his new life with great appetite.

Culture shock

After some time, nevertheless and as he starts to be immerged in daily life, one can become especially sensitive to differences ; differences between his own values, his way of acting and thinking and the way people in the host country are behaving. Everyone reacts his own way to the situation:: anxiety, doubt, frustration. The expatriate can be alternatively tempted to withdraw, to protect himself or to reject the country and it’s inhabitants. This is the stage called __ «culture shock» or valley of the tears__ ; an experience that is an essential part of the living and working abroad adaptation process.

Then starts the reconciliation period, ultimately followed by the adaptation period. But the whole process works as a continuous circle with occasional causes to revisit either the honey moon or the so called "valley of the tears".

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