Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Stages of Culture (Transition) Shock Part 1

Transitioning from one living environment to another almost always involves a process typically referred to as transition shock or in the case of cross cultural transition, culture shock. Transition shock is most commonly described as being in four stages, which are described in terms of experiences and not in terms of length of time. Time is less of a factor than attitude. Some people will transition through three of the stages in relatively short time, only infrequently reverting to the most toxic, Stage 2, while revisiting Stage 1 and living in Stage 3.
Stage 1 is the time when transition is new and is usually full of new experiences, most of which are seen as “interesting,” “quaint,” or “unpleasant” without being unbearable. At some point, when it becomes clear the environment is going to continue to operate as first observed and not adjust to the “foreigner” in the midst, these observations will become “intolerable,” “antiquated,” or “unacceptable.” Whether entering a marriage, new school, or new country almost everyone moves from Stage 1 honeymoon to Stage 2 distaste. Moving through Stage 2 to Stage 3 – as opposed to bouncing from Stage 1 to Stage 2 and back again – depends on how one enters the new environment.
Enter as a teacher, one who has better information than the locals, and you are doomed to live in Stage 2. The danger is determined by how long you intend staying. Vacationer’s returning from France, for example, who spent their two weeks identifying the things that need to change for their comfort suffer minimally, usually by not enjoying their vacation, as long suffering friends and neighbors will attest. They will most commonly reject “host culture.” However, there is also the possibility of rejecting “own culture.” In the first instance the host culture is negatively compared to own culture using paternalistic and patronizing references to the “childlike” nature of host culture or “barbaric” choices of host culture. Less common is to negatively compare own culture to host culture thus rejecting personal history and focus points. Longer term workers for corporations, government, or missions can suffer depression even to the point of suicide in this cycle.

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