Culture shock or honeymoon?

The excitement and buzz of living and working in a different country is often cited as a reason to start working overseas. But is it really as interesting as it sounds or is  it more a shock to the system?

It turns out it is a bit of both. Using the U-Curve theory of adjustment and culture shock from Black, Mendenhall and Oddou (1991) the article below  explains the effects of international relocation.

This theory describes the stages of adaptation of an expatriate while living in a host country. The four stages of adjustment are: honeymoon stage, culture shock/disillusionment stage, adjustment stage and mastery stage (Figure 1).

Honeymoon in a new country

During the honeymoon stage, expatriates, spouses and their children usually are excited with all the new interesting things offered by a host country: at this stage, they feel like being tourists in the host country.

This period could range from two weeks to the first couple of months until the culture shock/disillusionment stage intervenes.

Culture shock

This is the stage where expatriates start to feel uneasy or uncomfortable with the daily life in the host county.

People suffering from culture shock can be recognized by varying symptoms. These include: stress, disorientation: an emotional state of anxiety, depression or even hostility which can include both uneasiness and fits of rage; surprise, anxiety, disgust or indignation regarding the cultural differences between old and new ways leading to a great desire for familiar things (Fennes & Hapgood, 1997).

Corsini (1994) reports other symptoms like psychological instability; confusion relating to role and role expectations; strain resulting from the effort of psychological adaptation; a sense of loss and deprivation and rejection by or of the new culture; feelings of impotence and frustration as a result of the inability to cope with the new environment.

This shock/disillusionment phase requires an adequate coping response.

The wellbeing of an expatriate (adapted from Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991).

Adjustement to the new country

Some may take this stage very hard and are not able to proceed to the other stages but for those who “survive” will progress to the adjustment stage. This is the period when expatriates start to feel comfortable and gradually accept the new culture: they are increasingly able to function effectively in spite of some disturbances.

Mastering expatriation

The final stage starts after approximately 8 months to a year, this is the mastery stage where expatriates possess the ability to function and live effectively in the host country, whereby there is less or no stress associated with living in the host country.

Hence, you are ready to move on……….new grounds, new territories.

Other articles you may be interested in:

10 questons you must answer before moving abroad


This article is an extract from ‘The Impact of Global Mobility on a Workforce‘ (2006) by S. van Lieshout


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