People who move to a different country may find in the beginning that everything is so wonderful and new, they have a fresh start and so many things to do and visit. At some point they feel like nothing makes sense, that all is weird and frustrating. Why does that happen? Culture shock affects many expats who find a home in a different country, travelers or even people who move from one side of a country/city to another.
Living as an expat in Romania or Bucharest can be very nice and fun. There are so many attractions to visit, the food tastes great and the prices are rather low. You probably already know how to get to Carul cu Bere and you’ve probably seen Casa Poporului. Have you seen the mountains yet? If not, I promise you will fall in love with them. But when you start to sink in our Romanian culture, you can start to notice the differences can have a significant impact on you.
What is culture shock
Culture shock is an overwhelming feeling that occurs when people move in a different country (or part of a country or city). In the new country everything seems new, different from what they are used to, and this can cause difficulties. The difficulties caused by these differences can impact one’s ability to function in a new society. For example, people who move to a different country may have problems communicating in a new language or understanding how society works (bureaucracy, driving or public transport, and so on).
However, not everyone who moves abroad suffers from culture shock. Some people can have this difficulty, other people adapt to the new culture faster.
Culture shock symptoms
Culture shock was observed in people who go live and study abroad. Studies revealed the important common signs. Every person who goes through culture shock, experiences it in a different way. However, the most common symptoms that occur in expats are:
Isolation and feeling that you don’t belong. Feeling isolated occurs when expats don’t feel connected to any social circles. They may feel that they are away from home, family and friends. This contributes to the feeling of loneliness common for many expats. Integrating in the new society and making friends can be difficult for expats.
Depression is one of the signs that a person is suffering from culture shock. Being away from your family and friends, your job or your familiar living place can be a difficult experience. Depression is feeling intensely sad, fatigued, isolated and lonely. Sleeping and eating can be disturbed. The person suffering from depression could lose or gain weight and suicidal thoughts may appear.
Anxiety and health anxiety can be related to the lack of trust in the surroundings and the system of the new country. The person may also feel vulnerable or unsafe in the host country. Anxiety can cause sleeping problems, different obsessive thoughts and other health concerns.
Hostile reactions or contempt towards the host country are common signs of culture shock. The hostility comes from the differences you experience in the new country. You may feel you don’t like the environment, the inhabitants or their culture.
Missing your family or home country is something normal when you live or study abroad. People who suffer from culture shock may feel negative about the host country, while placing home country and everything about it in a positive light.
If you are an expat in Romania and recognize any of the symptoms above, please reach out for support.
Causes of culture shock
There are a couple of reasons why expats sometimes experience these symptoms. My opinion is that people are attached to their home country, their environment and culture. All these being part of their daily life for many years, it’s hard to leave behind and start over. Therefore culture shock is a normal reaction to the new, and changed environment. The changes are huge, and the process of adaptation is difficult.
All we know about and call home is left behind when we go abroad. People must adapt to the new culture and rebuild the feeling of home and comfort in a new country. The roots they grew in their home country are becoming weak, and must find new roots in the new country.
Stages of culture shock
There are a couple of stages people go through when experiencing culture shock. We can find 4 or 5 stages, depending on the source, but both versions are similar.
yes, this is Romania
This phase is when expats feel very excited and positive about coming to the new country. They feel they can have a new fresh start, there are so many things to visit and to do. This phase is when expats have the most fun and aren’t bothered that much by the cultural differences or by the people.
Usually around the three month mark, people start feeling different about the new country. They may start feeling frustrated, angry and experience the shock symptoms mentioned above. The person suffering starts to deal with these changes and slowly finding solutions. This phase is the most overwhelming of all four and can last from a couple of weeks to a couple of months before entering the next phase.
The adjustment phase starts at about 6-12 months mark. Around this time, people who live abroad understand the new culture and have a more positive outlook. The overwhelming feelings from previous phase are reduced. Expats make friends and slowly start to integrate in the new society. They can, by this phase, have a job, social life and/or hobbies. However, some expats can still feel like outsiders, but this is totally normal as they go through culture shock.
The adaptation phase is when expats start accepting the culture with its goods and bads. They integrate and participate in the community, learn or borrow behaviors from locals. People integrating in the new culture may find themselves analyzing their own culture and feel a bit of distance from it. Finally, this is the stage where expats feel more comfortable and can start to have a normal life in the new culture.
Reverse culture shock?!
Reverse culture shock is experiencing culture shock when returning to your primary culture after being used to a different culture.
Dealing with culture shock
Culture shock may feel difficult to deal with. It may feel like it will last forever, but actually it doesn’t. To ease culture shock there are a couple of things you can do. Here are some ideas.
Learn about the country you live in and its culture
Learning about the country you will live in is always a good idea. Learn all you can, read the news about it, gather knowledge about its culture. The more you know about this country, the more you know what to expect and prepare for moving in.
Learn the language
Learning the language will help you manage living in a foreign country. Knowing basic communication is useful also when trying to integrate in the community and joining local events, or making friends.
Stay in touch with friends and family from home
Friends and family are people close to your heart, regardless of the distance between you. Talk regularly to your loved ones by Skype, FaceTime, or just by voice calling. Talk about how you feel and ask for advice and support from your family and friends. Keeping in touch with them while you are in a foreign country can help tremendously by removing the loneliness or feeling of isolation.
Volunteer or involve in social activities
Getting involved in the community helps expats diminish the symptoms of culture shock. Meeting people is one of the most important thing to do to get out of the stages of culture shock. Try volunteering in Romania or meeting groups of expats. There are thousands of people just like you who live far from home and need to meet people.
Find professional help if you have problems dealing with culture shock
Going through the stages of culture shock is not easy at all. It may sometimes require seeing a therapist to help you gain tools to cope with transitioning and adapting to the new culture. If you find yourself struggling with culture shock, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Cultural Shock and Adaptation in Journal of counseling and development: JCD 73(2):121-126 November 1994
Reverse culture shock among returnee high school students, Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya,Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 2009