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Stages of Cultural Adjustment

Adjustment to a new culture is not accomplished in a few days. Adjustment is an on-going process. The following are the four stages of cultural adjustment identified by Gregory Trifonovitch.

The Honeymoon Stage

This initial stage is characterized by exhilaration, anticipation, and excitement.

  • You are fascinated with everything that is new.
  • You're embarking on your dream come true of studying in a different country.
  • You feel eager to please the people around you.
  • You display a spirit of cooperation and show an active interest in others.
  • You may nod or smile to indicate understanding when in fact you have not understood.

When the misunderstandings mount up, you are likely to experience the second stage of cultural adjustment.

The Hostility Stage

The second stage is characterized by frustration, anger, anxiety, and sometimes depression.

  • You may feel frustrated if you are in a non-English speaking country.
  • You might be weary of speaking and listening in a foreign language daily.
  • Sleep patterns may be disrupted.
  • You may suffer from indigestion and be unable to eat.
  • You might feel upset because, although you have taken time to learn about the new country and know how to speak the language, you don't seem to understand anyone.

You might react to this frustration by rejecting your new environment. You may blame this reaction on local residents. At this point it is likely that you will display hostility toward your host culture. Some of this hostility is translated into fits of anger over minor frustrations, excessive fear and mistrust of host-country nationals, frequent absenteeism, lack of interest, lack of motivation and, at worst, complete withdrawal. Many academic problems begin during this stage.

If you find yourself having a difficult time, make an appointment to talk with your Resident Director or someone in the International Office of your host institution.

The Humor Stage

This third stage follows when you begin to feel relaxed in new situations and begin to laugh at misunderstandings and minor mistakes, which may have caused major headaches in the hostility stage.

By now, you will have made some friends and are able to better manage your life in the host culture.

The Home Stage

The final stage occurs when you not only retain allegiance to your home culture, but also feel at home in your new location. You have successfully adjusted to the norms and standards of the host culture.

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