Stages of Cultural Adjustment

After spending close to three rejuvenating weeks back in California over the winter holiday break, I wondered just how each of us would adjust coming back to India.  Happily, and only on our second day back to school, I can announce that it has gone much smoother than anticipated.  I think I expected to have children complaining the entire plane ride back to India about having to say goodbye to friends again, missing their favorite activities, foods, etc., but instead I got, “it wasn’t as hard this time saying goodbye to friends,” “can’t wait to see them again in the summer,”  and “it will be great to see friends back at school.” The trip back home was definitely needed.  We all learned that those we love are still there and in fact we appreciated every moment we got with them even more.  Our favorite things to do and foods to eat were enjoyed immensely.  Just turning on a friend’s kitchen tap water, I appreciated the quality of it.  How leaving for a while makes everything be seen with new eyes is truly a blessing.


Best part of the trip — spending time with our oldest child, Jacob

About a month after arriving in India, the American Embassy School offered a parent information meeting on dealing with a new culture and the stages that we go through in the transition.  I learned so much and realized it can really be applied to many adjustments that we go through in life.

Stage 1:  The Honeymoon Period — each one of us went through this when we first arrived.  The newness of everything, the excitement, the children’s eagerness to please and be cooperative.  For each person this stage lasts a different amount of time.  I think that overall, this period lasted about 4–8 weeks for most of us.  The thrill of being in a new country and realizing just how incredible it is before the reality of it sets in leading to stage 2.

Stage 2:  Culture Shock — after experiencing a high period of the initial honeymoon, culture shock started to set in a bit.  Differences became irritable and tears and anger were on display in our family.  I believe that until we moved out of the hotel and received our shipment, this stage did not fully disappear for us as we felt “stuck” in a state that had gotten extremely discouraging.

Stage 3:  Initial Adjustment — this is another high period where things are looking good.  We definitely moved into this when we started to feel settled and put the suitcases away.  We got into a routine of knowing our schedule, where things were located in our neighborhood, etc.

Stage 4:  Mental Isolation — in this stage, one just needs their space — needs to shut out the chaos and difference of where they have landed.  According to the psychologists that did this presentation at school, it is a very common stage and is fluid where it can recur later on.  For many people that I talked to before moving here, they told me there were times where they just needed to shut out India for a while and they would hunker down and enjoy their own personal haven at home.

Stage 5:  Acceptance and Integration — this final stage is where you return and say “okay, it’s good to be home.”. I think I definitely felt a little of this upon returning.  I didn’t seem to mind quite as much the lack of a good grocery store (yes, I loved every second I spent in a Costco, Target, or grocery store in the US — do you realize how easy life is there?), or the car honking as we drove home from the airport.  I found the children even pointing out positive things like, “it’s nice it isn’t as hot this time when we landed at the airport.”. And we had some good laughs as we could “smell” where we had landed before we had quite reached the door to exit off the plane.

Now, these stages are definitely fluid.  We landed in a culture that is about as different as possible from where we came so the cultural adjustment can take a little longer.  We have had a few good days at home, even with the jetlag we are dealing with and waking at all hours in the night, but just knowing these stages are normal and that it takes a good 6-16 months according to the psychologists at school to really get to the acceptance stage, I feel happy and that life is good.  Yes, we LOVE and MISS the people in particular that we left behind again, but how grateful we are for this amazing experience to be in a different culture.  And so as our family goes through the ups and downs of living in a different part of the world, the knowledge of these stages helps me keep things in perspective and know that during the low points that at least we have those milk chocolate chips, peanut butter M & Ms and Cheerios for a while!WP_20140111_001

Yes, we made sure we had extra suitcase room to bring home our favorites!



2 thoughts on “Stages of Cultural Adjustment

  1. Stacey Ord

    Such an amazing post! I am soaking up every word – I learn so much from you! It was just the best to spend time with you all over the break. Lots of prayers and hugs today, as your oldest enters the MTC tomorrow! Exciting times. Lots of love… Stacey Ord


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s