Stages of the Cross-Cultural Adjustment Process

Learning to live in a new culture is not always easy or comfortable. Although the experience is not identical for everyone, people generally experience four stages of cultural adjustment.

The cultural adjustment process is an emotional one. Common feelings range from mild uneasiness, homesickness and unhappiness to panic, severe irritability, and loss of perspective. The basic cause of these feelings is the loss of the familiar. This can also produce feelings of isolation. Although everyone goes through some adjustment process, it is important to remember that the experience is very personal. Please remember that you can come to International Student Services to talk about the ways in which differences in cultural values may be affecting your life in this new environment.

Stage 1 — You may experience general anxiety combined with a great deal of excitement. There are many details to keep you busy. Often, you find there is no real time to sit down and think during the first few weeks in a new place. When the excitement wears off, you may feel very emotional.

Stage 2  When the initial excitement fades, you may feel a lot of frustration and become tired of operating in English or in a new environment. It may seem to take forever to accomplish something that once took you a very short time. You may miss friends and family back home and have less energy and tolerance than usual. Changes may occur in your eating and sleeping habits. This is a time you need to pay extra attention to your health. It is important to remember that this is a normal and expected part of the cultural adjustment process. REST.

Stage 3  A greater sense of regularity now becomes noticeable. During this time, you may find that you laugh at the mistakes that irritated you only a few weeks ago. You may also find that information is more easily absorbed and your energy level is higher.

Stage 4 — The final stage is a sense of ease in the new culture. You have a better understanding of how the culture works, and parts of it may even begin to feel comfortable to you.

Source: PSU International Student Handbook

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