Cruising the Stages of Adjustment abroad
Expats almost always go through a period of adjustment when settling in a new country. This article will help you to determine the stage you are and will be, experiencing.
The cycle of adjustment can be divided into four stages: honeymoon, frustration, integration, and home phase.
During this time, your awareness and attitude toward cultural differences change and evolve. While this sequence is very common, your experience is individual and not exactly similar. Use this as a guideline to understand in which stage you are now and what comes next, remember, you are not alone.
The Honeymoon Phase:
- Lasts one or two weeks
- Full of curiosity and interest
- Attitude toward new surroundings is highly positive
- Your move seems like the greatest decision you ever made
- Feelings of excitement and fascination
- Everything is exotic and quaint
- You overlook minor problems such as the absence of central heating
- You become captivated by the language, people, and food
- You may feel like a tourist
‘’Everything, in the beginning, is like, wow! Everything is efficient. I see beautiful infrastructure, gorgeous flowers everywhere, and nice people. I love it here.’’
– African expat arriving in The Netherlands.
The Frustration Phase:
- Can last for the first few months
- Wider exposure to country and culture
- Irritations about transportations or unfamiliar foods
- Enthusiasm is tempered with frustration
- The fatigue of not understanding gestures, signs, and language creeps in
- Miscommunications are frequent
- Feelings of homesickness, loneliness, and anxiety can happen
- Nothing is routine
- Limited language ability undermines confidence
- Differences between your home and the new culture become more apparent
- This is the most difficult stage
‘’The food doesn’t taste good. I miss a good home-cooking. The sun is not warm here in the winter. The friends I make here are superficial and not as real as my friends back home. I feel so alone.’’
– Dutch expat in Spain.
The Integration Phase:
- Usually happens within 6 to 12 months.
- Routines begin to develop
- Things start to feel normal
- You are somewhat more self-reliant and more self-confident
- You feel more familiar and comfortable with the culture and language
- Navigation becomes easier
- You try new food and make adjustments in behaviour to adapt to the long lines or long waits for public transportation. You feel positive and more relaxed
‘’I’ve been invited for dinner at my friends’ house and after that we all go out to some really cool places around town. The area is nice, there is plenty to do around here.’’
– Italian expat in Belgium
The Home or Acceptance Phase:
- Happens after other stages have passed
- You adopt the new culture’s style of doing things like taking a midday siesta You’re used to being on your own
- You’re able to take care of yourself independently and speak and understand the language
- You develop friendships with the locals
- You’re more effective at work because you understand the culture better
- You’re referring to it as your “home” now
“It’s Christmas and I stay here, at ‘home’. I won’t travel away, this is where I feel good and will have a great time. ‘’
– American expat in Germany
EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER.
I look forward to staying in touch with you and sharing more information about integrating smoothly or becoming culturally competent, no matter where you are. Meanwhile, let me know how I can help.
You can find out more in my book, Living Abroad Successfully.
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