George Schorschi’s 4 New Stages of Culture Shock


As any good expat should know before living abroad, there are four commonly accepted stages of culture shock. These are:

  1. Honeymoon Stage, where everything is just awesome
  2. Negotiation Stage, where everything is not as awesome as before
  3. Adjustment Stage, where nothing is awesome
  4. Adaptation Stage, where you realize awesome is a relative term and there’s still plenty to love

But what if there are more than just these four stages? It’s my humble opinion that the concept of culture shock is a little outdated. And after having spent quite some time as a foreigner in a strange land, I hereby propose four new stages for your consideration.

“Vacaneymoon” Stage

Ever decided that you just couldn’t handle another day abroad? Probably sometime during the Adjustment Stage? So you decide to go on a vacation, check out some nearby city or country to relax and unwind and otherwise break the soul crushing realization that things aren’t what you had hoped they would be. Problem is once you spend a few days on this break, you start to think that you actually really love this vacation destination more than your current foreign land. In fact, it’s less of a vacation and more of a… honeymoon. That’s the “Vacaneymoon” Stage, but be careful- acting on this desire and moving to the new destination often resets the culture shock and can leave you floundering.


“You Can’t Go Home Again” Stage

Perhaps it’s today’s modern technology, but it’s never been easier to find out what’s happening back home. The overwhelming amount of information can result in a feeling similar to reverse culture shock (which is sometimes considered the fifth stage), yet has the subtle difference of occurring while you are not in your actual home country. You start seeing news stories about civil unrest, or you hear about some new trend, or even get big news from family/friends that you missed out on. Sooner or later you start to realize that you’ve missed out on a lot- not because you don’t understand it, but because you simply weren’t there. The thing is you can’t be everywhere at once; this stage would occur even if you decided to pack it all up and go back home. The quicker you realize this, the better off you’ll be.


“Floater” Stage

Well, you’ve finally decided that you’re ready to leave. You sold your stuff, you said your goodbyes. Life abroad didn’t work out the way you wanted and it’s onwards and upwards to the next adventure. But you also don’t want to look like a failure, and that sweet international experience would look great on your resume. So you hang on for a liiiiittle longer. And a liiiiiittle longer after that. And a liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittle longe- you get the idea. This is the “Floater” Stage, where you’re going to take off and move on any day now, just after you take care of this one thing. The sad news is that “this one thing” often becomes “these ten things”, where you start making arbitrary conditions that must be met before you go. Frankly, unless the thing that’s keeping you abroad is a solid job, a solid relationship, or a solid house, you’re better off just cutting line and moving on. Yes, the next stage (reverse culture shock) will suck- but not as much as floating around without a purpose.


“Secret Agent Man” Stage

Finally, a fun one! You’ve been abroad for some time, maybe even be past the Adaptation Sta
ge. But while you still haven’t been completely absorbed by your host culture, most of the locals kind of ignore you. That’s when you get to live like a spy! You wouldn’t believe how freely people talk right in front of your face when they think you don’t know what they’re saying. One time I overheard two people discussing what new sex positions they were going to try over the weekend- on each other! And whenever you feel like impressing a local, namedrop a festival or tradition that you know about. Watch as their eyes go wide with first disbelief and then ecstasy that a foreigner knows about Spargelzeit! Sadly this stage will wear out pretty quickly when everyone catches on, so enjoy it while you can.


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