AKA: the honeymoon stage
As you would expect, culture shock was one of the topics discussed at the training I attended recently. As part of our learning, we were divided into groups and assigned a phase of culture shock to depict in a skit.
My group had the first phase, sometimes known as the “honeymoon stage.” In this stage you often think everything is basically awesome. National Geographic and travel books come to life. You’re willing to look past differences because it is all so interesting and good. You are glad to finally be in a place you’ve waited and prepared for.
A tongue-in-cheek song from The Lego Movie called “Everything Is Awesome” seemed to capture this phase for us, so we developed our skit around it. The characters in our skit faced giant mosquitoes, rats the size of cats, and annoying team behaviors. But they were in the honeymoon phase, so they could sing and dance because “everything was awesome”! I am pretty sure that whenever I am in the honeymoon stage in the future, “Everything is Awesome” will be in my head.
In case you’re wondering, after the honeymoon stage comes the hostility or rejection stage when all of those awesome things become really, really frustrating and you don’t think you’ll ever get used to them. In a healthy culture shock situation, you eventually reach a resolution stage when the intensity begins to peak and you start to feel like you can actually get along. Eventually you reach a home or bicultural stage where the new culture starts to feel like home and you enjoy living in it.
Of course, in real life the stages aren’t always so neat and tidy. When I was teaching, I only enjoyed the honeymoon phase for the few days I spent in Beijing before going to my final destination. As soon as I reached my new home–literally the first night–I would descend into the hostility stage wondering what I was doing there. Jet lag induced insomnia does not help. Over months and years, you can loop through the various stages again, in whole or in part. Sometimes they aren’t as strong as the first time, but sometimes your reactions get stronger as you come face to face with the parts of a culture that are not immediately obvious.
Like transition, culture shock is normal. Beyond knowing that, it is important to know the stages and how to deal with each one in healthy ways. I don’t know what the culture shock challenges will be this time around. I’m sure China has changed a lot since I was last there. I have changed a lot since I was last there. There will be days when it is hard and frustrating, and there will be days when “Everything is Awesome.”