If you don’t know me, let me explain a little about me. I live in a tiny little village in Somerset, UK, with my Mum, my Dad, my younger sister Chloe. With two dogs, two cats and a couple of chickens, it’s a wonderful home in a rural area of the South-West. My second home is the city of Portsmouth, where I’m a university student studying International Business. The pure reason of me choosing this degree was to gain the experience of travelling abroad, living in a new country and studying about how to do business with a variety of cultures and countries.
When coming to China, I knew it was going to be different. There was no doubt I would experience some culture shock. It’s a really interesting subject, which was covered in the first week of my Intercultural Communication unit.
the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
Retrieved from: Google definitions
a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.
Retrieved from: Merriam-Webster
With the second definition, I do not totally agree with the phrase “without adequate preparation”. I believe that you can prepare for an arrival in a new country, but sometimes you cannot help but experience culture shock. It’s inevitable.
Culture Shock is also not one specific feeling; the theory has been divided up into four phases.
THE FOUR PHASES
The four phases are known as:
- Negotiation (usually happens at 3 months*)
- Adjustment (usually happens at 6-12 months*)
*The time frames are generalised, but everyone has an individual experience.
I want to explain the theory behind each phase, and then explain my personal experience.
The Honeymoon phase is when everything is “romantic”. You are in awe at the new surroundings and how different/crazy/incredible/stunning/fascinating your new home is. Witnessing new habits the locals may have will be interesting and the different food culture will be exotic.
I remember my Honeymoon phase like it was a dream. Loving the wonderful architecture, the strange food and meeting new people from all walks of life. I remember calling my family and saying how awesome this city was, and not having a lot to say about it that was bad. My first Chinese meal include lamb cheeks!
However, it’s called the Honeymoon phase because it has to end at some point. Mine ended very quickly.
The Negotiation phase is when you begin to see the differences in the culture, which can cause upset, discomfort and anxiety. There are many reasons this can happen, such as:
- Language barrier
- Health issues
- Public hygiene
When this happens, it really takes away the wonderful side of living abroad. It can lead to anxiety, sadness, depression, and loneliness. Especially when in a situation where you have not made close relationships.
I hit the Negotiation Phase hard and quickly. It was August we arrived, and it was incredibly humid and sweaty. I’m really pale and I attract mosquitoes more than bees to pollen. It always happens when I go on holiday, so I tried to prepare, but the ones here in China are like mutant mossies! I brought repellent with me from the UK but it did not work. I went to the pharmacy to buy repellent and cream, but they were tiny little tubes and sprays. I was going through one bottle of relief spray a day. My legs looked like something out of a horror movie! It was so uncomfortable, and trying not to scratch them was impossible. I would cry from the pain and the heat on top it was unbearable!
Also, I really suffered with the pollution. I wore masks, but even when the Air Quality Index said it was at a healthier level, I was coughing horrendously. Eventually, I ended up in hospital for a lung infection and my recurring tonsillitis made an appearance. It was difficult being seen by a doctor, because of the language barrier. Some volunteers from my university took me to the doctor on campus where they gave me medication, but that night I ended up going to A&E because I couldn’t eat or drink from the swollen tonsils and I couldn’t stop coughing! I was terrified I would choke in my sleep!
A little tip: If you go on your own, they go find an English speaking doctor and you get seen so so quickly!
At this point, I was feeling so bad. I was ill, sweaty, itchy and just lying in bed watching films.
The worst part: Netflix isn’t available in China.
Adjustment is the third phase which is where you begin to comfortably settle into the environment and develop an understanding of the differences between home culture and the culture of the new destination. Everything starts to become normal and you begin to truly embrace life in your new home.
I felt like this happened for me at the end of November/early December, especially when I visited Mount Tai. It felt like a turning point of my adjustment. Before this, I was really struggling with being motivated, eating well, weight issues, extreme fatigue and insomnia at the same time. As soon as I put my foot out the door and started living an active lifestyle again, I really moved forward with life in China. It meant that I planned my trip to Xi’an, Suzhou and Hangzhou, and I started exercising and being healthy again.
The final phase is called Adaptation. This is when you can live fully comfortably in the new culture, whilst also still holding on to aspects of your home culture. It’s also a bi-cultural stage.
I don’t know when or if I’ll get to this stage. If I do, I need to know a lot more Chinese and be more confident in conversing with Chinese people.
I really hope you enjoyed reading about my Culture Shock experience so far. It’s the first time I have been so honest outside of my immediate family. I’m writing it because I want to show that going abroad isn’t always pretty and fun, and I have had a really difficult stage of my move. However, I am now loving life and really want to share my journey, but in a realistic way, rather than “life is amazing, nothing is wrong” because you never know what happens behind closed doors.