The Five Stages of Culture Shock

You’re fresh off the boat and you’re ready to embrace life in your new home for 4 months (or 4 years if you’re an international student). You’ve got wonderful ideas about Hong Kong and you’re absolutely in awe with the place. Everything is great, and you can’t get enough it. But after a couple of weeks you start feeling like you may have had enough of Hong Kong. Small things in Hong Kong start bothering you and soon you’re thinking “things back home are better…” This article is here to tell you that this is perfectly normal, and everyone goes through it.

In 1975 Peter Adler of Hawaii University penned an article describing the five stages of culture shock, and I’m going to walk you through them.

1. “Honeymoon Stage” When you arrive in Hong Kong at first, the differences and undue features of Hong Kong are stimulating and exciting. You find yourself feeling euphoric about Hong Kong and having a great time. During this time, you still feel close and familiar with everything back home so you see yourself a mere visitor in Hong Kong.

2. Disintegration Stage – After a while, the differences that used to excite you start becoming a little frustrating and get you down. The things that you used to think were cool just become annoying as you start feeling a little more isolated and recognise that your usual support structure (friends & family) is not as accessible as it was before.

3. Reintegration Stage – During this stage you find yourself complaining a lot about the food, culture and other matters in Hong Kong. You find yourself feeling angry and frustrated and you might even feel some prejudices building up within you. You start idealising life back in your home country and compare Hong Kong unfavourably to it. This is normal and it’s important that this is part of the process of adjusting to a new culture.

4. Neutrality – This stage is characterised by acceptance and you finally start feeling you’re seeing the wood for the trees again. You begin to accept the differences and start having a fairer view of Hong Kong. Recognising both the good and the bad of the country. You feel less isolated and start building relationships here.

5. Biculturality – Whether you will be able to reach this stage during the first semester isn’t likely, but if you have made an effort to learn about Hong Kong culture and perhaps some Chinese, you will find that Hong Kong has become a part of you and no matter where you wander in the world after this, you will carry some of Hong Kong with you.

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