Cultural Adjustment

Models of Adjustment

Many people use Kalervo Oberg's Culture Shock Model to help describe cultural adjustment. What's culture shock? It's the disorientation a person may feel when moving between social environments. The common stages are: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation. 

  • Honeymoon | This stage typically happens when the person first arrives in their new community. The newcomer is delighted by the people, environment, cultural elements, etc. 
  • Negotiation | This stage brings about a mix of new emotions. The individual may feel irritated or anxious as they find themselves in repeated events that may be perceived as strange and offensive to one's cultural attitude. 
  • Adjustment | During this stage, life seems to normalize. The individual is accustomed to their new life and routine as they know what to expect in many situations. Elements of the society that once seemed weird or even immoral now make more sense in the context. 
  • Adaptation | This may also be seen as the bicultural stage when the individual is able to participate fully and comfortably in the new society, and also maintain an understanding and connection with their home community. 

Others may be more drawn to Paige Butler's Cultural Transition's Model outlining six phases which can occur in any order; not all people experience all of the phases. The phases include: surprise, exploration, adjustment, stress, fatigue, and conflict. 

  • Cultural Surprise | Typically occurs during the early part of one's experience. The newcomer is very aware of surface-level differences. Travelers in this stage tend to report feelings of excitement, overstimulation, and overwhelm. 
  • Cultural Exploration | In this stage, the individual tends to intentionally examine elements of their host community/culture to better understand the context. 
  • Cultural Adjustment | Individuals experiment during this stage in order to improve navigation of the host community. 
  • Cultural Stress | During this stage, individuals tend to feel annoyed, very overstimulated, and sometimes withdrawn. It tends to occur after repeated difficulty in daily life events. 
  • Cultural Fatigue | Individuals may feel defeated, irritable, or homesick during this stage. It occurs as the individual is continuously processing daily life and the new cultural norms. 
  • Cultural Conflict | At this stage, the individual is confronting differences in values. They tend to be very critical of their host community or their home. 

Why is it important to understand these models? So that you understand you're not alone in your thoughts and feelings, and that it's totally normal to experience any of these phases and at any point in time. Also, understanding the phase/stage could help you seek out resources to better handle the situation.