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Culture Shock: The Four Phases

There are phases an individual moves through as they enter and live in a new culture for an extended period of time. The centerpiece in the cultural exchange is culture shock—or the negotiation phase where the expatriate, or foreigner living in a host country, goes on to experience elevated levels of uncertainty and later happiness. Au Pairs and their Host Families should understand the four phases of culture shock.
Culture shock was first termed in 1954 by Kalvero Oberg. Since the 50’s there have been a variety of cultural themes introduced to rationalize the experience an expatriate might be having. The most popular cultural study is called the  ‘U Curve.’ The U Curve graphs four phases: The honeymoon phase, negotiation phase (also known as culture shock), adjustment phase and mastery phase.
The honeymoon phase is just what it sounds like. Much like a dream, where everything is new and exciting and nothing seems wrong. This phase will last anywhere from a few weeks to two months.
The negotiation phase (or culture shock phase) happens somewhere between two and six months, and is basically a physiological conflict.  In this phase the expatriate attempts to maintain a balance between what they understand to be normal and a new normal. This psychological instability can lead to confusion, depression, stress, disorientation, anxiety, depression or even hostility.  
The adjustment phase is where the expatriates who don’t breakdown during culture shock phase, move on to feel comfortable, and gradually accept the new culture. They begin to have more motivation and have confidence in their abilities. Their understanding of a new language, more experience driving, adjustment to the food, and other cultural sensitivity increases. They may even decide to adapt parts of the new culture in to their own culture.
The mastery phase is the sweet part where the individual is able to integrate completely into the host culture. In various degrees every expatriate will assimilate their new culture. This stage is also termed a bicultural stage. They are able to celebrate their own cultural differences and become a part of the culture they now live.
While anthropologist use different terms to describe the stages expatriates experience, the concepts are the same. The expatriate is going to start out on a natural high, then slip to a low and continue to travel upwards to an even better place. Cultural exchanges will increase self-confidence and cultural sensitivity among many other things. The process to getting there, however, is not always stress-free. Understanding the natural progression of cultural shock and adaptation will help your Au Pairs move through their difficult the cultural exchange phases more quickly and help them become more successful in their childcare endeavors.

Phases of Culture Shock

Image courtesy of Munich Business School

Posted: 8/1/2013 8:00:00 AM by Summer Blackhurst
This was a very informative post! It occurred to me that host families can make a huge difference in their au pair's first six months by anticipating the Negotiation Phase and being proactive. That is, being aware of the cultural norms in the host city, learning about the au pair's home country, and planning ahead explain differences and celebrate similarities. I focused on the Midwest at, and I wonder what kinds of behaviors are prevalent in other regions that might trigger anxiety after the honeymoon phase ends?
8/12/2013 8:07:45 PM
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