Understanding Culture Shock: Definition and Phases Explained

When you came to the United States, did you…

  • Feel frustrated?
  • Homesick?
  • Ask yourself where your mind was when you decided to move to another country?
  • Get angry about the new culture?
  • Want to leave everything and go back home?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone and probably experienced culture shock. 


So what is culture shock? 🤔

You may be wondering, is this a serious condition? Not at all! In fact, it’s very normal. Although the word “shock” may hold a negative meaning, culture shock is a natural process of adaptation through changing environments.

Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. Like a chameleon that doesn’t know how to change with its environment,  culture shock can make anyone feel out of place!

Therefore, culture shock can happen when someone moves to a different environment, whether temporarily for business, a vacation, or retirement, or even permanently, such as living in a new location. It’s a time when a person becomes aware of the differences and/or conflicts in values and customs between their home culture and their new culture.

As internationals, we experience a very intense environmental change– we leave our homes, our customs, our family and friends, and everything we were familiar with to go to a totally different place with different weather, people, language, customs, food, etc.

We’re BRAVE! I’m proud of us! 👊

When I moved to the States from Brazil with my husband in 2021, I definitely experienced culture shock. I realize now how important it is to know what natural challenges will come along with changing contexts before moving to a new culture. Had I known more about the stages of culture shock and how to overcome it, I would’ve handled it better.

In order to make your transition easier, I researched and wrote a series of posts about culture shock. I hope it helps you go through this cultural transition smoothly.

Are you ready? In Brazil, we like to say “Eu nasci pronto!”, which means “I was born ready!”. 

Let’s take a look at the different stages of culture shock. 👇

Culture Shock Stages ⏩

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Stage 1 – Honeymoon 🍯🌙 

At this stage, people are literally in love with everything about the new place.

They focus on the similarities between their hometown and the new culture, yet they appreciate the differences. The excitement is so great that they think moving was the best decision of their lives! They want to experience everything, filling their schedules with things to do.

Stage 2 – Rejection 🙅‍♀️🚫

As time goes by, the differences between one’s own culture and the new culture aren’t so fun anymore.

The cultural differences and difficulties become more noticeable, and people start to feel confused and dissatisfied with the new environment.

This is the stage where culture shock is the darkest and most difficult.

In this stage, people generally reject the new culture. They tend to isolate themselves, spending time connecting with people from back home or with people who share the same culture.

In addition, there may be physical symptoms (such as eating disorders, headaches, stomachaches, and sleeplessness) and emotional symptoms (tiredness, feeling lost, confusion, frustration, anxiety, sadness, homesickness and/or even depression). 

The most intense part of this stage is irritation or anger. People may say they hate the new environment, how things are done, or how people act and relate to each other. The anger can be such that it turns into a mockery of the new culture.

Be aware of this season!

Reminder! You can text/call IFI’s prayer line whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and/or need help: 1-800-372-1013

Stage 3 – Adjustment 🔄🧭

The feeling of rejection gradually begins to subside, as people begin to understand and respect the different culture.

As a result, people have a more positive outlook and are increasingly comfortable with their new life. They might navigate the city more easily and make friends, leading to confidence and preparedness for any future problems. 

Our hope is that all people get to this stage! 

Stage 4 – Acceptance 🙏✨

As the name of the stage says, people start to accept the new culture.

Obstacles and misunderstandings are mostly resolved and people come to feel complete and integrated. Isolation is exchanged for new friendships, new habits and routines are developed, and there is greater confidence to make decisions.

It doesn’t mean that all aspects of the culture are understood, but people learn to accept the unknown, realizing that integration is possible– HOORAY!!! 

Final Thoughts 💭

🍃 Although culture shock is the hardest part of dealing with a new culture, it’s completely natural in the adaptation process. Take it easy and have grace for yourself! 

🦋 The process and time of adaptation to the new culture is different for each person. Some people may take weeks, others may take months. Culture shock can occur in many areas of life and at different stages. For example, a person may be in the rejection stage in the academic area, while in the social area, he/she may already be in the acceptance stage.

🎢 Culture shock isn’t a linear experience. A person can return to the initial stages until they get over it. 


Did you identify if you’ve ever gone through or are currently going through culture shock?

We want to hear from you– comment below so we can interact! 😉

Stay tuned, friends! In the next post, we’ll give you some tips on how to overcome culture shock.

See you later, alligator! 😁🐊 (we’re adapting to American expressions!)

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