The Stages of Culture Shock

Before I went on exchange, I completed a mandatory online module through Queen’s on international travel and living. I just clicked through it in twenty minutes, because it seemed like it obviously didn’t apply to me. Some example test questions are “Some people need a visa in order to study abroad: true/false” and “I will always be able to access money via an ATM: true/false”. I also had to read a lot about culture shock. I skimmed through that as well, because most of this stuff was clearly meant for graduate students and staff doing fieldwork in developing countries. The only danger they ever gave for the UK was “the cars drive on the left, watch out for traffic”. They also said that we need to realize that standards of living are different outside of Canada, and we may need to adjust our expectations. I figured none of that was useful information for me, since it was largely common sense, and I was going to Scotland, which is a first-world country. I was wrong. Well, Scotland is indeed a first-world country, but I did get a bit of a shock.

There are four stages to culture shock, defined by some academic somewhere and paraphrased by me, and they are as follows:

“Honeymoon” – differences between old and new culture are romanticized, everything’s fascinating puppies and rainbows (usually lasts about three months)

I think for me, this stage lasted all of two hours after I got off the plane. It took me a while to get my luggage and get change for the bus to my residence, and when I stepped out it was sunny, and the air was fresh. On the bus there, though it was crowded and not always comfortable, I saw the church spires in the distance and the castle, and was rather awestruck. Then I ended up hungry and rather horrified at my residence, and so I went straight to…

“Negotiation” – differences between old and new culture become unignorable, stereotypes are reinforced, linguistic difficulties become apparent

I don’t think what I’ve experienced is pure culture shock, since I haven’t had any more difficulty interacting with people here than back home. If anything, I’ve had an easier time. I’m used to being the most sarcastic person in a room, now I am generally not.  Mainly, though, I come from the land of giant appliances, and everything here is travel-sized. Though I don’t actually need an oven that can fit a large turkey in it, not having one is unsettling. For some unknown reason, though there are small dishwashers, our dishwasher is the only normal-sized appliance. The linguistic difficulties are becoming apparent. I often have to ask people to repeat themselves. I don’t expect that’ll last too long, though, since I learn foreign languages pretty easily. Right now, the thing which is unsettling me the most is I am writing this on a library computer, which has a british keyboard, and every time I want a quotation mark I come up with @, and when I want to type an email address, I get “. Granted, this is the UK, so I suppose I should get in the habit of using single quotes, which are conveniently in the same place as they are on a US standard keyboard.

‘Adjustment’  – One grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. Things start to make sense. 

I’m not there yet, but I’ve gotten good enough at the bus and general directions to be able to advise tourists. I’m pretty proud of myself for that.

‘Mastery’ – exactly what it says on the tin

I’m not there yet. Once I am able to understand what cab dispatchers are saying, I figure I’m definitely there.

Also, I’m almost cheating by going from Kingston, ON, to Edinburgh. Kingston is full of scottish people anyways, and it’s basically the same weather in both cities right now, according to the internet. Canada does have proper showers, though.

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