Flopping like a fish out of water
Moving to China requires a lot of planning and preparation, and in the frenzy it’s easy to underestimate the stress of immersing oneself in Shanghai’s culture. We are all familiar with the idea of culture shock, but often don’t consider the depth and breadth of what it actually is, and how it can deeply affect us. There are four recognized stages:
The Honeymoon Period
With new things to experience – what that strange-looking fruit tastes like, the history of those magnificent Bund buildings – during the honeymoon period differences seem exotic and fascinating.
The Withdrawal Stage
Once the excitement wears off, things that were initially charming may seem annoying and intrusive. The withdrawal stage of cu
lture shock brings negative emotions, and even stronger feelings of anger, anxiety or depression. You may find yourself acting in ways where you do not even recognize yourself when you do them.
The Adjustment Stage
Once you have established a few routines – where to buy essentials, a favorite restaurant, the length of the commute to work – there is a sense of being more settled and confident. The adjustment stage means that you start to do things without needing to think them through beforehand, and can find some comfort in predictability.
The Enthusiasm Stage
You know you are in the final stage when you find yourself calling Shanghai home. The enthusiasm stage means that you can function well, enjoy being in the culture, and may even prefer things here to your own country and culture.
The sequence, occurrence, length and intensity of these stages differs from person to person, and may even recycle themselves over time. The key to managing culture shock is through seeking to understand the new culture and finding a way to live comfortably within it, while keeping true to the parts of your own culture that you value. It is important to avoid idealizing life back home.Consciously adopt an open mind and do not be afraid to try new things.
Look at your situation as a unique opportunity to further understand who you are and the extent to which you have been shaped by your own culture and, as such, one that provides you freedom to define your own way of living. As painful as it sometimes feels, it is a rare chance that can lead to a wealth of personal knowledge and riches of experience.
If you find yourself struggling with your emotions or not functioning as well as you used to for a prolonged period of time, do not ignore these potential warning signs. The stress of being in a new culture can trigger pre-existing conditions or even cause severe symptoms that need to be taken care of. Seeking help is a sign of good mental health and suggests a willingness to assume responsibility for one’s behavior and a greater capacity to live a mature, dependable and reliable life.