There are generally speaking four phases to culture shock. The first is the so-called ‘Honeymoon’ period; it’s like being on holidays, everything is new and exciting. You’re amazed that the whole country seems to cycle, the cheese shops sell approximately 17,597 types of cheese and the cute houses along the canals look like they might fall over. Then reality sets in. You get used to the bikes, cheese and cute leaning tower of Piza houses and begin to realise that things are different here; the people are different. Welcome to phase 2; a.k.a. the “I don’t really like it here” phase. And let’s be honest, it’s not nice. You miss home, feel depressed, hate the Dutch (it’s okay, you can admit it, most of us have been there), alienated, frustrated, angry at your partner for making you come here etc. etc. Moving on, we come to the “I’m beginning to get it” phase where you start to work it all out. You understand a bit more of the culture and the people and begin to learnt to accept (or tolerate :-) the differences. Finally there’s the “I actually enjoy living here” phase. You’ve got it sorted. You need not necessarily like everything about your new home (but let’s face it, can you really say that you like all aspects of your home country and its culture?) but you’ve got a good life here; there are ups and downs, but basically you’re happy.
So why do some people make it to phase 4 and others get stuck in phase 2?
Everyone recognises the honeymoon phase (usually with a smile on their face!). Those who have been here for more than a couple of months are familiar with the “I don’t really like it here” phase (and they’re not smiling anymore). But after that there is no set rule. There are people who’ve been living here for 10 years who are still going through the hardships of phase 2, and there are people here for a year who are happily working their way, or have made their way, to phase 4. What’s the difference?
Time to get angry…
Everything in life is a choice. You always have a choice. And yes I know there are readers out there who will get very angry at me for saying this but that’s what I believe. You made choice to come here. Fair enough, the alternative may not have been overly enticing; a broken marriage, a career going nowhere, being stuck in the town you were born for the rest of your life etc. but for whatever reason you made a decision to come here, and how you deal with the consequences is entirely up to you. Let’s look at some of the factors that influence how well a person deals with (or doesn’t deal with as the case may be) living away from home.
In my experience how well someone settles in comes very often down to attitude. There’s a huge difference between the people who realise that they have a choice and make a decision to give it their best shot, to (try to) be open minded and curious (some people are naturally like this, others need a bit of a hand) and those who feel like they were forced to come here, and are now stuck here, they don’t like the Dutch and can’t see a way out. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut, you have a few experiences that caused you to form a negative opinion of the Dutch, and this opinion remains forefront in your mind. In all your encounters with the Dutch this opinion becomes confirmed (in your eyes) and becomes stronger and harder to break.
2. How well can you handle the unknown?
Some societies like to have rules and order, and like to know that everything is under control. Ambiguous or unknown situations are feared and people try to avoid them: "what is different is dangerous". Other societies have a tolerance for ambiguity and curiosity of the unknown. There’s a “let’s see what happens” way of thinking. Your family, community and the society in general in which you were raised will play a part in your views of the ‘unknown’. In turn, how you feel about unknown situations will play a role in how quickly you settle into a new environment. Those who are more curious, show more interest in what is different and willingness to accept (or tolerate) those differences will likely settle in quicker that someone who feels that “what is different is dangerous”.
3. Do you really want to change?
We all know someone who just doesn’t want to take on a difficult situation; be it a boss who is always picking on them, a neighbour whose trees block their sun, a friend who borrows money but never pays it back etc. etc. They will complain endlessly about their situation but for whatever reason will do nothing about it. Unfortunately denial and ignoring a problem won’t solve anything. It’s the same in this case. In almost every workshop I give there will be one person who just doesn’t want to change, the Dutch (every single of them) are bad and that’s it. It makes no difference what I (or anyone else says) that’s the way it is. One lady told me that when she moved in her neighbours said that she should paint her appartment. Yes this is a typical example of the Dutch having an opinion on everything, and not being afraid to tell it; something which is not appreciated in many other cultures but she probably didn’t mean anything bad by it. However this lady still has an issue with it… 15 years later.
4. Self-confidence & optimism
Research has shown that self-confidence and optimism play a role in how we deal with culture shock. The lucky ones with lots of self-confidence believe that they can overcome obstacles; there is less anxiety at facing troubles as there is the confidence that they will succeed. Those with little self-confidence on the other hand often have an expectation to fail; therefore they give up easier and feel more anxiety. Similarly, optimism plays a role here; explaining negative impressions optimistically can decrease depression and anxiety and makes it easier to let something go, and move on with things.
So… what can you do about it??
Or, can you do something about it? Of course you can! Remember what I said earlier about everything being a choice? Well get over being angry for a second and have a think about it. There are many people who make it to phase 4, there’s no reason why you can’t either.
1. Attitude: you choose your attitude; you can choose to change it
2. Fear of the unknown: It’s very hard to change the basis of your thinking but it is possible. Start small, do something that would normally make you feel uncomfortable, go break a little rule.. …and when the world doesn’t collapse, go break another rule!
3. Do you want to change: Well……. do you???
4. Self–confidence and optimism: People often think that you have to be brilliant at everything to be self-confident and optimistic, you don’t. Start looking at the bright side of things and telling yourself that you can do it, you never know where it will get you…