The 4 Stages of Culture Shock for ESL Teachers

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 05/12/21 •  Teach Abroad

The 4 Stages of Culture Shock for ESL Teachers

Culture shock is a term that describes the feeling of being overwhelmed by the differences in culture and values between your own home country and another, or even just one new place. It may be as simple as not understanding how to use public transport or missing certain foods from home, but it can also cause you to have flashbacks of events at home when you least expect them.

As a first time ESL teacher, you may think you won’t experience culture shock because you associate the concept of shock with being completely out of your element, but culture shock is actually more subtle and not always negative as you’ll find out.

Culture Shock Stages

So here are the four stages of culture shock that expat teachers go through when moving abroad for an extended period of time:

  1. Honeymoon Phase
  2. Discomfort Phase
  3. Integration Phase
  4. Re-entry Phase

1. Honeymoon Phase

You’ll first land in in a new country like Japan or Thailand, you’re going to be excited about your new culture. Everything is fresh, new and exciting. From the food, locations, language and lifestyle you’ll wonder why you did not leave your home country sooner.

The honeymoon phase is an important stage of the acculturation process. It’s normal to experience a high level of excitement and wonder about your new culture because everything is in fact new to you. You’ll enjoy this phase immensely. Some refer to it as catching the travel bug.

2. Discomfort Phase

Next is the discomfort phase. This is when you start to notice cultural differences that make you feel uncomfortable, frustrated or annoyed. What once was novel and new becomes tiring and repetitive.

For example, you may get irritated with how services operate like internet or the visa process for your respective country. You may not like specific behaviors people commonly do as well. Like in China, Korea and Vietnam for example it’s very common for most men to smoke at cafes. In Japan, they are direct about your weight and will tell you directly you’re fat and need to lose weight.

In other countries like Spain, their is a lot of bureaucracy and things move slow. All in all, It’s natural to feel out of place in a new country or environment. It take some time getting used to the way things work in your host country.

The best way to deal with the discomfort phase is to push through and accept your situation. It’s not your country, you’re not going to change anything by complaining and you choose to be there in the first place.

3: Integration Phase

After some time, you start to understand the culture better and may even adopt some of its customs into your life. It is inevitable that you will go through the integration phase when you move to another, new culture. This may take weeks, months, or even years to understand the norms and values of your host country.

When complete, you are comfortable with the language and customs in your new country or city. You may start to forget about how hard it was for you at first, but this does not mean that you have become a local overnight.

Overcoming any initial challenges and doing what most people would never attempt: leaving their home country to move abroad is something you can be proud. W want to emphasize that there really are so many benefits from experiencing another culture firsthand – even if you experience negative emotions and difficulty.

4. Re-entry Phase:

When it’s time for you to go back home, you’ll find yourself missing the country where you lived, and may even experience reverse culture shock.

For students who have spent a semester abroad, it can be difficult to return home and regain the feeling of comfort that they once had. Reentry shock is not unusual for these students, as many may even experience reverse culture shock.

For students who have spent a semester abroad, it can be difficult to return home and regain the feeling of comfort that they once had. Reentry shock is not unusual for these university-level scholars as many may even experience reverse culture shock when returning from their trip overseas.

For those with an international education background, coming back home after spending time in another country can often result in some small challenges; namely reentry or “reverse” culture shock due to being around people more similar than what you are used too following your contrastingly different surroundings outside our borders.

Climate Shock

While not exactly culture shock, many long-term expats know too well, there is such a thing as climate shock – being unprepared for sudden changes in temperature or environment when you repatriate home following your experience abroad.

One of the most common examples is how those who grew up in colder climates find themselves perpetually hot and sweaty in a tropical country like Thailand to finally have their body adjust to the climate, only to then return home and be uncomfortably cold.

Stages of Culture Shock Conclusion

To conclude, if you’re an expat or ESL teacher abroad, it’s important to know that there are 4 stages of culture shock. When facing the challenges of living in a new country for the first time, many people experience some degree of culture shock as they adjust to their surroundings and make sense of how things work differently than at home.

But what if this feeling never goes away? What if you find yourself stuck in one stage with no relief from symptoms like homesickness and anger? It may be worth looking into a few coping strategies before your mental health deteriorates even further or to simply return home.

We hope these four stages help you better understand where you might currently be on your journey and give you helpful tips so that we can all enjoy our experiences abroad!

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.