In my previous posts about cultural ajustment, I talked briefly about the 1st stage (honeymoon phase), then in another post the 2nd stage [culture shock] — in this 3rd post I’ll talk briefly about the ADJUSTING stage.
The adaptation stage does not mean that things will go back to how you felt in the honeymoon stage. It means that you have begun to normalise and have discovered how you cope with the demands a foreign culture has on you. Maybe you discovered a coping strategy like getting some favourite foods from home, or creating a special spot at home which is your “home spot”. For me it was branston pickle and tea!
You may have realized that you do not need to accept the was things are about your host culture, and you may become more comfortable in your role as “outsider”. I have lived in Portugal almost 30 years, and I will never be Portuguese — even though Portuguese culture has shaped so much of my adult life! And that’s fine with me — I’m me and that’s enough!
To become a chameleon and adapt does not mean you have to accept everything about your host culture. Adapting is when you accept that there are things you will never like or never want to adapt to. You do not have to enjoy the traditional local food — not even all nationals like it! You do not need to be comfortable that the host culture drive on a different side of the road! You do not need to adapt to being frequently late, and you may need to adopt a coping mechanismo for dealing with those who are.
Your choice is to adapt or not according to whatever your value allow you to adapt to — or not. The choice is yours, and you adapt best when you are comfortable making your own choices.
At this stage the things which frustrated you so much in the overwhelming culture shock stage may start to make sense. The words in the language that flew by too fast to understand now start to have some meaning. You find you can survive, you can order coffee in a café and understand the different options the waiter offers you — in Portugal when you ask for water it gets complicated — “cold, room temperature, bubbly water, flat water … with ice, without ice …”, and now you can actually ask for how you want it.
You discover that maybe your postman speaks a little English and is happy to practice, leaving you more relaxed about interactions. Maybe you’ve figures out how to get somewhere on local transport, have managed to create a bank account and can now use a card to get money from an ATM without feeling like panicking. Things start to make sense. You begin to believe that maybe you an actually do this! The climb out of the valley of dispair has begun!
There will always be things about your host culture which seem designed to drive you crazy. Adapting means understanding that there may never be a way to change those things in the local culture. If you are an expert and standing in line (queueing, in the UK), and your host culture seem to just not get the point or realize how much more efficient it may be … there’s little that you can do about it. So, you learn to chill a bit and make it work. Grit your teeth and don’t let it make your hair fall out.
My next article will look at the mastery, or adaptation phase where adjustment has become adaptation — you change a few things about your self, and now the new you functions in a new environment … see you soon.
Intercultural & Leadership Coach and Trainer
A WORD ON MODELS — I love the saying “all models are wrong, but they can be useful!” That’s basically where I stand. Whatever model you prefer, the point is the same Cultural Adaptation can be crappy sometimes! Dr Debora Swallow has a 5 step model which you may find interetsing. There’s also a “W model“, there’s a “U model” … A Spiral model by Young Yun Kim — which may be interesting to explore as it comes from an Asian perspective and may hold new insights to Western minds. But … remember … they are all meant to help with the fundamental task of adjustment/adaptation or helping others in their transistion.