According to many psychologists who specialize in crosscultural transitions, culture shock is a very real phenomenon, with identifiable stages.

Initial euphoria: This is the “honeymoon” feeling that usually comes with being exposed to so many new, strange, and interesting things. It doesn’t really matter that the visitor can’t always understand all of it, because there is so much to see and do.

Hostility: This is a feeling of rejection and alienation when real differences are experienced but not understood. People in this stage understand that things are really different, but they also can’t help feeling they are also wrong. It just doesn’t feel natural to them.

Gradual adjustment: With time, people begin to learn skills that make them culturally competent, like language fluency and putting cultural practices in the proper context.

Biculturalism: In this phase, visitors may not function like natives, but they fit in relatively well to the host culture. And they can move back and forth, from culture to culture, with some ease.

In his Survival Kit for Overseas Living, L. Robert Kohls offers these wise words on the value of culture shock:

“Be ready for the lesson culture shock teaches. Culture is a survival mechanism which tells its members not only that their ways of doing things are right but also that they are superior. Culture shock stems from an in-depth encounter with another culture in which you learn that there are different ways of doing things that are neither wrong nor inferior.

“It teaches a lesson that cannot be learned by any other means: that one’s culture does not possess the single right way, best way, or even uniformly better way of providing for human needs and enjoyments. Believing it does is a kind of imprisonment–from which the experience of culture shock, as painful as it may be, can liberate you.”