Monday, February 18, 2013

The Final Stage of Culture Shock

According to the esteemed author and counselor of intercultural and multicultural issues, Paul Pederson, there are five stages of so.called culture shock. They are as follows:
1) The Honeymoon Stage 
2) The Disintegration Stage 
3) The Reintegration Stage
4) The Autonomy Stage
5) The Interdependence Stage

A simpler rendition (think Wikipedia) is the one encompassing a shift from the "Honeyoon Phase" to the "Negotiation Phase", then from the "Adjustment Phase" onto the "Mastery Phase". However you look at it, it a fascinating phenomena. We are like moldable, cultural clay, and the - sometimes dramatic - shift in our words, actions, eating habits, dress, and (if you happen to be a travel blogger) blogs demonstrate how truly pliable we are. 

But this is where it gets tricky. As a writer, your writing style varies depending on the stage of culture shock that you are in. Let's look specifically at the simpler stages listed in the second paragraph, When in the "Honeymoon" and "Negotiation" phases, it's easy to write about what you find fascinating or odd about your new culture. And in the "Adjustment" phase, you can write about what you miss at "home" or what frustrates you about the new culture. But what does one write about when in the "Mastery Phase"? Just how fantastic everything is? How well adjusted one has become? Let's be honest. Who wants to read about that? 

When that point comes, perhaps it's time to reinvent yourself.

"Mastering" a culture doesn't mean you love it all of the time. It means you feel at home there, maybe more at home there than anywhere else. And the occasional adventure will still arise. Like when you hear someone use a new word for something you were quite certain there was no other word for (how about "Sonnabend" for Saturday?!?). And perhaps those adventures are just as worthy of our time and efforts as the Honeymoon Phase topics (like visiting castles and taking a trip down the Romantic Road).

Another example of something that would be suitable for the "Mastery Phase": the mind-boggling differences in healthcare systems! In December I spent a week in a German hospital for a moderately serious medical issue. They were understaffed and didn't take me seriously when I complained about what was ailing me, which resulted in a second surgery. Was I blown away and frustrated? You betcha! But, to put it in perspective, our basic German health insurance paid for someone to help me out around the house for TWO MONTHS after the surgery. These people helped me clean the house, cook, pick up my kids and drive them around, and even went grocery shopping for me. There are not many countries that provide this sort of post-surgical support, and had I not had it, I may have had to return for an additional surgery. 

No matter where, in the world, we live, at the end of the day we take the good with the bad. And the adventures that come along with the "Mastery Phase" enrich us as Erdenbürger (or earthlings - how cute is that?)), just as much or more as those initial "Honeymoon" adventures. The relationship matures with time, like an old couple that stays together and is still in love after all those years. :)

Perhaps you have other ideas. As we continue to ascend the ladder of Culture Shock in our respective countries, how do we stay passionate about our writing - or other forms of artistic expression - and continue to share our stories and experiences? Please share!

And until then, safe and happy travels!

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