Posts Tagged ‘culture shock’

“How long have you been in the United States?” “Six months” “And you?” “What do you miss most?” “


(The Julia Set, Public Domain)

I miss my family.” “I miss the bakery down the street.” “ The music is so different here!!!”

The dialog above describes “culture shock.” Culture shock comes with separation from one’s own family and country, and with living in the midst of a very different culture. Culture shock doesn’t mean it isn’t a good experience to live abroad, but it does mean things are very different. How can au pairs cope gracefully?

One simple way to keep in touch with “home,” while remaining open to new cultural experiences, is to create a “home space,” a place that contains colors, sounds, smells, books, and other things from “home.” This little space becomes a retreat, especially in the evening when activity has quieted in the Host Family home.

There is a psychological principle involved in spending “home time” just before bedtime. We remember best what we learn first (e.g., early in the day) and last (e.g., just before bed)—and we remember less about what happens in-between.  The former increased memory and learning is called the principle of primacy; the latter is called the principle of recency.

Culture shock means that old and the new cultures needs to be clarified and integrated. Au pairs are busy all day, and modern American culture (which they came to the United States to experience) fills the beginning and the middle of the day. Making a little time for “home meditation” at the end of the day helps keep the whole picture in focus.

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"Peace Path". The caption advocates ...

“Peace Path”. The caption advocates for reconciliation and reparation rather than punishment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Culture shock usually comes in 4 phases:

  • Phase I is a honeymoon. The new culture is fun and exciting.
  • Phase II brings a crisis of adjustment, including feelings of anxiety. The au pair and Host Family may increasingly need to negotiate a variety of differences. Homesickness may also occur, and negative attitudes predominate. “Culture shock” is recognized as a cause.
  • Phase III is a return to a more confident outlook. Major adjustments have been negotiated, and feelings change to “we can do this.”
  • Phase IV is acceptance and ongoing adaptation. New routines and relationships have become status quo. A new working family unit has been achieved.

When culture shock is in process, it can be difficult to recognize the different phases. However, this is a normal process that sometimes proceeds linearly, and that sometimes loops around and repeats a phase. Most families and au pairs resolve culture shock successfully and go on to deepen their relationship.

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