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International Teachers

The Second Stage of Culture Shock: The Frustration Period

Living abroad and experiencing new places is often exhilarating and life-changing. As almost anyone who has lived in a different country will tell you, it can also be confusing and exhausting. All of these emotions and experiences are normal when living in a new place—it’s commonly called culture shock.

There are usually four phases or stages of culture shock a person goes through—honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. In the first part of this series, we went into more detail about the honeymoon phase. Like the name implies, in this stage, a person is in love with the new culture and experiences they are having. New languages, foods, and people are exciting and exhilarating. As someone spends more time in their new environment, the honeymoon phase passes and the frustration phase begins.

In this second blog post in our series about culture shock, we will look at the frustration stage in more detail and how to cope during this phase. While often being the most difficult stage of culture shock, acclimating to a new country is entirely possible and produces positive growth and change.

The second stage: frustration

In the frustration stage, life in a new country can feel difficult and confusing. Things like communicating in another language, navigating cultural differences, or getting lost can cause irritation and fatigue. 

Often in the frustration phase, one’s perspective of the new culture is cast in a negative light as daily activities and interactions feel burdensome. Sometimes people contemplate returning home.

It’s normal to feel homesick or to miss familiar ways of doing things. Some people may feel depressed, anxious, or angry. These feelings come and go as cultural adaptation continues. 

How to cope with frustration

One of the most important ways to cope with culture shock is to acknowledge that frustration or sadness are totally normal feelings to have when living in a different country. Dealing with these feelings in a healthy way will help ease the adjustment. 

To move beyond the frustration phase, it’s important to accept that some parts of another culture may always be confusing to you. While you may not understand everything, you can appreciate your new surroundings and experiences. 

“The most important thing to remember is that you need to have an open mind and heart and keep a positive attitude in the face of hardships,” said Kelli Finch, who taught abroad in Costa Rica for nine years.

Ensure you also have a good support system of friends and family during this time. When feeling frustrated, it’s easy to become isolated, but ultimately the support of others will help cultural adaptation happen faster. 

Cecilia C., a Participate Learning Ambassador Teacher from Argentina, shared how she and her family adjusted to U.S. culture with help from other Ambassador Teachers.

“It feels like we have been friends for so long because we share the same experiences,” said Cecilia. “Friends are now my family here.”

It can also be helpful to reflect on your personal and professional growth during your experience abroad. Often people living in another country say the hardships they went through produced positive growth and change. They become stronger and more resilient. If you can step back and see the ways you have grown as a person, it can change your outlook to be more positive and give you a different perspective of your experience.

Silvia Scorza, a former Ambassador Teacher from Costa Rica, said that while going through culture shock was hard, she ultimately became stronger as a result. 

“I grew a lot, not only professionally but personally as well. I was not the same person after living abroad—I felt stronger, and somehow, my overall quality of life had improved along the way,” said Silvia.

Remember, going through the frustration phase of culture shock is a normal, albeit tough, experience. Be patient with yourself and others, knowing this phase will eventually pass as you acclimate to a new culture. Next in this blog post series, we will talk about the third phase of culture shock: adjustment.

Participate Learning supports educators throughout their teaching abroad journey so they can maximize their experience and enjoy personal and professional growth. If you’re considering teaching abroad, take a look at our application process and requirements.

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