I was sitting in my apartment, all alone, looking out the window. I was scared but also excited. I was hopeful but also doubtful, impressed at making such a decision all by myself, and disappointed that I had not really brought my family into my decision making a bit more. Because in front of my window, was my computer screen, and on that was a thank you note, thanking me for an application into a program to go to China as a teacher. A program that eventually gave me a job and meant that I was not coming home. I was 21 years old, I wasn’t even done with my Bachelor’s degree yet, and I was moving to China to become a teacher.
I remember calling my parents to tell them the good news. I remember my mom almost breaking down in tears and my dad starting to tell me how dangerous China was, how you would go to jail for speaking your mind, or something like that. Of course, China is really not that bad and it is actually a pretty safe place to be. In truth, my parents just didn’t want me to leave but after a while, they came along and accepted that this is what I was going to do.
This was back in 2009. I had just returned home from an amazing trip to Shanghai. I went on my own, I met up with a Chinese girl that I had been speaking to online for a long time and she showed me all around Shanghai for almost two weeks. While I was there, I fell in love with everything, the culture, the food, the language, the history of the place and the beautiful scenery in Shanghai. My camera was more or less glued to my face as I walked along the Bund, the Financial district in Pudong, The Shanghai World Financial Tower (The bottle opener), and the city god temple, Cheng Huang Miao. I was in a state of euphoria, everything was new, exciting and interesting and even when I didn’t know the language; I just asked for help or tried to figure it out on my own. I was amazed, I was sold.
But there is a big difference between being in a place for just a short time, knowing when you will go home, and living in a new place, having to learn how everything works, and realizing how different everything really is from what you are used to. Now this, this is the real culture shock and after the euphoria and happiness can come a long time of struggle and depression. For those who are prepared and ready, the depression is temporary and you will eventually reach a state of adjustment and acceptance in the end. But for those who do not try to fix their problems, they can get stuck in the depression phase until homesickness and stress and depression takes over, and they eventually give up and return home. And even then, reverse culture shock can set in, making your home country feel as alien as the country you just tried to escape.
If you have ever been on holiday in some place new, this feeling is maybe familiar to you. When we talk about culture shock, this part is the positive part, called the euphoria phase or sometimes also called The Honeymoon Period. It typically starts from the moment you arrive and it can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months. During this time you are happy, experience everything as being new and interesting and you are enjoying yourself, like being on a holiday or a honeymoon.