Adjusting to Expat Life in Italy: Riding Out the Culture Curve

* This post is Part III of a four-part series on adjusting to expat life in Italy and is written on behalf of Click here to read Part I and Part II in the series.


Back in my college days, before I’d ever worked for the mouse, lived overseas or, heck even flown on an airplane, I took a class that impacted my future experiences with every other city, state or country I’d ever live in. The class was called Cultural Communication and the professor, Dr. Larry King stood before our stuffy, poorly lit lecture hall and explained, in a series of words I can’t quite recall, the next 10 years of my life.
He also drew us a graph that looked kinda like this.

Culture Shock Curve

I can’t explain why this class-no, this lecture-grasped a prominent place in my memory like it did, especially at a time in my life when I had no intention of up and marryin’ some good-looking eye-talian and high tailin’ it to southern Italy. But it did.
The essential points in his lecture have rung true for me over the years and reminded me that every culture shock symptom I have experienced is not only normal, but expected.
And I’m going to share those points with you.
– Phase I: Honeymoon
Also referred to as the “tourist” stage in the culture shock cycle, some expats enter this phase while they are still in planning mode. This stage of the cycle is met with heightened enthusiasm and excitement, possible fear of the unknown and an overwhelming sense of adventure and mission.
During this stage, expats live off of the thrill of being in a new place and only see the positive aspects of their adopted country … you know, kinda like when you think it is cute that your new spouse snores all night.
– Phase II: Hostility
Alienation sets in during this stage when people start to miss the familiarities of their home country. Some people become isolated, quick to anger and impatient, while physical ailments such as tiredness or depression plague them.
Expats in this stage tend to focus on the differences between their home country and their new country and become increasingly critical of their new surroundings.
This is the where most expats feel they have “hit bottom,” and question their reasons for moving-or even staying-in their new country.
If you think you are in this stage of the culture cycle, just remember that it is a temporary stage and there are ways to cope. We will discuss some of the ways you can get through this stage tomorrow in Part IV of Adjusting to Expat Life in Italy right here at My Bella Vita.
– Phase III: Humor
You know those times when you aren’t sure if you should laugh or cry? Well friends, the good news is, laughing, or at least seeing the humor in your new situation is the third phase and indicates a healthy progression through the culture shock cycle.
During this stage, language skills improve and expats begin to understand how their new environment works. They are on the road to recovery.
– Phase IV: Home
And where do all roads lead? Well, to home, of course. Expats who can accept and embrace their new culture have arrived in the final stage of the culture shock cycle. People in this phase begin to enjoy, at least some aspects, of their new lives and feel a sense of balance and contentment.
Are you an expat? Where are you in the culture shock cycle? What tips and advice do you have for others going through these phases?
Be sure to join us tomorrow for Adjusting to Expat Life in Italy, Part IV: Tips and Strategies for Adjusting.
Photo couresy of UNC School of Information and Library Science

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