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Cultural shock

uomo che scalaPerhaps we did not realize, but we suffered a real culture shock, that is, the "feeling of insecurity, confusion or anxiety that people feel when they reside for a longer or shorter period, even for work, in a society [. ..] different from their own [1] ". The phases which we encounter are "honeymoon", "crisis", "recovery" and "adaptation" [2].

During the crisis phase, the most delicate, we become aware of growing anxiety due to the loss of reference points in interpersonal relations, communications, attitudes to be taken in every day life.
We lack the affections that we have left behind, who are often children, grandchildren, old friends.
We feel alone because we have learned the local language just enough to meet the practical needs, for example to buy bread, but we are far from being able to express more abstract feelings, like the sense of loss, the sadness that surrounds our heart.
We need to pay attention when we do the most daily and instinctive gestures, like saying "yes" or "no" with our head (which is expressed in exactly the opposite way in Bulgaria and Italy), and having to put this constant attention to everything and everyone is unnerving and frustrating.

For a form of self-defense, our mind takes refuge in denial ("I will never understand this people") and regression ("In Italy I was living so well"), forgetting all the negative aspects and keeping only the positive memories. We feel disappointed, irritable, frustrated, helpless, frightened.


Finally one day, if we were able to hold on and not to give up, we find that we are accepting the new situation and see the new customs in a positive way. We maintain a certain attitude of superiority ("Italian food is much better than this stuff") but when we realize it, almost by surprise, we can do irony on ouselves; above all, it is over the constant irritation that has haunted us so far!

The final stage is the adaptation, in which we feel ourselves part of the local culture and appreciate all or most aspects ("In Italy these genuine taste of Polish cuisine is unfortunately lost"). We note with fun, the few times we return to Italy, that we suffer a "reverse culture shock" and we find difficult to adapt ourselves back to our native culture.

Applying the pyramid model, we note that we were able to reconstruct the levels of Belonging and Esteem. We have perhaps a new life companion and definitely new friends, often local people: in the interview of the Iene mentioned before, one interviewee says: "A Bulgarian friend lasts forever." Our language is improved and allows us greater socialization, leading to a greater mutual respect and a growing self-esteem.


[1] Urmila Chakraborthy, Shock culturale, in Serena Gianfaldoni (a cura di), Lessico interculturale, FrancoAngeli, 2014, ISBN 8820433125. Pag. 206
[2] (EN) Bruce La Brack, Theory Reflections: Cultural Adaptations, Culture Shock and the “Curves of Adjustment” (PDF), Association of International Educators.

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