The discomforts of making big life adjustments is known as transitional shock, and if the transition is into a foreign culture it’s known as culture shock. Occasionally I meet people who say they don’t experience culture shock, maybe with a tinge of ego (yeah, I’ve been caught saying it before), but I know they’re lying. Everyone experiences it to some degree or another depending on their personality and their situation. It has a very personal, subjective nature to it which unfortunately means there isn’t a cure-all strategy to “fix” it, but it helps to understand what it is.
Kalvero Oberg first defined culture shock and the five stages of adjustment as the behavioral and cognitive changes made during sudden immersion into a foreign culture. In the first phase of culture shock, the honeymoon stage, the newness of cultural differences make a person gitty with excitement. During the second stage the traveler focuses on these differences and starts to reject them. This nitpicky dissatisfaction turns little events in to big ones, but they’re just a behavioral reaction in the larger context of adaptation. Usually after a month or two the traveler begins the third stage of adjustment, developing routines to help them feel comfortable in the new culture. When the traveler crosses elements from home and host cultures in daily life, adjustment is just a realization that cultural differences aren’t good versus bad, they’re just different. After about a year or so the traveler enters the fourth stage where they can participate freely and comfortably in the host culture. By this stage the traveler has fully adjusted to the fact that home is a far-off place, and is using conversational ability in the local language with a group of friends. The fifth stage is complete biculturalism, but reaching this stage as an adult is extremely difficult, and should only be a goal if you’ve accepted that home won’t looking anything like it did when you left. Biculturalism creates a marked difference in the traveler’s basic conception of what home is.