Culture Shock and What to Expect in Its 7 Stages 5

When we first thought about moving abroad, we knew there would be big changes, big decisions, and a healthy dose of culture shock. Wherever you are, there’s no escaping the highs and lows, happiness and sorrow. That happens everywhere, no matter where you live! It’s the little thing we call LIFE! 

Hammock Days

I did not however, count on falling into each of the stages of culture shock in such a timely manner.

1. The Honeymoon Stage

The best stage of them all! This is the excitement and the adventure. All rolled into one, it’s the best feeling in the world!

We felt free, invincible, courageous, and wondered if we were crazy! We were embracing everything and learning so much! We thought we would see all of Costa Rica in the very first week! We felt retired, and were loving our new-found time together as a couple!

We never looked back and just jumped in with both feet! It’s the only way to go!


2. The Minor Difficulties Stage

Also known as the “after-vacation blues”. This is when we realized that we actually have to start learning to converse in the language. Just a few “Hola’s” and “Adios’s” was not going to cut it.

This was the stage where we realized we were on our own and had to figure out the directions, bus stops, money exchanging, etc… on our own. In another language. All the while trying not to dwell on how incredibly inefficient it all was. 

After speaking Spanish all day and riding buses, we would feel more exhausted than a full day at work in the US!

So utterly draining!!

Hardware Store

3. Frustration Stage

Once you get in the routine of living your life in another country, you start to need certain things to carry on normally.

For us the first main frustration was the internet. It took us over 50 phone calls, 3 months, 3 sets of technicians for them to finally install the internet. We were used to companies in the US jumping at the chance to sign you up for something.

Another source of frustration was the food – both the (un)cleanliness of preparing it and the amount of oil the locals used to cook everything! I think we literally had oil coming out of pores. And seriously, put the meat in the refrigerator, that’s why you have one!!

Very often the feeling in this stage is that these people don’t know anything! It takes 50 times longer to do anything! Let’s not even mention the laundry! 

Laundry Day

4. Stubbornness Stage

These people are so confused, I’ll just show them everything I know. And teach them English because they need to know it. They can get better jobs, houses, and lives if they know English! I’ll cook them every American meal I know and then put it in the fridge.

At this stage, it becomes a very overwhelming feeling that you know best as and you don’t have to try as hard to fit into their culture.

You feel like you can just live your normal American life and they will get used to it. You’ll feel stubborn and against any changes. Even changes you have already started to make! This stage is one of the hardest ones because then it leads your right into the next one. Depression.

Traveling Engineer

5. Depression Stage

The homesick feeling.

This stage is when you start to wonder if you made the right choice. Living abroad is hard – too many choices and not enough friends. Our biggest hardship during this stage was the amount of effort it took for us to go somewhere. We decided to stay at home and not make the effort instead. It took a toll on us and especially my wife, the social one. It would take us 2 hours just to go anywhere, making all the bus connections. Too much time.

We would argue a bit more, feel lazy and bored, with an overall loss of motivation. My wife would get teary-eyed and go through “baby fever” way more often then before.

It’s a lonely stage and even though this stage is always in the background, it’s important to not dwell on it and just move forward, together!

Bus Stop

6. Acceptance Stage

The “snap out of it” moment!

Just get the show on the road. This is how these people live and we need to learn about it! We need to go outside, find something we have no idea is about and learn about it! Learn the Spanish word for it too! Get excited about it and share it with everyone you meet or talk to!

Realize this is culture, and you HAVE to enter into it or you will ALWAYS feel like an outsider. Do your best to learn the language and practice! (study too!) Once we got this revelation, it was like we were starting all over again. Totally fresh excitement and curiosity. It was amazing! 


7. Thriving Stage

At this stage, you will have learned so much from since you first started!

You will still face a little of all the above stages but you now know what works for you and what doesn’t. You know how to overcome obstacles and gosh-darn-it, you made it! You are fabulous for taking on something so outside your comfort zone and making it work! It’s a HUGE accomplishment.

Don’t forget to reach out to other travelers around you. Swap stories and create friendships to help them through their stages!

This is a point in time in your life abroad where you realize that all the up’s and down’s were worth it! You have learned something so invaluable because of it! Go on and thrive! 


Overall, the best lessons we took from our culture shock experiences were:

a.) Don’t expect life to be “perfect” because you moved to a tropical country.

b.) “Life is not all sunsets and lemonade” -Mom

c.) When you open yourself up to the culture, you suddenly feel like “one of them” and your understanding broadens

d.) Find what works for you and what doesn’t. Be true to it. 

e.) Find a balance between being social, making friends, and getting work done.

f.) Hold on tight to the one you love because they will always understand. 


Those of you currently going through culture shock, hang in there. Know that we can totally relate and are rooting for you! You can do it! Hope you were able to find some relatable experiences! 

Have you had any memorable culture shock experiences? Share them here! We would love to hear what you did to overcome each stage! 

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5 thoughts on “Culture Shock and What to Expect in Its 7 Stages

  • Becky Hightower

    Haha, well it can be sunsets and lemonade sometimes! Just reminding others that when you live in a destination place there is still a lot to do and people to see and like you said very well. Lots to learn.

  • Kelsey

    These are so true! Thank you for sharing. I feel like I’m currently waffling between several of them, but like you said, the memories and the fact that it’s able to be overcome are amazing things to see looking back on! :)

  • Glenda

    Wow, what a superb post! You’ve said so much more than you even realize! These stages – good for us to be aware of – in life in general. You sound prepared for your next adventure!Thanks for sharing.