After the honeymoon
That’s it, winter is showing up. Temperatures start to go down, trees lose leaves, fireplaces begin to smoke, shop windows are decorated with Christmas glass balls… Maybe caught in a whirlwind of novelties, the mid-term exams are by the way already in the spotlight.
Student life in France is ultimately not fundamentally different from student life in Dakar, in Abidjan or in Casablanca. Going to classes, doing research, carry out group work, present one’s work orally… For those of you coming from French speaking countries, the different is indeed even thinner. It would sometimes be enough to close your eyes to not know if you are in France or in your country of origin.
However, whether or not your daily life is similar, you feel a certain gap, a feeling of difference that is destabilizing, although difficult to identify. This is what is known as “culture shock”. This notion goes beyond simple astonishment at new social norms or culinary experiences. Whether you feel it strongly or moderately, this cultural adaptation affects us all, regardless of our age or country of origin.
Culture shock is a normal process that most of the time follows several phases that follow each other a bit like a roller coaster: the honeymoon, the frustration, the adaptation and the acceptance. Of course, the duration and especially the amplitude of each phase, of each emotion, varies greatly from one individual to another.
The honeymoon is the top of the mountain: the excitement of the new. New living environment, new friends, new eating habits. Everything changes – sometimes even the language – and this can be a source of many positive emotions, expectations, excitement.
Then comes the phase of frustration, when the fatigue of not always grasping all the nuances of a gesture, a word, an unspoken word, gradually diminishes the enthusiasm of the new. At this point, trivial things like missing your bus or losing a book can affect you excessively, undermine your morale. It is often at this moment that you would most like to return to the comfort of your former life, to the habits you left behind.
As winter approaches and your study rhythm is now well established, you may be experiencing this somewhat confusing phase right now.
But good news. As true as it is that after the rain comes the sun, after the frustration comes the adaptation. With a little time, you will quickly begin to feel more at ease in your relationships with people, language, cultural codes and your environment. For example, you will find it easier to handle humor, to understand references, in short, all the little things that seem trivial and yet will allow you to feel fully integrated into your new French environment.
And without wanting to spoil the rest of your adventure right now, the adaptation phase will often give way to an acceptance phase, the last stage of the famous “culture shock”. This phase does not imply making the host country’s culture your own by erasing your own frame of reference. On the contrary, it means that you have become fully aware of the environment in which you are evolving and that you are able to accept it, to live with its differences, without judgment.
As you can see, this process and its different phases are a natural and normal pattern. When you move abroad, especially to study, it is normal to feel at a certain point a “coup de spleen”, a discomfort, a gap even if everything seems to be going well in the best of worlds.
Understanding how you feel can often help you through difficult times. And as always, if you feel like it or need it, remember that FIGS Education is here to help you through it. We are always happy to talk to you, to get to know you better and to share for a while the sensations of your intercultural roller coaster.