It is a generally accepted theory that there are a few stages involved in being an emigrant (moving from your own country) or immigrant (in moving into another). The main five stages are summarised below:
- Honeymoon phase – The “Oh my god, I’ve never seen one of those” phase where everything is great, even the bad things.
- Rejection phase – The phase where “This is better back home” or “Why is there so much paperwork for such a simple request?” phase. Negatives are notices and weighed up against perceived positives back home
- Regression phase – This can also be known as ‘make or break’ time. In order to retain the best of what is being missed about home, the emigrant latches on to other emigrants, news and articles from back home.
- Recovery phase – If the third phase does not break the emigrant, this should be the phase of “Where I learnt to live with it”
- Reverse (or return) culture shock – After surviving the third and fourth phases, home becomes “…where the heart is (now)”, as opposed to “…that place I used to live in”.
From the above phases, one of the most interesting steps is that tipping point, where an emigrant moves from the phases of uncertainty to one where they feel that their life is in their new country. However, my theory now is that these stages are now becoming mixed up and muddled, escpecially as a result of technological advances. I believe that the order of the phases can now be applied much more liberally with some even coming before others in the order now. As a result of applications such as email, Skype and chat, and the proliferation of cheap flights, emigrants can find themselves back home for a quick visit – thus kicking in the reverse culture shock – before they have time to reach the regression phase.
From personal experience, I can relate to the five phases, but I have seen them appear at different times in my 2.5 years in Poland. Another theory around the five phases is the timing needed to pass through the phases. In simplest terms, they suggest about 6 months of a honeymoon phase, while the subsequent phases needed 1-2 years each to progress.
For most emigrants the above phases do apply and in the order presented, but I believe that this has to do with the mindset and expectation of the individuals before they even travel. If you have the possibility to choose your destination and do the right research in advance, this can simplify the adjustment period. The culture shock applies much stronger for those that expect life in Poland, for example, to be the same as in Ireland, the UK, the US or other such ‘Western’ countries. From my personal experience, I expected frustration with bureaucracy, freezing toes in December and so on. Thus, for me, I feel I passed through the honeymoon and rejection phases relatively quickly and painlessly.
However, challenges in learning the language can make the regression phase a difficult time. The ‘tipping point’ or moment that I felt it click for me was a day when a colleague in work decided to play with me by asking a work-related question in Polish. Something in my brain said “You are going to repond in Polish”. Now, I’ll admit that my grammar was not perfect but I was understood and by the end of our conversation we had drawn a small audience of other Polish colleagues who gave a little round of applause for the effort involved. Since then I have found myself more comfortable in Polish and as a result in Poland. I have even received a comment for the time when talking about the weather here and said “We can expect some sunshine” or “Our roads need improvement”. It was finally summed up last weekend when I had a trip back to Ireland to visit some friends. A session in the pub meant meeting up with many Irish friends but while standing at the bar and hearing some Polish spoken nearby I was more interested in what they were sayig than others nearby.
It may turn out that the above 5 stages of emigration adjustment and the timescales involved need to be re-written with modern times in mind. The internet and cheap flights allow some people to live like they never left home. Alternatively with the world becoming a smaller place, the amount of adjustment needed to acclimiatise to a new country is less and less. However, ultimately it will always come back to the individual involved and how they approach the adventure of emigrating.