More on Culture Shock

A few months ago, I talked about Food and Culture Shock.  While I believe that a lack of familiar foods is one of the most pronounced ways a traveler feels homesickness and culture shock, culture shock goes beyond that.

What is culture shock?  Culture shock is a term used to describe the disorientation someone feels when they leave a familiar social environment.  In the case of an au pair, that environment is their home country.  Experts have identified four phases of culture shock, and an au pair may experience one phase or all of them during her stay in the U.S.  As you prepare for your au pair’s arrival, be ready for the first few months:

In the “honeymoon phase,” your au pair is enamored of her new situation, taking in the new sights and sounds of her host city and her new home.  All of the new experiences are so exciting that it is difficult for the au pair to leave the fascination behind and be objective.

Once the new wears off, your au pair may begin to notice and experience some anxiety about the differences in her culture and the Midwestern culture of Indianapolis.  For example, the welcoming, friendly attitude most Indianapolis residents have toward complete strangers on the street might go against the social traditions the au pair is used to.  What felt in the first few days after arrival like the city was rolling out a red carpet for an honored guest might begin to seem like an imposition, especially if your au pair is an introvert.  Additionally, the language barrier may lead to misunderstandings that can become a major frustration, and this is typically the period when homesickness begins to set in.

Help your au pair navigate the “negotiation phase” by keeping the lines of communication open.  Welcome questions about American and Midwestern culture, be open to learning about the au pair’s home country, and try to find common ground by doing activities that highlight it–share a traditional meal from each culture or encourage participation in a local activity that will help your au pair find friends to both distract from and share in the homesickness.

Would you like to learn more about the Four Phases of Culture Shock?  Click here to read more.


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