Expats in China suffer from a cultural crisis every three years
If you feel like your joy for China is starting to fade and that everything that once felt normal appears weird to you, then most probably you are a foreigner experiencing the “Laowai’s (outsider) crisis.” It appears every three years and is linked with significant “cultural adaptation.”
According to associate professor of Arizona State University, Michael Winkelman, adaptation goes through four distinct stages: honeymoon phase, crisis period (culture shock), adjustment phase, and acceptance and adaptation phase.
When a foreigner comes to a new country, the differences between the old and new are seen in a romantic light and bring on the “euphoria” of a honeymoon. This, however, changes after approximately three years, when once new and beautiful surroundings become a regular part of everyday life. Diminishing excitement and one’s ability to learn new things mark the beginning of the “Laowai’s crisis.”
My honeymoon with China lasted exactly three years before it came to a bitter conclusion. Things that I once loved about Chinese culture, people and society became frustrating to me.
My favorite dishes became too oily and spicy. Street food that I once enjoyed appeared unappetizing and unhealthy. I remember rolling my eyes every time I saw clouds of steam coming up from the huge bowl of oil in the red lantern-lit food trolleys.
I also could no longer stand all the noise on the streets. Endless hooting, spitting, arguing and shout-talking seemed to be following me everywhere I went. Everything became so annoying that I simply could not understand how, for the past three years, I had such a happy life in China.
This is when my friends who had been in China for more than five year first told me that I am most likely experiencing “Laowai’s crisis” but that I would soon recover. Eventually I did. After two months of feeling disorientated, I started enjoying China again. I returned to my favorite Chinese dishes and the loud sounds, noises and other irritations faded into nothingness.
After my recovery, I realized that the reason I felt down with life in China had to do with my surroundings. Lousy weather, a lack of true friends, missing home and a busy period at school and work can make any expat feel depressed.
When this crisis happened to me, I was working on my thesis in Chinese while the weather was particularly miserable. I was struggling with a foreign language and isolated in my cold room. No wonder I felt so unhappy.
However, sooner or later, all crises come to an end. According to scientists, the crisis phase should be changed with the adjustment and acceptance phases. This is when we can once again start calling another country “home.”
In order to recover from culture shock as fast as possible, I recommend to other foreigners to not panic but instead think about all the excellent opportunities that are available in China, especially Shanghai. Plenty of events, international restaurants, nightclubs and the chance to meet people from all over the world in one city make living in Shanghai a joy.
Quick payments with QR codes, online shopping, cheap delivery services, a convenient transportation system and shared bicycles also make life in Shanghai much easier. If all these advantages still do not work for you and you still want to run away, don’t forget that culture shock goes both ways: upon arrival in a foreign country and after returning home. More often than not, reverse culture shock can be even worse.
In either case, it might not be a bad idea to just wait until the weather warms up and your work is done. Such small changes will allow you to fall back in-love with China... at least for another three years. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.