Adaption ladder

Hi everyone. In one of my previous blog posts I wrote about how to get through culture chock. This time I will try to get one step ahead, and tell something about how to adapt in a new culture. Now I have been in India for some 6-7 months, and do feel that I have at least to some extend managed to be integrated into the society here. Off course, I’m far from being an Indian, but I’m not anymore a stranger who knows nothing about India and one that no-one know about. I have divided the adaption into five different phases, as shown in the figure below. This is nothing scientific, and the drawing and phases are all defined by me. There are probably people who would argue and say that the phases should be fewer or more or contain different things. But here we go.

Level 0: Before moving – This is the first level of adaption to a new culture. It happens when you still are in your home country and think about moving. Many people never get further than this level. I think I was myself in phase for about 2 years before the move finally happened! At this level you will probably read a lot and seek information about the place where you are planning to go. Maybe you have advisers around you who suggest what you should do, and also even what not to do. And you will start to do some of all the paperwork that always has to happen before moving abroad. Some people even take some short trips to the place where they are planning to move to. I do seriously think that your later success or failure will depend a lot on what you do in this phase. Before I moved to India, I had been there three times as a tourist and had read about 20 books of the country. So at least I know something about what I was going to.

Level 1: Getting there – Then the big day has come. You are moving. In my adaption ladder, I think that this phase is from about one week before you move to maybe a month or two after you have arrived in the new place. This is when the culture chock is the biggest! It can off course take more time also. You know nothing about how everything is, and most things seem like problems. When I look back, I can think about issues like having a snake in my bathroom, a lot of problems to get a flat and papers done and things like that. When you are at this stage and everything feels like shit, I think there are two things that are very important. Friends and patience. Make sure you have friends who can help you in your new situation. Friends here can be anything from colleagues who does things for you to agents who are paid to help or people at home who helps. I will highly recommend anyone who has a chance to get a “buddy” who can help you around. I did not have anything like that and was very dependent on the help I could get from different colleagues. Patience is the other thing I really think is important here. It takes time to settle in any country. I do have foreign friends in Norway and they say that things take time also there. In India, most things take time, so to get through all the formalities is something that will surely take time. And some frustration will probably be just a port of it…

Level 2: Finding your way around – When you have settled around, you should be able to climb to the next stage of adaption, the one where you are able to find your way around. By “way around” I don’t just think literary, but also about how to handle the everyday issues like shopping, cleaning, getting post and all other things. I don’t think I can pinpoint when this happen to me, but I do remember the first time I had been some distance away from home and were able to tell the auto driver where to go (they usually don’t know small places that well). That was a huge relief! The best tip on how to get to here as early as possible to be open minded. You really have to break down some of the personal barriers you might have. Dare to walk around in areas where you are not that known! Maybe not a good advantage everywhere and for everyone, but I think that in a place like Mumbai that is no problem to do. Go on excursions and be just curious about everything around you.

Level 3: Thrive in the new culture – This is probably where I’m now. I do feel that I have some friends in the new culture. Surely I manage to get around, and the day-to-day issues are mostly easy to overcome. One issue when you are at this level is that things are maybe sometimes a bit boring. You don’t feel that you are seeing as much new things as often and as quickly as you would like. The everyday life is, well, a bit like everyday life at home. But I guess this is what you have been striving for at the previous levels, so it’s probably a good thing to be here. I do surely feel like that.

Level 4: Integration – When you are fully integrated, you feel that you are surely one among the bunch of people. You don’t “stick out” anymore. I’m not sure if it is possible for everyone to reach this level in each culture. In some way a person who looks different will always stick out. And you will always have some ballast from your own society that makes this last step quite difficult to achieve. And probably it is also a question about whether you really like to be that much integrated or not. If you plan to stay on for as long as possible, then it might make sense, but if you know for sure that you will move on quite soon, than you might not want this full integration.

Not that before you get to a new level, you might get some setbacks. You feel that things are going smooth and feel ready for the next step, but then something happen that is not so good. I think for me, this typically happened just after I came back to India after having been one week in Norway.  At that point of time, I thought that I had come some distance, but again had to go through some pain with auto drivers and things like that.

So, that’s my adaption ladder. What are your experiences and viewpoints?

Talk to you soon!


2 thoughts on “Adaption ladder

  1. Karsten,
    I’ve been following your blog for about a month now. I’m an American moving to Mumbai from Brasilia, Brazil in late July. Figure it’s about time for me to write you a note. Reading about the different levels of cultural adaptation have reminded me about my life in Brazil and also when I lived in Korea. Just as you said, you do move up the steps but then an event or trip home happens and you seem to stumble back down a bit. Your point about friendships and support is huge. If those relationships are strong, then those stumbles aren’t quite to tough on you. You have to learn that even though staying in might be what you think you need, a night out for dinner or drinks with friends is what helps you get back on track again. Keep writing as it helps me to learn more about my new home. All the best, Megan

    • Hi Megan

      Thanks a lot for your comment! I do really look forward to meet you when you came here to Mumbai. It seems like you have lived all over the world, so it will be very interesting to learn about your experience from living at all different places.



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