Five Stages of Acculturation

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I have been in Bethel a couple of months. When I first arrived, experiencing a new culture was exciting, and I felt as though I had found a culture that was superior to the one in which I was raised. That was a couple of months ago. Now all I can see are deficiencies, inefficiencies, and backwardness. What is happening to me? Am I depressed?

Answer: It is very common for people to experience some of the feelings you are experiencing when moving from one culture to another. In fact, someone moving from a village, or even from Bethel, to a large city is likely to go through a similar experience.

Shepherd L. Whitman, in a booklet called, “Some Factors Influencing Communication Between Cultures,” published by the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors more than thirty years ago described five stages people go through when they live in a culture foreign to them.

I will attempt to describe the stages of acculturation, and hopefully it will be helpful to you.

1. Enthusiastic Acceptance. When you first arrived, everything was new, and you were experiencing a great deal of novelty. All cultures are made up of a compilation of both good and bad characteristics. You may have been attracted to how people still subsist off the land and overlooked some of the more troubling statistics, such as alcoholism, child abuse, suicide rate, etc. It’s little bit like dating and the honeymoon. You saw only the good in him, or her. Somehow, you just overlooked the flaws.

2. Doubt and Reservation. The novelty begins to fade and you begin to recognize that the culture is not as perfect as you thought it was upon arrival. The absence of certain conveniences may be aggravating. You may have experienced what felt like prejudice toward you. What you actually are feeling is tension between the familiar and unfamiliar. This takes its toll and you may be withdrawing, rather than reaching out.

3. Resentment and Criticism. It is at this point visitors to a new culture begin to see buildings as dilapidated, people as unlearned, and workers as incompetent. If you are unaware of what’s happening, you may alienate those who could eventually become your friends. It might be best to think of yourself as a guest in someone else’s home during this stage. How would I treat the host, even if I didn’t like everything about the home setting?

4. Adjustment. Fortunately, most people don’t get stuck in the Resentment and Criticism stage, and make the necessary adjustments. During the adjustment stage the newcomer recognizes that the unhappiness and critical attitudes that he or she has been experiencing are due to difficulties adjusting, rather than deficiencies in the newfound culture.

5. Accommodation and Evaluation. During this stage, the newcomer acquires a degree of comfort in the new culture, makes friends from the new culture, and begins to enjoy the experience.

Unfortunately, there are some who get stuck in one of the middle stages. These individuals will likely move on to another culture, or return to the culture from whence they came.

I trust the awareness of the process of acculturation will be helpful to you. It has been very helpful to me through the years.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].