How to Neutralize Aliyah Culture Shock

By Ariella Bracha Waldinger

Adjusting to Life in Israel

Adjusting to life in Israel follows a normal process of ups and downs. When you first arrive, you may go through a period of adjustment called “Aliyah Culture Shock.”

Wikipedia defines culture shock as “an experience a person may have when moving to a new cultural environment different from one’s own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life.”

Even though you may have visited Israel several times prior to making Aliyah, there is no way to entirely prevent culture shock. Each culture has an acceptable way of behaving that, to them, is completely normal. When faced with this new way of doing things, you may feel anything but normal. The experts explain that once culture shock is understood, its effects can be minimized.

The Culture Shock Acculturation Model

According to an acculturation model established by Kalervo Oberg in 1954, “culture shock can be described as consisting of at least one of four distinct phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaption.

  1. Honeymoon phase. During the “Honeymoon Phase,” new arrivals are excited about their surroundings and are eager to explore. They are positive and absorbed in the freshness of the experience. During this period the differences between the old and new cultures are seen in a romantic light. For example, when moving to a new country, an individual might be enamored with the new food, the locals’ habits, culture, and scenery. Initially, many olim are fascinated by the culture but like most honeymoon periods, this stage might come to an end.
  2. Negotiation phase. After a few weeks in the new country, immigrants may experience homesickness. Simple day-to-day tasks, such as taking transportation, shopping, or dealing with medical issues that arise can become a challenge in a different environment. This is sometimes exacerbated by language barriers. Excitement may eventually give way to unpleasant feelings of frustration and anger as one continues to experience challenging events.
  3. Adjustment phase. Experts suggest that after 6 to 12 months, one grows accustomed to the new culture. The daily activities become routine and the customs are accepted as another way of life. One knows what to expect in most situations and the culture no longer feels alien. Life begins to become more “normal.” One starts to develop problem-solving skills for dealing with the culture. Gaining a greater understanding of the culture creates tolerance. The negative reactions decrease.
  4. Adaption phase. At this stage, the new country has become a place from which one can learn and enrich their lives. Once new immigrants have reached this stage, the more unique their experience will become. Now immigrants can participate comfortably in the culture.
aliyah culture shock
Photo credit to Shai on Unsplash

Tips to Help You Overcome Aliyah Culture Shock

Learn the language

Learning Hebrew will help you communicate with locals and reduce misunderstandings. It will minimize the stress of your move. However, some new immigrants never learn the language fluently and enjoy fulfilled lives. Help from others is always available.

Prepare for cultural differences

The more you know about Israeli culture, the more prepared you will be for a different way of life, and the easier it will be for you to cope with new experiences. Misunderstandings due to cultural differences are a reality but can be reduced through sensitivity and lowered expectations. Unrealistic expectations create unhealthy stress and disappointment.

Be Open-minded

Be open to accepting cultural differences and alternative ways of doing things. The unfamiliar may be challenging at first but in time you will find yourself appreciating Israeli culture.

Be Patient With Your Aliyah

Adapting to a new culture and country takes time. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them as you go along. Remember, it is an on-going process.

Take a Break

It is natural to wish for things to be the way they were “back home.” When the process feels extreme, take a break by doing a familiar activity (read a book, watch a movie, or listen to music in your home language). Call a friend back home or reach out to another new immigrant. Hopefully, the shift will energize you and help you tackle new challenges as they come along.

Preparation is Everything

I hope these suggestions help you acclimate in a balanced way. Aliyah is challenging but with it comes the opportunity to expand your social circle, create new friendships, and discover a whole new world of Jewish history and meaning. The choice can ultimately be extremely rewarding on many levels. When you are prepared, the adjustment period doesn’t have to be painful, but rather, can be one of the most rewarding and interesting adventures of your life. The good news is you are moving to the Jewish homeland where customs and culture are familiar.

Mazel Tov and Good Luck!

Be sure to check out our Resources page for more information and organizations ready to help you make a smooth and successful Aliyah.

*Featured image credit to Sherioz on Pixabay

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