5 R's of Culture Change


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One way of thinking about the cultural adaptation process is The 5Rs of Culture Change. Experiencing ups and downs in a new culture is normal. This model helps explain why these ups and downs are happening, why these changes affect us the way they do and what individuals can do to handle the transition process. Of course, keeping in mind that we are all unique and not everyone experiences all these changes or reacts negatively to them.


  • All the things we do normally do on auto-pilot require more focus and attention. Different food at different times of day, how do you flush the toilet, take the bus, grocery shop, etc.
  • Low-grade stress/anxiety, more tired, don’t feel as “anchored”
  • Strategies: create new routines as quickly as possible, realize that things will take more time initially, do things that help you relax.


  • We do things we normally do, but get a very different reaction (not leaving a tip).We realize something is amiss, but not sure what. Feel confused and uncertain, less competent.
  • We may withdraw or isolate ourselves or become critical of how others do things.
  • Strategies: learn about culture, find people (RAs!) who can help you make sense of others’ reactions, remind self of what good at.


  • Role change (the foreigner, the German) creates mixed emotions.
  • New roles can be exciting and/or upsetting.
  • Strategies: teach others about your culture, accept new roles.


  • May accelerate, especially with the people with whom we transition (similar to new freshman American students), but we may drift from relationships back home.
  • New relationships can be very exciting and enriching, but may worry about other relationships back home. Loss of support system. Sense of satisfaction as we ultimately build new support system.
  • Strategies: Determine relationships important to maintain back home and prioritize. Be proactive in building new relationships.

Reflections About Yourself

  • Defining ourselves and growing changing in new environment. We may pick up new gestures and habits, value certain things about new culture.
  • May shift between being critical and accepting of new culture. Explore identity questions: Who am I?, What’s most important to me? Where am I at home?
  • Strategies: Acknowledge that these changes and reflections are normal. Share and seek support from others who may have faced similar situations in the past.