Culture shock is a fact of expatriate life and will be experienced by the majority of people who decide to move abroad. It may not happen straight away, as the initial excitement can mask the signs but it is likely to occur at some point in the process.
Ignoring culture shock is not the best approach to dealing with it and there are a number of ways to tackle it, starting with preemptive action. Here is a guide to some of the ways in which you can minimise the impact of culture shock and get on with enjoying the expat way of life.
Since just about everyone experiences culture shock it is safe to assume that you will be the same. Be prepared and pack some familiar items from home to help ease your transition into your new surroundings.
It is often difficult to take large amounts of personal belongings with you when moving abroad so pack carefully. Choose a few things that have a reassuring effect on you. They could be photographs, a small gift from a friend or even a silly souvenir that reminds you of a fun trip with loved ones.
Do your research before you leave, so differences between the culture you have left at home and your adopted country are less of a shock. If you are expecting them then they will seem less alien and strange.
This also extends to planning your move for the right time of year. If a country is prone to extreme monsoon downpours or heavy snowfall at a certain time of year this can be quite disconcerting. Try to set the date of departure for when the weather is at its most pleasant.
Learn the language
Many people find that it is not totally necessary to learn the local language of the place they are moving to in order to get by. But you will find that it helps you integrate and understand your new country much more easily.
Even just a few common words will help you to open doors and make new friends and lead onto learning more. Being about to read street signs, posters and make small talk will all help you to fit in. So try to start the process early in order to have a good basis to build on before moving.
Identify the stages
Doctors will tell you that patients like to have a diagnosis as it helps them deal with a condition and the same goes for culture shock. Identifying the symptoms can really help and most cases follow a similar pattern incorporating four distinct stages.
On arriving in a country the majority of new expats experience a honeymoon period in which everything is new and exciting. They feel a sense of euphoria, but if this happens to you do not necessarily think you have beaten the dreaded culture shock. This stage can come to an end suddenly.
In its place is disenchantment, where the quirky differences that were fun at first lead to frustration. Be buoyed by the fact that the resentment you feel towards your new country will generally pass if you don't give up.
The third stage is more gradual as it will see you start to adjust to the changes and learn to live with them. Eventually you will even find many aspects of your new life better than those you left behind.
By the fourth stage you have accepted your adopted country and the way of life it represents. This is your new world and it is amazing how quickly some people feel comfortable and adapted.
Being aware of which stage you are in will help, but try not to dwell on it too much. Talk to other more experienced expats about the culture shock they initially felt and you will find yourself less alone.
While many people moving abroad are in a new job give yourself the personal time to adjust too. Going to social events and exploring your new home are just as important as settling into the office, so don't let yourself think it is self indulgent.
Not all moves abroad are permanent and while many people expect culture shock when they move to a foreign country, fewer anticipate it when they return to their native country. Despite this it is quite a common experience.
While you have been off enjoying a new life you may find that nothing has changed at home, which can be unsettling. Friends and family expect you to fit into the life you led before, even if this was five, ten or even 15 years ago.
Alternatively, things could have changed and those you were close to moved away or different from how you remember. Be sure to give yourself the same time and consideration when returning home as you did when you first moved away.
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