How to Handle Culture Shock When Moving Abroad

Dealing with culture shock can really knock the exciting experience of living abroad. You might be overwhelmed with taking in the new sights, new rules and new social practices. With our guide, you can recognise the symptoms of culture shock and find out the best ways to deal with them.

What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is what often happens when an expat or traveller lives in a new place for the first time. It can bring a sense of anxiety, alienation and even depression.

People will all experience culture shock in different ways, but it usually comes in four stages.

The first stage is known as the honeymoon stage. It’s when everything is still new and interesting. Even things that could be seen as annoying are viewed as charming. This is usually followed by the frustration stage, where you may feel more uneasy and unhappy with the new culture. There’s a tendency to blame the new culture for your sense of discomfort.

The next phase is when you start to adjust to the new culture. Things start to become easier, with day-to-day life in your new country making more sense. Activities like communicating become simpler. The final stage is when you have accepted the new culture and accepted that you might not understand everything right away. You might feel more attached to your new home and feel much more comfortable.

The Best Ways to Deal with Culture Shock

As everyone will experience culture shock differently, there’s no one sure-fire solution. However, below are some common methods which can help you overcome the negative feelings.

Learn the Language

Language barriers can be a huge problem when moving to a new country. Struggling to communicate will likely make you feel isolated, amplifying the negative feelings of culture shock.

A simple way to alleviate culture shock is to learn the language before you arrive. You might not be fluent – that will probably come once you’re immersed in the new place – but being able to communicate on a basic level will be a big help.

Do Your Research

You can help yourself become more familiar with your new country and the culture by learning as much about it before you arrive. Learn about the rules and regulations, the social etiquette and the practices that may seem odd to you but are the norm there.

There’s plenty of online resources, that can help. Expatriate Healthcare have several Expat Country and City Guides with facts and advice to help with moving to a new country. Elsewhere online you can also find articles written by expats with first-hand knowledge of the culture. If it’s possible you could take a trip to the new country before you move, so you can experience the culture for yourself in preparation for your relocation.

Meet New People

A good way to overcome the feelings of isolation and alienation that come from culture shock is to get out into the community and meet new people. Whilst this might be daunting at first, especially if you’re getting used to new social practices, immersing yourself might just be the best way to get started.

A good way to meet people is to join clubs, attend events or maybe even volunteer. Speak to your neighbours and try to find groups online so you can speak to people. Make sure to try and meet the locals as well as an expat community. Whilst expats might help you feel more at home, you might not want to get stuck in a cultural bubble.

Embrace the Culture

One of the most effective ways of overcoming culture shock is to keep an open mind. Embrace and welcome the new experiences.

Observe the locals and do as they do. You might not understand the reasoning behind certain practices, but that will come in time. By acting and interacting like the locals you’ll soon find that it becomes second nature as you adjust to the new culture.

It’s important to also pace yourself with this. You don’t need to do everything all at once. Maybe find a local dish that you enjoy, or a park in your area that you can relax in. Be patient and don’t rush yourself.

Keep Some Home Comforts

Whilst it’s good to take part in the local culture, there’s nothing wrong with keeping some home comforts. Whether it’s a TV series you’d never miss at home, or a certain type of food, make sure to find something from home that makes you happy and keep hold of it.

It’s also important to keep in touch with your friends and family back home. Whilst you’ll be meeting new people, having the familiarity of your loved ones at home will help with the isolating feelings that come with culture shock.

Seek Professional Help

If you’re really struggling with culture shock and unable to overcome the negative feelings, it might be best to speak to your health care provider to seek counselling. Speaking to someone might help you sort out your feelings so you can move forward on your journey.

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