Moving to a new country will generally transpire to be one of the biggest experiences of your life. You’ll meet new people, see new places and get a taste of how other cultures and their people live. This unique phenomenon is often referred to as Culture Adjustment or Culture Shock, and may be experienced in differing degrees that may cause temporary disorientation.
Due to unfamiliarity in such areas as language, your environment, isolation from traditional comfort zones of home, family and friends and establishing your new networks can cause frustration and may make you feel uncomfortable until you have adjusted in your new environment.
There is a positive outcome for most transferees in their new country of residence however the situation will generally transform into a great experience. Many expats are so initially consumed by the overwhelming task of readjustment that the big picture appears bleak. What they may not be aware of is that Culture Adjustment has own stages, Honeymoon, Deflation, Adjustment and Adaption.
As odd as these phases may sound it is important that you are able to recognise the stages and deal with them appropriately so as to maximise not only your gratification of living in another country but also to prevent it from affecting your work, ability to enjoy, and relationship life.
You’re in a new country, absorbing the culture and enjoying everything your new environment has to offer. What could go wrong? The honeymoon stage of living abroad causes you to have a romanticised idea of what it is to be living out of your comfort zone, people often fall in love with the food and often environs, or the different paced life style of its inhabitancy. However, where there are highs inevitably will be lows.
It’s when you start noticing the differences between your traditional or previously adopted culture and the culture that you’re living amongst does the honeymoon stage fade. Anxieties may arise, leading to frustration and feelings of ineffectiveness. Events that have a negative effect on your life (be it a bad day at your new workplace or home, or the seeming inability to buy a travel card, or misconstrued rudeness of a local) can cause you to make somewhat negative judgements where you normally wouldn’t. It doesn’t need to be ‘big events’ that can skew your cultural appreciation. It could be anything from the traffic systems, right down to whether or not you have access to your favourite meal.
Such random events may cause you at times to feel lonely, disconnected and out of place in your new society. In addition, communication barriers are high on the list of causing frustration, learning a new language, having a lack of colloquialisms, slang or making verbal faux pas can all attribute to how you feel and may temporarily hinder your progress in forming new relationships. Remember, as you travel abroad the difference in speech becomes apparent (and we’re not just talking about a new language altogether), this can mean changes in cadence, language logic and a phenomenon called ‘false friends’.
Though there is no exact approach to deal with Culture Adjustment, there are that will assist in managing feelings; the most effective being a course in Cultural Training, which may include advice and guidance that will support you, such as.
- Establishing your new routines as soon after arrival as possible
- Arranging participation in activities that you find enjoyable and to become involved with those that relate to you own special interests
- Keeping abreast of home changes as you will possibly return there one day!
- Setting realistic expectations
- Becoming aware of country, city, norms, language, and host of relevant details that will ease your transition
- Utilising technology to help you reach an understanding of how you are feeling and then act positively to overcome this stage of Cultural Adjustment.
As time passes, you will become more and more accustomed to the social and everyday customs around you, and more in tune with your newly adopted culture which will gradually replace the feeling of being disconnected and alone. You’ll start to feel normal again! Where before the language barrier imposed a varying degree of difficulty to communicate you now have a grasp on the dialect and can even start to put your problem solving skills to use within this new culture. Before where things may have appeared ‘chaotic’ they are now making sense and you start to respond to the new culture appropriately and with acceptance, and hopefully with appreciation.
Last of all comes the mastery stage of Cultural Adjustment and you’re feeling effectively adapted to your new surroundings and culture. This doesn’t mean that that you’re totally converted to the new way of living, more in the sense that while you are now comfortable with your environment you still retain your own cultural identity in your unique personality and traits such as accent, and social behaviour.
While Cultural Shock may not affect everyone in the same way, for those who do experience the phenomenon it is important to know that there are options available to help you along the way, and you should not be afraid to seek support. Expatriation is a personal lifestyle opportunity for each family member of the family!
We hope you’ll reap rich rewards from your experiences – whether they initially appear challenging, later to Transform into a wonderful encounter in your life, or you adapt enthusiastically from the beginning.
Never forget that Cultural Adjustment is usually a temporary phenomenon and professional help or mentoring through friends will ease your way!