You may have always wanted to live or work abroad, and when you think back on your time as an expat, it could be a highlight of your life. But after the move, initially a culture shock can often make life difficult.
What is culture shock?
In today's modern world, we often use the term "culture shock" lightly, forgetting that these are psychological difficulties that many people deal with when they are in an unfamiliar place. Canadian anthropologist Kalervo Oberg defined culture shock as an occupational disease of people suddenly transplanted abroad. Like most illnesses, give them their own symptoms, causes and a cure.
The culture shock phases
Like many psychological illnesses, culture shock usually involves several phases. Some people experience these stages of culture shock in a straightforward manner. For others, the sequence and timing may vary. Regardless of how and when you experience culture shock, you can take steps to mitigate the effects so that it passes.
For most emigrants, there are four phases during culture shock:
This phase occurs at the beginning of life abroad. Everything is new and exciting and you think the move abroad was the best decision of your life. Chances are you will quickly settle into your new role and spend your days exploring your new environment. This phase of culture shock can last days, weeks or even months.
If you have experience spending a vacation in other countries, you may have already experienced this phase. It usually starts with something small, z. B. you can't find a place, you can't understand someone, or you can't find public transportation. This can escalate when you're dealing with practical matters like registering your child for school or dealing with authorities.
In this phase you may feel homesick for the first time and long for the comfort and familiarity of your home country. During this phase of culture shock, emigrants may also experience depression.
The best thing about the crisis phase: It often does not last long. Over time, you will become more comfortable in your new environment. This is the adjustment phase. It may start with something small, z. B. Successfully order a meal at a restaurant in the local language. After a few weeks or months, you may already be conversing at length with a customer or work colleague in the local vernacular.
In this phase, you begin to adapt to the new culture. This may mean bringing snacks if you are waiting in line for a long time, or leaving early to catch public transportation on time. As a rule, you will no longer be bothered so much by the things you were annoyed about before.
Eventually, months or years after your move, you reach the acceptance phase. Now you feel comfortable in your new cultural environment. That doesn't mean you agree with how things work in your new home, but you have found ways to adapt and realize that you don't have to understand everything to work and live there successfully.
Although culture shock is a process, it can be challenging when you have to take care of many things at once. There are methods you can use to work around feelings that come with culture shock.
Tips to avoid culture shock
Find out about the phases of culture shock. If you are not yet on your way to your assignment, you are ahead of the curve. There are two methods that are considered helpful. Planning ahead plays an important role in reducing stress. In addition, it is easier to find solutions if we are aware of a potential problem beforehand.
Learn about your new culture. Read as much as you can about it, ask other people posted abroad or read forums on the subject. Don't just deal with the easy issues, but also the details that will impact your everyday life, z. B.:
- How do the people there greet each other?
- What to wear?
- How and when people eat there?
- At what time of day do people visit each other?
- What kind of physical contact is allowed or not allowed in public?
Understanding such information before you start your deployment will help you avoid unintentional mistakes when you arrive at your destination.
When you arrive:
Stay optimistic: tell yourself you will enjoy the experience and think from one day to the next. This has been shown to have a positive effect while you are settling in abroad.
Embrace the new culture: Even if there are things you struggle with, try not to measure them against your own. Instead, accept them as different and do your best to adjust.
Social support: studies have shown that people with friends to rely on in stressful situations cope significantly better than people who don't have friends. If you're newly relocated abroad, you may not have a social network in your new home yet. In this case, try to stay in touch with friends and family back home to share how you are feeling.
Living abroad can be challenging, but with good preparation and optimism, it's a highlight in your career. If you need additional support to adjust, make sure your international health insurance plan includes an expat support program. Here's how to access professional help if needed.