Are you embarking on a new adventure? Whether you are moving abroad for your job, for love or to open a new business, living in a foreign country can be a rewarding but also frustrating and overwhelming experience.
Everyone who moves abroad experiences culture shock to a different degree. How much culture shock will affect you and how long it will take you to adjust depends on many factors – how much the culture in your host country differs from that in your home country, how much planning you do in advance, your mindset when you move, etc.
There are several steps you can take to help ease your transition. First, if you can, take a fact-finding trip to your new city or country before you move. Especially if you’ve never been to the country before, this trip will help you test the waters and gain some first impressions. You could even try to meet other expatriates living there, either through your new job or through an expat network, to get questions answered about where to live, where to send your kids to school, safety concerns, the best way to transport your household goods, etc.
The language barrier can also stop you from enjoying your expat life to its fullest. If possible, start learning the local language before your departure. Without knowledge of the local language, even if the majority of the population speaks English or another language you are fluent in, you will still be keeping yourself from fully adapting to the local culture.
If you will be starting a new job abroad, you should also read up on the local business etiquette and customs to avoid making any embarrassing faux pas on the first day of your new job.
When you first arrive, you should take time to explore your new neighbourhood on foot and the surrounding area by car or public transportation. If you move abroad and rush right into a demanding job, be sure to try to find a healthy work-life balance that gives you the time you need to adapt to your new surroundings.
No matter how much advance preparation you do, however, there is no avoiding at least a bit of culture shock. At the beginning, most people experience a honeymoon phase, where everything is fun, new and exciting.
Then as you get settled in to a routine, those same things you first found exciting may just be annoying or frustrating and lead to a feeling of alienation. If you keep an open mind, however, and make an effort to learn more about the local culture, you should then enter a recovery phase, where you regain the sense of appreciation you first had when you moved abroad.
The final stage of culture shock is adaptation, when you can fully realise and understand the differences between your home country and host country. You find that you can accept these differences, which will lead you to gain more confidence and tolerance. This is when you will really start to feel at home in your new city.
Unfortunately, some people stay in the rejection phase, and don’t make any effort to appreciate the uniqueness of the local culture. Of course, it is easiest to meet other expats, who you can share your similar experiences with. It is also important to mingle with the locals, however, so don’t get stuck in the expat bubble!
If you are working, these locals could be your colleagues or other people you meet through professional networking groups. Otherwise, you can also meet locals through your children’s school, community clubs and organizations or volunteering groups.
Being an expat can be very rewarding, allowing you to expand your worldview and fully appreciate the pros and cons of a different culture. With this new cultural knowledge, you can then also look at your own culture from an outsider’s perspective, which can be a very eye-opening experience.
(Photo: Piotr Lewandowski)