You’ve settled into your dream job in a different country, negotiated the perfect relocation package for you and your family…so why do you feel lost, frustrated and even a bit homesick? Or maybe after initially embracing this new culture, suddenly your family are pining for home and struggling to adapt?
Culture shock happens when the familiar culture of your home country clashes with the way of life of your adopted location. We often take for granted the social and cultural norms of the country we grew up in, and only when we move away do we realise how deeply rooted these attitudes, values and customs are. When these differences don’t line up, expats can feel isolated and unsettled.
If you’re feeling this way, you are not alone – in fact, culture shock is referenced as a major factor in why international placements fail, either for the expat, their trailing spouse and/or their family. However, with support and awareness, culture shock can be a mere blip in a multicultural, mind-broadening experience. Read on for Saro Recruitment’s guide to overcoming culture shock!
The Phases of Culture Shock
1 Honeymoon Phase
You’ve arrived in your new country and you are completely infatuated by the sounds, smells and people around you! Everything is an adventure and the differences are downright exciting. This phase can last for months, so if you have a short placement you may always feel this way.
2 Frustration Phase
The frustration of constantly being misunderstood and not understanding the language, social customs and infrastructure can be exhausting. Things that were easy in your hometown, like taking a bus, ordering food or making small talk, is now a struggle. Your trailing spouse or children may also encounter these issues – while your new job is keeping you busy and social, your partner and kids may be feeling isolated. Homesickness and a longing for familiarity is very common during this stage. This phase is make or break – either you succumb to negativity and go home, or navigate past it to the next phase.
3 Adjusting Phase
You’re starting to acclimatise to the culture and the frustrating moments are lessening, luckily! You’ve got yourself a social circle, getting around isn’t as difficult, and you’re picking up the new language.
4 Acceptance Stage
You’ve accepted that you may never grasp everything about your new culture, but you have the experience and resources to settle in and feel at ease. You’ve realised that the way they do things here aren’t necessarily wrong, just different, and you’ve ploughed your own furrow.
How to Overcome Culture Shock
Culture shock may not be completely avoided, but it can be lessened by following these tried and tested tips.
Understanding the Differences
The more you learn about your new country – the cultural differences, values, manners, weather, rules of the road – the easier it will be to understand why people act and speak the way they do, and reduce misunderstandings. But you should also take the time to learn about your home country’s culture too. Are there any that you take for granted, but are actually not as common elsewhere?
Be Open Minded
You’re never too old or stuck in your ways to learn a new language, to look at a problem in another way, to make new friends from a different background, or to change your routine. Don’t isolate yourself – go out and socialise, join a club, take some classes, get a hobby. Be willing to learn and to accept other opinions and practices, even if they vary a lot from your own.
Give Yourself a Break
Don’t be so hard on yourself – it’s not easy adapting to a new way of life, and by being willing to move to another country, you’ve already shown that you aren’t afraid of a challenge. So be patient! Keep your sense of humour – the funniest stories come from misunderstandings and cultural quirks. And don’t forget to also take a break and travel around your adopted homeland, soaking in all the sights and sounds of this international experience.
20 February 2018