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How to adjust to a new culture

by ExpatInfo
5 Oct 2018

If you have ever moved overseas, you’ll undoubtedly have encountered some form of culture shock.

Literally speaking, the term culture shock applies to the feeling of disorientation, by someone experiencing a sudden and unfamiliar way of life. As an expat, you will have experienced a culture shock on some level. The loss of social support networks, the ability to easily communicate, a change in routine and the general feeling of being far away from home can all contribute to feeling a state of shock.

The 4 phases of culture shock

According to one study[i], “culture shock” can be categorised into a “W-Curve”. This is divided into four different areas: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance. On the up-trend, you enter the “honeymoon” period; hope for a new life and excitement for what your new country may bring. On the down-trend, you start to self-doubt, feel confused in this new country and too far out of your comfort zone. This leads to what is known as the “culture shock” and continues in this pattern of adjustment, shock and acceptance.

Everyone deals with these stages differently, as the order and impact can vary enormously. Culture is like an iceberg; the area visible above the surface is just a small part of a culture, yet below the surface unwritten social rules can cause cultural barriers that can impact an expat’s everyday life.

But don´t worry, here´s a checklist to help you adjust to a new culture.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings: Understand that living overseas is a big deal! You will feel anxious, probably a little insecure and it can be overwhelming. Give yourself a break and know that it is ok and normal to feel this way.
  1. Keep an open mind: Becoming more flexible and keeping an open mind will help you to see everything from a different perspective and it will be easier to adapt. Learning some key phrases in the local language will help you and is always greeted warmly, no matter what country you are in.
  1. Never compare: There will be differences in every aspect of your expat life, compared to what you had back at home. It won’t help you to settle in your new country. Instead, see the differences as an exciting opportunity.
  1. Keep busy: Keep looking forward, fill your schedule and you won’t have time to find the negatives. Start a new hobby, enjoy the activities you couldn´t do back in your country, travel around….
  2. Positive thinking: Life is an adventure, so they say! This is your opportunity to embrace new experiences, meet new people, immerse yourself in a new culture. The list is endless. Keep the positive vibes and have fun.

Share your comments and experiences of culture shock in the comments below.

[i] Hofeenburger, K., Mosier, R., & Stokes, B. (1999) Transition experience

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