Relocating to a new country, for either work or pleasure, can be an exciting time. Yet, it can also be a period of stress, where learning to navigate a new culture, tackle a different environment, and overcome a language barrier, can lead to emotional, mental and physical tensions.
These tensions are known as the ‘culture shock’.
In order to help expats adjust to their new home, and even avoid a culture shock altogether, this article explores useful methods for dealing with the symptoms, and tips on how to acclimatise yourself before, and during, relocation.
What is Culture Shock?
Culture shock is the feeling of displacement that often surfaces within long-term travellers and expats which can leave them with a sense of anxiety, nervousness or isolation.
At first, culture shock symptoms are generally mild feelings of excitement which are akin to the ‘honeymoon phase’. These can last anything from a few days to numerous weeks but often end with feelings of anxiousness and confusion leading to the ‘frustration phase’.
After this there is a period known as the ‘adjustment phase’. During this stage expats begin to feel more comfortable with their new surroundings – communication and navigation is less fraught with anxiety and stress.
Finally, there comes the ‘acceptance phase’. At this point expats begin to feel more attuned to the new culture and have a greater understanding of the people and place.
Of course, not everyone will feel all of these emotions, or experience every phase of a culture shock, however, with forward planning, and a little hard work before relocation, the settling in period can be a time of excitement and novelty to be enjoyed rather than endured!
The following tips will help you minimise, or avoid, the culture shock if you’re relocating.
1. Planning, Research and Cultural Awareness
The ease with which we can now research topics of interest on the internet means that forward planning is more straightforward than it once was.
We can search a country, or region, and find out a myriad of things before ever setting foot there.
Consider using resources such as Google Maps which will give you a street view of any area, or Google Earth for a more general overview.
Spend time researching the cultural aspects of your new destination such as, the simple dos and don’ts, food and local dining, tipping etiquette, religious beliefs, and so on.
Cultural awareness of your destination will make settling in there far easier and less awkward in social circles.
Consider taking a course that covers topics such as, communicating in a multicultural environment (if you are relocating for work) and, of course, it is worth taking a language course to brush up on your linguistic skills.
Don’t forget to consider important details such as passports, visas, banking, and health insurance, which should all be organised in advance of travel.
2. Visit and Make Connections
One informal way you can limit the culture shock effect is by familiarising yourself with the country you are moving to, and make new acquaintances there, through visiting before relocating.
Even a weekend is sometimes enough to remove the feelings of unfamiliarity which often comes with relocating.
Where possible give yourself time to explore your new surroundings before starting work. Make sure you know the way to local shops, your doctor’s surgery, and pharmacy as in this way you’ll be familiar with essential places.
Making new acquaintances can seem a little more daunting than finding your way around a new area, but it can happen in a relatively short space of time.
Chat to potential neighbours, ask questions of local store owners and restaurant staff, and look out for any clubs you might have an interest in joining such as, drama or charity groups.
There are many large expat communities around the globe, especially in places such as the United Arab Emirates, France and Australia. If you have a large expat community near you it is worth looking locally for expat ‘hotspots’, where they often gather, and giving yourself the chance to chat to a few of them.
It is also worth remembering that it is very easy now to keep in touch with family and friends who are back home, or far away. Social media sites such as, Instagram and Facebook, offer easy ways to communicate with people who are thousands of miles away, while options like Skype allow for video chats and messages.
3. Language and Communication
Language can be one of the main stumbling blocks when it comes to the culture shock. If you are struggling to communicate with people around you then you’re likely to feel more isolated and out of touch.
Taking the time to learn at least the language basics of the country you are moving to will mean that you can ask directions, be polite, or communicate your requirements. It will also mean that local people are more inclined to help you as they’ll usually appreciate you made an effort to speak their language.
You don’t need to be fluent when you arrive but the more you are able to say, the better you’ll fit in with the local community.
These tips don’t guarantee you won’t experience a little homesickness or culture shock moment every now and then, but they will help you to understand your new surroundings and people, and give you the best chance of settling in successfully.
If you require any help with relocation topics or cultural awareness course please contact us at Creative Word and we’ll be happy to help.