Culture shock is much more than a fleeting feeling of homesickness. A prolonged bout of culture shock can have serious implications for your mental health and can seriously jeopardize the success of your expatriate assignment. Here are seven tops for avoiding culture shock and dealing with it in the event that the dreaded anxiety does arise.
1) Keep an open mind
Right from the start you need to acknowledge the fact that you have moved to a different country and that life in that country will be different from that you experienced at home. Even if you have moved somewhere relatively close to your home country, like elsewhere in Europe, things will not be the same. The key to handling this in a manner that doesn’t impact your mental wellbeing is to ensure that you accept that just because things are different does not mean that they are not as good. Try and withhold judgment and embrace the life you find as you find it. Keeping an open mind will allow you to learn more and, through time, you will develop a better understanding of your new home.
2) Learn the language
This is something that any regular reader of our blog will know we bleat on about a lot. Learning enough of the local language to attempt to communicate with the locals will help you to feel much less of an outsider and will present you with a challenge that will help to take your mind off the things you are missing from home. The local people you meet will have more respect for you if you at least try and speak one or two words in their native language and attempting the lingo may open new doors and relationships to you.
3) Face your fears
If you are feeling overwhelmed and out of your depth it can be very tempting to stay behind closed doors, tune into international television and pretend the outside world does not exist. This will get you nowhere fast. Get out and about and explore. The more you get to grips with a location, the more you will start to feel at home and this will help you to feel comfortable and secure.
4) Try and establish a routine
Chances are that your life has been completely turned upside down by your move overseas and you are bound to feel unsettled. Try and achieve a new sense of stability by establishing a daily routine. This will help to counter any feelings of anxiousness and will get you a feeling of security.
5) Stay positive
If you suddenly find yourself in a social situation that bemuses you, you make a cultural gaffe or have a stressful day trying to buy products in the local market try not to take it all too seriously. Laugh it off; tomorrow is another day and things will get easier with time.
Don’t sweep your feelings under the carpet. Take time to reflect on how you are feeling and some of the emotions you are experiencing. Start a blog or a journal to record your journey and try and identify the areas of your life that you are not happy with and methods of dealing with them. For example, if you are missing people from home with whom you feel you have something in common, you may decide to join expat groups or communities where you will meet like-minded people. Think about your problems but don’t dwell on them; find ways to deal with them.
7) Get involved
Join as many clubs and local communities as you can. Whether you decide to pursue the passions you enjoyed in your home country or wish to start new hobbies, getting involved in different activities will allow you to make new friends, potentially with both locals and fellow foreigners (who will relate to what you’re going through).
Don’t let culture shock ruin your time abroad. Be brave, face up to your emotions and do everything you can to embrace your new life.