Working abroad: How to get over the Culture Shock
Even for the most hardened adventurers it is not easy to leave family, friends and familiar culture behind. After a while their absence can be felt dearly. Experiences can not be shared with the same persons you were used to sharing everything with, and the home front has a limited understanding of your new situation which they don’t visualize.
Many people who move abroad experience what is commonly referred to as “culture shock”, usually after an initial period of adjustment to the new culture. Suddenly you are subjected to a different language, unwritten and unspoken rules of behaviour, and an entirely new life environment. Your reference criteria have disappeared and the most basic assumptions you had about daily life no longer apply.
About 2/3rd of persons moving abroad are “rejectors”. They are not able to settle, withdraw in a protected environment and after a while return home. A very small minority fully integrates.
Culture shock occurs in various stages which are experienced differently by each person. It doesn’t hurt to know in which phase you are.
Before your departure you feel a form of euphoria and enthusiasm for the new adventure. This first stage continues once you have set foot in your new surroundings. Everything is new and you want to taste it all. However, after a while you begin to miss facets of your original culture. Not just food or tangible items but also behaviour, attitude, scents or music.
This is a sign that you are entering the second stage, in which you reject the culture of your new country. Whether you feel irritated or frustrated with the little things “the locals” do, or even anger, you begin to step back. Soon, everything is bad: the time it takes to get a seat in a restaurant, the banking system or mail delivery.
Only once you sufficiently master the local language, culture and habits –after you gave yourself a fair chance to learn about these first hand– so that you can understand most aspects of daily life without too much explanation will you reach the third stage, that of acceptance.
The same culture shock occurs when you return to your home country after a few years. Both you and your country have evolved, each in a different way, and acceptance becomes even more difficult after you longed so much for your “old country”. If you then don’t reach the stage of acceptance you become a wanderer. To avoid that you must confront yourself and the shock.
You can try to see your situation in perspective. You can define your expectations for yourself, with as little space for miscommunication as possible. If your goal is to stay in the country you should avoid retreating in that ivory tower – you moved to the country to settle there, to pursue a career, family life or achieve an ideal. Consequently, you have to deal with all aspects of the local culture. Being open and active to accept your new culture will eventually help you feel less like a foreigner.
These facts are coined by August G. Minke, the author of “Working abroad”.