Thinking of working abroad? There are many challenges in moving overseas. These include anything from securing a visa to learning a new language to finding a place to live. However, the greatest challenge is one that many people don’t really consider before they move - culture shock. Culture shock is about the “little” things. Anything from navigating a grocery store in a foreign language to not knowing the appropriate moment to shake hands with a business partner. These little things might not occur to you as the differences between your culture and your host’s, but instead may be subtle or overt, systemic or anecdotal. You may not even realize why a certain situation feels peculiar until long afterwards. In a world where people, services, and products cross borders cheaply, easily, and frequently, many soon-to-be-expatriates perceive the world as much more homogeneous than it is in reality. For example, there are numerous everyday social cues, from gestures to facial expressions to customs, that are either incomprehensible or absent in a new culture. For example, if you are typically very organized, you might have trouble adjusting to working in environments with relaxed scheduling procedures, wherein meetings often don’t start on time and/or are repeatedly re-scheduled. Or, if you are a woman, you may find it difficult to adjust to more patriarchal organizational structures, norms, and practices within your office. And, if you typically pride yourself on your effective communication skills, you may find that you have to explain yourself several times, several different ways to be sure your point was understood. Handling these various situations as they arise may be more difficult for some individuals than others. Typically, those who have already lived or worked abroad have confronted these situations before and have developed means of coping with their subsequent discomforts. Additionally, those who have a keen ability to see the positive side of the worst situations are often able to take these discomforts in stride.
April 19, 2013