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.
Dealing With Culture Shock When Working Abroad
However, for those new to working abroad, here are a few tips to help mitigate the effects of culture shock:
Get To Know The Culture
While you may have aversion to seeming too much like a tourist in your new home, one of the best things you can do before moving abroad is preparing as much as you can in advance. Reach out to your social networks to see who you know that has spent time in your destination country. Consult guidebooks, history books, expat blogs, YouTube videos – anything that you feel will give you better insight into your new home.
Make A List Of The Positives
Remain positive through your transition process. One way to ensure you do this is to keep a list of what you are most looking forward to and why you are moving. Follow this with a list of what you are looking forward to leaving behind. In times of stress, having written reminders of your initial excitement will help you recall your reasons for relocating and that your home country wasn’t perfect either.
In times of stress, it is most important to be patient – with yourself, your family, your coworkers, and your new “normal”. Experiencing culture shock is a normal reaction to such a significant transition. Placing high expectations on yourself to have “adjusted” by a certain point in your transition will only exacerbate your stress.
When In Rome, Do As The Romans Do
Despite any advance preparation, you may still find yourself in situations where you simply do not know how to act. This, too, is perfectly normal. Instead of internalizing any sense of failure, follow the lead of your foreign counterparts. You may, in fact, discover that your initial naiveté will make a great story in the future.
Know That You Don’t Have To Stay
Many expats often feel that once they have moved, they have to stay despite their continued unhappiness. The most successful expats enter their new country without the expectation. It is viewed that their move is permanent. There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying something new to only find out later that it isn’t for you. Before you leave there are a few things to remember. Remember to tell your friends, family, and, even, yourself, you will stay for as long as it makes you happy, whether that is three weeks or three years.
While moving to a new country is daunting in many ways, it can be equally rewarding. Many expatriates, despite the challenges they face, ultimately find their relocation to be a positive experience. Provide yourself time to really think through your decision. There is a great possibility that you will look back and say moving, whether it was a success or failure, was one of the most rewarding things you ever did.
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