Moving abroad for work, fun, or travel is often seen as a transcendental and enlightening experience. After all, you’re going to learn about rich histories, meet interesting locals, and completely immerse yourself in a new culture, right?
Well, not always. The truth is that moving abroad comes with challenges, including the difficulty of embracing and living in a new culture that may directly contradict the one you grew up in.
Enter: culture shock, feeling disoriented when exposed to a conflicting way of life, set of feelings, or culture.
Whether you clash with the country’s traditions, lack clarity around its customs, or feel the nagging dread of homesickness, culture shock could be the culprit of many issues while living abroad – but there are ways to combat it.
Preventing Culture Shock
If you have yet to move to a new destination, do your future self a favor by preparing for and preventing culture shock before it happens. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving 100 miles away or 10,000 – the possibility of feeling out of place, lost, or incompatible with those around you exists with any move.
Since a good offense is the best defense, prevent culture shock by learning the language, rules, and traditions of the location where you’re moving. You should also preemptively connect with locals – both native and foreigners – to set up your support and social systems before you arrive.
Learn the Language
If you’re embracing a country that doesn’t share your native tongue, don’t jump in empty-handed. Start to learn the language as early as you can.
This doesn’t mean you need to take intensive courses or learn to discuss Shakespearean poems with advanced vocabulary; start by learning the basic greetings, questions, and phrases you’ll need to get around day-to-day.
Many online websites can pair you with native speakers for reasonable hourly costs. You can also use free apps like Duolingo to nail the basics.
Know the Rules
When it comes to laws and regulations, every county, province, state, and city is its own world. You may chew gum every day in England but get fined for doing so in Singapore. Drinking wine in the street is commonplace in Brazil, but it could land you in jail in UAE. Don’t assume an activity is allowed until you confirm it with research and observation – especially if it’s controversial.
Learning about rules, laws, and legislation is best done online through official government websites and videos. You may also access helpful legal tips by reaching out to the country’s embassy in your home country.
Being exposed to a region’s traditions before visiting can prepare you for something otherwise shocking as well as excite you for an experience like no other. There are all types of traditions out there, ranging from somber events to full-out festivals that span several days without interruption.
Some of the best sources to peel back the layers of local traditions are blogs and websites from foreigners that are currently living in said place. YouTube videos could also put the events into perspective, as well as the specific city’s events calendar; although the latter is often in another language and may be unclear.
Connect with Locals
One of the best ways to prevent culture shock is to learn what to look out for from someone who has previously experienced it. Reach out to one or more persons, explain your intention to move, and ask them for advice regarding assimilation, things to know, or general tips they wish they knew before relocating there. You’d be surprised at the wealth of information one person can share just from experience!
Begin by researching any expats or digital nomads in the area with a social media presence via channels like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, or personal blogs. Certain apps, like MeetUp, may also be an opportunity to join a group that shares your interests or origin.
Alternatively, you may be able to connect with other expats through a Rotary Club, language exchange, or Facebook group. You can also browse forum sites like Reddit and Quora.
Identifying Culture Shock
If you’re already within a new culture and fear you may be suffering from culture shock, you may identify with these feelings:
- Extreme homesickness
- Feeling helpless, isolated, or disoriented
- Excessive critical reactions to your host country
- And others
Dealing with Culture Shock
If you find yourself amid culture shock, combat the distressing feelings that come with it through the following four steps.
1. Adapt Your Routine
While you may want to live it up and milk the nightlife or sleep absurd hours to account for jet lag, it’s crucial to establish a steady routine as soon as possible. Not only is this indispensable for remote work, but it has also been shown to reduce stress, lessen feelings of anxiety, promote more restful sleep, and improve mental health.
Don’t assume your routine needs to be the same as back home – accounting for your new environment is also a part of adapting. For example, if your country has different meal times you may adjust your schedule accordingly.
2. Stop the Comparisons
You’ll be tempted to compare everything in your new country to your home country, but this could lead to a hopeless battle between the old and the new. Remember that you’re in a distinct place full of new experiences, which is likely one of the reasons you decided to move there in the first place!
When you find yourself comparing or feeling homesick, take a moment to think or say aloud what you appreciate about your new environment and the events you’ve experienced.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Health truly is wealth, and you won’t be able to take care of your culture shock until you first take care of your mind and body. Prioritize healthy eating, incorporate exercise into your daily or weekly routine, set aside adequate time for sleep, and pencil in the activities that help your mind reset and relax.
4. Create a Network
We’ve mentioned it before, and we’ll mention it again – creating your network abroad is crucial for battling culture shock and cashing in on your new living experience. Find a friend – or a few – that you can talk to about your worries, woes, and missing home, as well as the fun, adventure, and excitement you run into daily.
Final Thoughts on Living Abroad with Culture Shock
Almost every newcomer to a country will experience culture shock to some degree, but you don’t need to fight it alone. By preparing for your move beforehand, establishing a routine early on, prioritizing your health, networking, and curbing the comparisons, you can begin to adjust to your new life and enjoy the experience for all it’s worth.