It's All Amazing Until It's Not...

     Ah, the excitement of finding out where you’ll be posted next!  Most of the time, it’s a happy time.  Sometimes, it’s not. Either way, it’s likely that you’ve done a lot of research on your new host nation before you arrive.  You’ve talked with your sponsor, joined expat websites, read endless articles and books and maybe even know someone who is already living there.  You feel mentally prepared to take on a new culture.

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            The first few days, weeks, and even months in a new country can be exciting and intriguing. You welcome the challenge of learning the language(s), money, driving standards, foods, & technologies.  You describe things as “interesting,” “intriguing,” and “unique.” It’s a lot to absorb, but you love it and are high on life. You may have heard this time being described as the honeymoon phase.

            But then the “newness” of the culture begins to wear off and the realities of every day life start to creep in. You start to ask yourself, “What have I done????” Things that used to be minor inconveniences are growing into serious frustrations.  To deal with the frustration, you may decide to surround yourself only with the people and things from your comfort zone.  You might be openly hostile towards your host nation.  Things that were once “interesting, intriguing and unique” are now “stupid, inconvenient, and totally pointless.” This is when you miss home the most. You want your food, friends, language, & technologies. You just want your culture. You may feel isolated, depressed, homesick and angry.  It’s possible that your sleep and eating habits have even changed.

            For many the intensity of the dislike for the new culture wanes ever so slightly over the following weeks and months.  Eventually you may take a risk and begin to try new things and make new friendships.  You find that you’re a bit more tolerant of imperfection. You may even join a social group or two. Slowly, slowly you begin to adjust to the realities of the new culture. You begin to think, “Ok, I can do this.”  There are still ups and downs, but there feels like a new stability is taking hold.

            Finally, you accept the host nation as it is.  It doesn’t mean that you completely understand it or agree with it, but rather that you are able to function and thrive in your surroundings.  You can see the differences between your host and home nations, but you accept them for what they are.

But I moved to a culture that is similar to my own, why do I feel like this?

            Sometimes culture shock is easier to identify because we’re expecting it.  We prepare ourselves to deal with the obvious differences in the cultures.  It can be the nuances that we were not prepared for that are the most distressing.

Everyone goes through the same thing?

            The experience of initial culture shock is unique to each person.  It’s timing, intensity, and symptoms are not universal.  There are a lot of factors involved such as your personal values, your preconceived ideas about the host nation, your experiences since arriving, your resiliency skills, and so much more. 

Understanding it vs. Living It

       There is a lot of information available about culture shock.  You may have already read quite a bit before today.  However, understanding it and living it are two different concepts.  Acclimating to a new environment is not easy. If you are stuck in feelings of disorientation about your host nation’s culture, I can help.  It is possible that a few small adjustments can generate enormous change. Together, we can identify your specific challenges and develop skills sets to help you thrive wherever you are. If you are isolating yourself and rejecting the culture you find yourself in, please reach out.  Help is just a click away.