You’ve probably experienced culture shock once or twice before. There was the time you tucked into some sushi with a fork and let’s not forget what happened when you were trying to buy thongs in the U.S. ...
In reality, people experiencing culture shock pass through four distinct phases:
Much like the glow experienced by newlyweds, this amorous stage is often short lived. Expats have been known to wander wide eyed - taking in the exotic scents, the colourful sights and hypnotic sounds of their new surrounds. The sweet old lady at your local shop is such a darling, the kids playing after school seem so free and vivacious and the culinary delights are never ending.
This phase is littered with realisations. The food you thought was exotic is actually greasy. You don’t understand the people’s body language or gestures. You have no idea why the nice old lady at the local shop got angry at you last week. Her husband is acting weird. You are negotiating with your surroundings and let’s face it – you feel like one of your daughters’s cut out characters stuck onto the wrong page.
Some more time has passed. The little old lady at the shops has forgiven you and you know what her husband means when he flaps his hands above his head. You are acclimatising. You get the culture and you don’t feel so alien. That greasy food tastes good again because you’ve learnt not to eat it quite so often. You’ve found some friends, some good places to shop and are making some headway with the language.
Ok, you are so bicultural right now. You can talk the talk, walk the walk and flap those hands loud and proud. Missing home? Meh. The food is just so greasy back there...
Here are our top five tips to minimise culture shock when you hit your foreign shores:
Gather as much information as you can about the country you are relocating to. If there is a language barrier, prepare yourself by learning as many important phrases as you can. Find out what side of the road people drive on, the political climate, the currency, education and health system.
Expat organisations can help you establish support networks and provide you with essential tools to make the acclimatisation process easier. Talk to your partner, your friends and family. Talk to the other expats you meet. Talk to a professional if you feel the need for extra support. Once you express your feelings and concerns, you may realise you are not as alone as you once thought.
As with many things in life, a dose of culture shock can be eased with a healthy dose of humour. Being able to laugh at yourselves, your situation and those around you (although obviously finger pointing isn’t going to help your cause) can be a great ice breaker.
Remember that things are always worse when you are run down. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can make a difference to your outlook.
Discover as much as you can about your new culture. When possible, take day trips, visit historic sites and read up about the history. The deeper your understanding and experience of the new culture, the less foreign you will feel.
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