In part 1 of this series we examined what ‘Culture Shock’ is and the 4 main phases experienced by expats when they move to a new environment. In this part we will look at the various strategies used by people to help them quickly move from stage 2 - the crisis stage - to stage 4 - the integration stage.
After plenty of research, background reading, interviews and based on first hand experience we have identified 8 key ways to overcome culture shock.
Admit and Accept it
The first part of overcoming the situation is to accept and admit to yourself that you are experiencing culture shock. Many people may feel as if it’s showing signs of a weakness but you can only start to move on with your life when you accept that you are experiencing these feelings.
If you are uncomfortable in your new surroundings then many people can begin to despair and feel as if they have made the wrong choice. It can leave you feeling trapped and sorry for yourself.
Admitting these feelings is the beginning of the end of the initial crisis phase. Write them down in a diary or journal, or start up an online blog to write about your feelings. This can help remove them from your mind and can allow you to focus on making things better - online blogs can also help you to get in touch with other expats who are able to offer support and advice.
Get to Know People
One of the main reasons that people struggle when they move abroad is that they feel isolated. There are many ways round this however, although not all are applicable in every country.
If you are living in the Middle East as an expat then chances are you are living in a gated expat community. These usually benefit from a very strong and open sense of community spirit and can be the perfect place to meet new friends - almost all of whom will have experienced similar feelings to your own. Meeting up with neighbours at communal areas or local barbeques or parties can be the perfect way to help cure the feeling of loneliness you are experiencing within your new country.
Outside of the Middle Eastern compounds things can be more troublesome. Fortunately however the advent of social media makes it the perfect place to find and connect with local people who share your interests.
Often there are Facebook groups for expats from a certain country living in a certain area. These include ‘British Expats in New Zealand’ and ‘Indian Expats in Australia’. As well as this there are many more local groups focusing on events in a certain community, street or area of a city. These groups can be the perfect way to find out about what’s going on locally, and can be an ideal way to get to know your neighbours and their interests.
As a Medic you will meet people who share your interests at work, but Linkedin can also be a crucial place in which to meet fellow specialists, surgeons and doctors. Groups exist for specialists within a certain country or area and this can be a fantastic way of meeting medical professionals from a similar background to yourself within a foreign environment.
However you choose to meet people the biggest piece of advice we can give you is to ensure that you don’t isolate yourself. Often expats feel uncomfortable just leaving the house in the early weeks of living in a new country to do simple tasks such as shopping or going to the park. The key is to force yourself outwith your comfort zone.
Attempt to build up a relationship with local workers who you see regularly. Simple conversations with shopkeepers and staff will help to build your confidence, and they will often be more than happy to provide crucial local information in an attempt to show off their country in the best possible light.
Making friends as an expat can be far easier than doing so at home. It still might not be easy for everyone, but thanks to the growth of social media fewer expats are finding themselves isolated. Having a group of people to share your feelings and concerns with - whether face to face or online - is vital in overcoming Culture Shock.
Travel like a Tourist
You might be living in a new country now, but that shouldn’t stop you from travelling as you would if you were on vacation. On your days off take day trips to the coast, or spend time visiting local museums and landmarks. Get to know your new country and start to really appreciate the differences between it and your homeland.
Doing this will act as a reminder of why you moved to the country, and the more you learn about the location’s culture the more comfortable you will feel living there.
In your professional life stay professional, and act like somebody who has been living and working in the country for years. In your free time however allow yourself to be an excited tourist!
Many expats take advantage of a far more generous work/life balance by volunteering in their spare time. This can involve all kinds of roles, but is a great way to meet people with your interests and can help you settle into your new surroundings by performing familiar tasks.
There are all kinds of voluntary jobs. You could write for a local newsletter or expat newspaper, help out at a local sports club or even simply help with the hosting and organisation of local events such as gatherings, kid’s clubs or neighbourhood meetings.
Outwith local opportunities you could do some voluntary medical work or teaching in the wider community. This can help further boost your reputation amongst the medical community in the country as well.
Volunteering is the perfect way to meet new people, develop your skills and open your eyes to the wider issues that affect people in your new country of residence. It can play a key role in helping you to settle into a community and, most of all, will give you a real feeling of a pride that you are doing something that helps other people.
Do Something that Reminds you of Home
Whilst it’s important not to dwell on the things you miss from your home country it is important that you don’t detach yourself completely from it. Make sure that you have pictures or mementos from home displayed in your house, and keep in mind some activities that remind you of home if you are feeling particularly down. This can be as simple as watching a television programme or film you enjoy, or listening to some music.
People also like to do a hobby that will take their mind off things and help remind them of home. This can be something such as playing a sport or musical instrument, creating some artwork, writing creatively or even reading a book you enjoyed early in your life to help keep your mind off the feeling of homesickness and letting you focus on escaping for relaxation.
The relief of doing something you enjoy doing at home - even in unfamiliar surroundings - can play a massive role in helping you to settle into a new country.
Keep in touch with old friends
Just because you are on the other side of the world doesn’t mean you should lose contact with friends and family back home. Make sure you keep in regular contact with people you trust and value as speaking to them can often be the perfect way to get round any issues or feelings that are affecting you as an expat.
Modern applications like Skype and Facetime can be perfect for having face-to-face conversations with people back home. Maintaining regular contact with them will help you to think clearly and allow you to really open up to people you trust about the factors of expat life that are concerning you.
Having someone at home that you feel like you can trust can be crucial for beating the feelings associated with Culture Shock. A friendly voice who knows you well can be more calming and helpful than any other factor for an expat.
Finally you can beat culture shock by learning as much as you can about a country. It’s best to start with local rules - both written and unwritten - and customs. You have to work out what people do, and why they act like that. Doing this will help to build up your knowledge of the country’s customs and you will begin to feel confident around locals.
As well as this try and immerse yourself in the new culture. Learn a new musical instrument, sport, language, dance - anything! Not only will this get you mixing with locals it will further increase your confidence making you more likely to embrace and enjoy life within the country.
The more you understand about a country the more comfortable and rewarding you will find life there. Expat life can be a wonderful, enriching experience. There will be tough times, but you will make it through these. Hopefully this guide will help you to adapt to life in your new country as easily and as quickly as possible.
Are you an expat with any techniques not mentioned in this article for overcoming culture shock? Let us know what techniques you’d recommend in the comments box below