How to Cope with Culture Shock When Moving Internationally?

We all tend to gravitate towards the familiar, but with international moves, this isn’t always an option. You’ll be faced with a plethora of new sights, sounds and experiences in your new country that you may not be ready to embrace with open arms. Moving is overwhelming, and moving thousands of miles away from everything you’re comfortable with doesn’t exactly help – but with the right tips, you can face your fears and culture shock head on. Just follow the few simple suggestions below to help you transition into your new country after an overseas relocation.

What is culture shock?

The term “culture shock” was coined in the late 1950s to describe the anxiety individuals face when they move to a completely new environment. The new food, people, activities, customs and language can lead to overpowering stress that can sometimes cause negative effects in behavior and attitude. If you think you’re experiencing a variation of culture shock, there are certain symptoms you should look for:

Common symptoms of culture shock

Every person is different, and while some of these symptoms may not necessarily be indicative of a severe case of culture shock, they can help you get a general idea of what to look out for. The more you know about culture shock, the better you can handle the symptoms if they come.

Irritability: Does every little thing seem to bother you since you’ve moved? If you’ve adopted an out-of-character negative attitude towards your daily tasks or events going on around you, this could be a sign of culture shock.

Physical pain: Many individuals who move abroad say they get headaches or stomachaches during the first few weeks or even months. This could be part of adjusting to the new cuisine or climate, but frequent head and stomach pain could also be an indicator of stress.

Loneliness: If you’ve moved overseas by yourself, there’s a good chance you will feel slightly secluded at first. This is where homesickness can kick in, which is normal, but if it interferes heavily with your day-to-day activities, it may be a more severe case of culture shock.

Tiredness: No, not just being jet lagged. Many people who have relocated abroad experience tiredness due to mild depression while adjusting to their new lives – this can have an adverse effect on work performance and relationship building as well.

How you can adjust?

First, it is helpful to keep in mind that culture shock does not happen from a single event. You aren’t going to hear one person speaking a foreign language you don’t fully understand and automatically spiral into fits of weeping. Though you might weep (and that’s OK), it will most likely come from a variety of different events going on around you. Here’s what you can do to ease into your new surroundings:

  • Learn as much as you can before you go: Familiarity is comfortable, right? So ease your fears of the unknown and dive into your new country’s culture before you get there. There are plenty of online resources for expats and those immigrating to other countries to help you find your footing before you move. Take an online language class, spend a few days at the library in the travel section, and search for some interesting activities you might like to be a part of once you’ve settled. Getting familiar with different rules and regulations in your new town or city can be helpful, too.
  • Stay away from the negative: This place is different from your home, there’s no getting around that. Comparing your new home to your old one and picking out every small thing you dislike about your new country won’t help you settle any sooner. Instead, look for the positive aspects about your surroundings. Pick out the things you find similar to your former residence and what you find enjoyable. Give yourself pep talks and positive reinforcement.
  • Pace yourself: Adjusting to anything new can take some time, so don’t expect to automatically be a perfect piece to your new country’s puzzle right away. Be patient. Start small by finding a new culinary dish you enjoy, or a nice coffee shop you can relax in on the weekends and take in the scenery.
  • Make friends: Don’t just find the only bar that natives from your home country frequent – this will keep you in a cultural bubble. Find locals to converse and build relationships with, as this will be the quickest way to learn the ins and outs of the cultural differences. Be empathetic, open-minded, flexible and curious.
  • Seek professional help: If you still can’t seem to get a grip on your confusing emotions related to your big move, see your health care provider and ask if he or she can refer you to a good counseling service. You may just need to talk to someone to organize your feelings, which is completely normal. Once you have someone help you make sense of everything you’re feeling, you can successfully move forward in this new chapter of your life abroad.

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