You’ve moved to a new country and living in a different culture. You might be excited about the new adventure or fearful about what’s ahead. Either way, your life is sure to be filled with new emotions. And let’s be real: how you deal with these emotions will greatly affect how well you adjust to the new culture.
In general, in the first phase of adjustment you’ll live a great time of enchantment and joy. During this “honeymoon” phase, you’ll want to try new food, visit new places and everything will be new. Enjoy this phase as much as you can, because it will end (see here how to make your honeymoon last longer).
Then, when you least expect it, you’ll probably start to feel a bit restless. It might be the different pace of life, it might be some food from home that you start to really miss. It can be the language that gets you stuck, and you feel you can’t communicate properly. The symptoms of culture shock are as varied as people and their specific contexts. Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, you might surprise yourself getting very annoyed at delays and miscommunication.
When you experience these uncomfortable emotions and catch yourself comparing your current life with “life back home” or idealizing how life was before, you are most probably in the culture shock phase.
But there’s good news: it’s normal and there are ways to deal with it. When we are facing a cultural transition (or any transition for that matter) it’s normal to feel discomfort at some point. Also, it doesn’t have to be so painful, and here are some tips to make this phase easier.
OBSERVE: Give yourself permission to observe without the need to action. Much of our discomfort comes from the fact that we feel pressure to “do things right”. Allow yourself some time and space to get acquainted with this new reality without the pressure of DOING something. Observe the people and the way they interact; observe the environment and how it affects you; observe how you react to different situations and observe how you feel.
ACT: Once you have information through observation, you can act. Decide for yourself what cultural changes you want to embrace and the ones you don’t want to embrace. Cultural adjustment is very personal and there might be some changes you just do not want to adopt because they are not aligned with your core values.
Keep in touch with good friends and family as much as possible. While making new connections is crucial for an integrated adaptation in a new culture, it can be easy to lose touch of meaningful relationships. Friends and family help you stay grounded in times when you are outside of your cultural comfort zone.
REFLECT: Make sense of your experience. When we don’t reflect, we end up going through the motions and failing to get feedback and learning important lessons. Some people like to journal, others prefer to record audios and other people like to register their observations through photography, painting, music. Take your pick and reflect on what is going well, as well as the things that you want to make better.
Then, when you least expect it, you will start to feel more like “yourself” again and find a new space you can call a “new normal”. This “new normal” is an internal place that is more comfortable, where you feel more confident and stronger.