Working Abroad: 5 Tips for Avoiding Culture Shock

dreamstime_xs_11220377The experience of culture shock is dangerous and often underestimated. It can devastate your career prospects if not handled properly.

Applying for a job — or taking a job offer — abroad requires confidence and self-belief. To not only start a new job with new challenges, but to also face those challenges in a foreign nation away from the comfort of home, is a prospect too daunting for many.

Millions of people around the world face the upheaval and commit to international relocation in order to chase their career dreams. However, with this valuable self-confidence and determination comes a belief that you are up to any task, and one task that cannot be overlooked is the potential of culture shock.

What is Culture Shock and How Does it Affect My International Relocation Plans?

Culture shock is a severe and potentially career-ruining reaction to moving abroad. Despite rarely being talked about, it’s actually a pretty common problem.

Once you arrive, ready to start again or reinvigorate your career, you’ll probably be swept off your feet by the excitement of a new culture to explore. This ‘honeymoon phase’ doesn’t always last, however.

As you move away from the initial thrill and into the day-to-day lifestyle of the culture, you might find yourself unable to cope. Having to communicate, behave, and operate in a way that seems totally alien can take its toll on your psychological well-being.

International relocation is a challenge enough on its own, but when combined with the commitments of work and building a new life, it can be just too overwhelming.

5 Tips for Reducing or Avoiding Culture Shock

Culture shock does sound incredibly destructive, but its effects can be negated or even avoided. They key is preparation and understanding the effects international relocation can have on your mindset.

1. Visiting the Country Before Your Move

Part of the distinct dilemma experienced during culture shock stems from unfamiliarity and the rising pressure of having to perform other tasks, while adapting to a new lifestyle.

To ease yourself into the process, become more accustomed to life abroad and get acquainted with the culture before starting work, it is advisable to visit your international relocation destination before your official move date.

In this time, it is also a good idea to invest in area orientation. If you have friends or colleagues in the area, ask them to show you around. You can also hire local guides to do the same job. Have them explain how the basics of the lifestyle there, show you where to go for food, emergency situations, entertainment, and so on.

2. Research the Culture and Educate Yourself Prior to Relocation

To be able to fully immerse yourself in local culture, you must be able to do two things:

  • Communicate
  • Understand

Communication is absolutely key. If you can’t communicate with your neighbours, colleagues, or even the local shop assistant, you’ll have a very tough time adapting and functioning. Spend time learning the language before you move.

Knowing the language is not enough to ensure complete cultural immersion. You also need to understand customs, behaviours, and laws. There will be plenty of educational material and editorial content available on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of living in your specific international relocation destination.

3. Mentally Prepare Yourself for Challenges in Adapting

Acceptance is part of the journey when it comes to culture shock.

Accept that even with all the self-belief and determination in the world, you may struggle from time to time. If you ignore your psychological health, it will become a much bigger problem.

Admitting that you might find it hard at times and taking time to address problems when they arise is a simple, yet powerful, step.

4. Push Yourself and Get Involved in the Culture

To overcome culture shock, you must get involved with, and become part of, the culture. Being an outsider is only going to fuel your inability to connect with your new home.

Getting involved means getting to know locals, becoming part of the community, and living life as a member of society — not a visitor. Go to bars and hangouts, make friends and form relationships, get invested in current events, and spend time learning about your new home on a personal level.

5. Keep a Touch of Familiarity

Forcing yourself into an entirely different world too quickly is always going to be hard, no matter how much preparation you invest in.

Maintain some form of home comfort to add a little bit of familiarity to your life. This could include anything from meeting expat social groups and regular family calls, to making meals from home and watching your favourite TV shows and movies.
TV shows and movies.

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