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How can expats deal with cultural shock?

Moving to an entirely new location for work certainly doesn’t come without its challenges. If you’re moving to a place with a significantly different culture, you may feel a little overwhelmed by all the change that is taking place, and the adjustments that you may need to make to your daily routine in order to fit into the place that has become your second home.

Here, Cornerstone has listed 5 ways that expats can deal with so-called ‘cultural shock’ while working abroad.

Research your destination before you arrive

We can’t stress enough just how important it is to carry out some research into your new place of work before you head for the airport.

Even if you are convinced that you are entering into a culture that is similar to your own, there are bound to be certain aspects to everyday life that take you by surprise. For example, your new role may require you to dress a certain way, or perhaps you’ll need to adjust your eating habits to embrace a new diet. This excellent list of resources from explores some of the most common cultural differences in three key regions: Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

You can also talk to Cornerstone about what you can expect from your move. We have over 60 years’ experience in providing world-class support to workers who are entering into a new chapter in their lives.

Accept the ‘crisis’ phase

Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg believes there are four stages in a typical culture shock cycle: the Honeymoon, crisis, recovery and adjustment. Many people will sail through the Honeymoon period because they are enthralled by a new and exciting environment – but a large percentage of expats will struggle to accept their surroundings during the crisis phase, and may even become hostile towards their new community.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. Unless you are severely opposed to the principles of your new culture, you will move from the crisis phase to the recovery phase surprisingly quickly. Stick with it, accept your new circumstances, and be open to all of these amazing experiences that are being presented to you.

Develop your own network

In order to feel comfortable in any culture, you’ll need a reliable support network that’s made up of like-minded people who can listen to your concerns and be there for you during the acclimatisation process. By all means, stay in touch with friends from home, as they will help you offload your anxieties and settle your nerves – but wherever possible, try to make new friends that live in the local area. Apps such as Peanut, Skout, MeetMe and Bumble may help you break the ice and find people who share your common interests.

Immerse yourself in the language

If you’re moving to a country where English isn’t a recognised language, it’s so important to learn – or at least, attempt to learn – the region’s mother tongue. Some people pick up foreign languages naturally, whereas others may struggle slightly due to lack of confidence, but we promise that a little effort will go a long way to ensuring you feel comfortable and secure in your new environment. Becoming fluent in another language will also enable you to interact with natives, which will open up so many more social opportunities for you.

Accept the way you feel

From experience, we know that this is one of the most important pieces of advice we can ever give expats who are trying their best to deal with cultural shock.

Relocating is an emotional time. At various points, you will feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed – you may even feel like giving up at the first hurdle. But on the flip side, there will be times where you feel comfortable, accomplished, and over the moon with your decision to move abroad to chase the job of your dreams.

It’s best to simply come to terms with the fact that you will experience all kinds of emotions before, during and after your relocation. Sometimes it’s OK not to be OK. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to feel a certain way at any point during your stay, because everyone reacts to their new circumstances in their own way.

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