If you’re an expat living abroad, or are thinking of relocating to another country, the impact of a ‘culture shock’ – defined as the emotional disorientation or impact of moving from a familiar culture to an unaccustomed one – on your emotional wellbeing can be considerable.
As you leave Blighty behind, you’ll be exposed to new languages, different weather, cuisines, dress, customs and behaviour of the local people. Whether you stay in Europe, head to the Far East, the Wild West or down under, you’ll have to get used to the fact that it’s not Britain.
However, rather than succumbing to the doldrums of homesickness and resenting those ‘foreign ways’, a culture shock can be a good thing. It presents you with a golden opportunity to immerse yourself in the way of life of a new country, broadening your horizons to other people’s cultures. Who knows, you may even like it!
- Greater resilienceWhen you feel vulnerable and unsure of your new surroundings, it’s an opportunity for tremendous personal growth. Living and working in a new country can help to shape your personality, toughen you up, teach you to go with your instincts and endure periods of loneliness, unfamiliarity and even depression.
Yes, finding yourself in an unfamiliar environment can be frightening and confusing. But it’s these moments that can shape and develop the person you are. Adversity is a way to discover what you’re made of and what you’re capable of. Stressful situations reveal character … and can also help build it.
- Improved communications
Coming into contact with people from a different country and having to learn a new language forces you to adapt quickly. Language will help you communicate, obviously, but it also helps you to connect to the people around you – neighbours, colleagues, friends, officials.
It’s best to immerse yourself fully in the new culture so that you gain the opportunity to think differently as well. It can be an exciting time all round.
- Better socialisation
The great thing about overcoming culture shock is that you soon become more comfortable in your new surroundings and expand your circle of friends. You’ll also have a greater understanding of the people who, only a few months ago, were strangers to you. Travelling and living abroad affords us the opportunity to meet and mix with new people and foster friendships.
Relating to people who have different backgrounds, upbringing, life perspectives and experiences can be a rewarding and transformative process. You will almost certainly become more open-minded and accepting of other people’s cultures, and it can open doors for you in parts of the world that would otherwise not be accessible to you.
- New life experiences
A culture shock presents a tremendous opportunity to get to grips with and embrace a new culture. Try to see it as an exciting and liberating experience, a time to expand your life experiences.
Travelling or living abroad gives you the chance to do different things, things you may not be able to do anywhere else – back-packing in Peru, riding an elephant in Southeast Asia, travelling through rice fields in Vietnam, taking the ferry to Robben Island and seeing Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. Learning about the history and traditions of your adopted country enriches you as an individual.
- Shared humanity
Valuable lessons can be learnt from going through a culture shock – that despite our differences, we’re all very much the same. We all have the same or similar aspirations: to love and be loved, to cherish our families, to give back to our communities, to help others in need and so on. Traveling abroad reinforces the idea that we all share the same human experience.
By stepping out of our comfort zones, moving to new and unfamiliar countries, we are forced to confront different cultures head on, and by embracing the culture shock challenge, will be stronger for it.
This article was written by Dakota Murphey, independent content writer working alongside long established real estate agents, Panorama.