7 Tips to Take the Shock Out of Culture Shock

Matthew MacLachlan

27 Nov 2016

For many professionals, relocating to another country can cause their family and work life to suffer due to the mental, emotional and physical effects of culture shock. This can cause frustration, disorientation and overall unhappiness to the employee and their family as well as cause their employer to lose a valuable employee potentially.

While culture shock is often associated with employees relocating to another country it is not always the case. Let’s look at what culture shock is, what the symptoms are and some top tips for overcoming culture shock. 

What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is the effect of being cut off from your familiar culture, environment and norms

Culture shock is the effect of:

  • Being cut off from a familiar culture
  • Experiencing a different environment and norms
  • Acclimatising to new and seemingly strange surroundings

The period of adjustment can cause stress, frustration, confusion and even depression.

Culture shock can have a yo-yo pattern where the feelings of anxiety may lessen in time, but then most unexpectedly resurface.

You should expect phases of adjustment. These stages usually are:

  • Initial excitement of the honeymoon period
  • Period of confusion and worry
  • Recovery phase
  • Repeated culture shock followed by re-recovery
  • Finally, there is a breakthrough

Culture shock can have a yo-yo pattern where the feelings of anxiety may lessen in time, but later most unexpectedly resurface

In time, with proper support and using the right strategies, the negative feelings can be overcome until you adjust, adapt and accept.

In some cases, expats should also be prepared for reverse shock when you relocate to your own country.

Don’t forget that culture shock works both ways – on arrival and on returning home. More often than not the reverse culture shock can be more powerful

The “W-Curve” graph below is a very good pictorial representation of the different stages of culture shock:

  • Starting from the “euphoria” of the honeymoon phase
  • The Impact of culture shock
  • Recovery and returning culture shock
  • Recovery and adaptation

 

Culture Shock

Overcoming the Symptoms of Culture Shock

Understanding differences and their reasons gives us more empathy and tolerance, which are imperative for building rapport

First, understand and appreciate your culture and business practices. This self-awareness and reflection help in gaining a deeper perspective of what and why some things are different as well as knowing how we are viewed from the outside.

Understanding differences and their reasons give us more empathy and tolerance, which are imperative for building rapport, the keystone of maintaining relationships.

The differences that cause culture shock are more often unseen and therefore more likely to be overlooked

Next, learn about the other culture, ideally both on your own and through global mobility programmes such as intercultural training.

On our own, we can quite easily understand the distinct differences like

  • Appearance
  • Accent
  • Manners
  • Habits

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The differences that cause culture shock are more often unseen and therefore more likely to be overlooked. These are

  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Perceptions

Remember, even the most hardened and well-travelled business people experience culture shock.

Seven practical tips to minimise culture shock

Finally, we also need to develop our own strategies to overcome culture shock. Here are seven tips

1. Stop thinking about home

Avoid constant comparisons with home. It won’t help you to settle in.

2. Meet the right kind of people

Make friends with positive-minded people. Try to avoid people who are critical of your new home.

3. Get active!

Start a new hobby or pastime which isn’t possible back home

4. Stay in Touch

Keep in regular contact with home, family and friends

5. Share

Share your own culture with your new friends and neighbours

6. Don’t be shy

Communicate your feelings. Tell friends, colleagues and loved ones how you feel.

7. Travel!

Travel and see new places that will make you appreciate your new home country. This is a once in a lifetime experience – enjoy it! Go trekking, explore ruins, attend cooking classes, learn the language and, most importantly, don’t look back and say what if…

Remember, even the most hardened and well-travelled business people experience culture shock.

It is a normal and natural reaction to new and strange surroundings. With time it will get better, and you will look back on your international experience as a very positive one that has enhanced your professional and personal life.

Remember, even the most hardened and well travelled business people experience culture shock

Infographic_Culture-shock



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