How do you get ready for living abroad? Different people use all sorts of methods, from registering for cultural trainingto reading every book and website they can. All these steps help ease the transition when your feet hit the ground, but it’s important to realize that in any living- or working-abroad situation there will be an element of culture shock.
It’s hard to adjust, and can be harder in some countries and situations than others.
The good news is, culture shock is a common phenomenon that follows a relatively predictable course for almost all travelers and with time and preparation you will get used to your new home.
To make the process easier, it’s helpful to understand the stages of culture shock:
The final weeks before you leave build up a sense of tension and excitement about your move. You prepare for your new home and you say goodbye to your friends and family. During this stage it’s easy to set false expectations about where you’re going – try not to over-imagine or make extremely detailed plans.
When you first arrive you are likely to feel high on the experience. Everything will be new and exciting. You’ll see a million things you want to try and experience. This euphoria is temporary, and the excitement will pass. Enjoy it, but try to pay attention to practical details and be careful making decisions (such as where to live) during this period.
As the initial excitement fades, the stress of living in a new culture will begin. Often the small everyday details are the hardest: traffic, bathrooms, bugs, late meetings and meals at different times of the day than you’re used to. It’s important to remember that this will pass, and it will pass more quickly if you continue to make efforts to engage the new culture – don’t retreat only to the expat community and American food or TV.
With time, the frustration will pass. Often you don’t notice it at first but you will take the day to day way of life for granted. It will start to make sense to you and become familiar – but still as “them” rather than “us”.
You will no longer feel particularly foreign, and you will function comfortably in your new culture. You will start to speak of it as your own culture: In Thailand, we remove our shoes at the door.
When you return to your home country, you may have a hard time explaining your experiences. You will feel changed in a vague but definitive way. You will miss aspects of the culture you’re leaving, even things that once frustrated you.
By understanding acculturation you can prepare yourself and make your move easy as possible. Other tools, like cultural trainingand talking to other travelers who have lived in your destination, will also help. Have you ever acculturated to a new country?
Jake Alexander is a freelance writer who likes to blog about travel and world cultures. Follow him @JakeAlexander17.