Relocation & Culture shock

21 September 2012, by
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Relocation is a defining moment in one’s life. One has to leave behind family, friends and all the security brought about by your life experience in your home country.

Usually expatriates plan and prepare for their overseas assignment with great detail and perhaps the professional assistance of relocation agencies. Unfortunately "Culture shock," a unique and complex aspect of relocation is not always given its due attention and importance.

Culture shock is commonly associated with stress, anxiety, loneliness, confusion and feeling of being out of place. Eventually all these emotions and uncertain feelings can lead to conflict within the family, lowered self-esteem and insecurity.

Although it is well known that spouses are mostly prone to get tangled into this vicious web of discomforts, culture shock can affect any member of a family going through the process of relocation.

Experts in the field have identified various common stages of culture shock by similar characteristics:

The Honeymoon Phase
The first phase of relocation is exciting and new. The majority consider this part as a holiday or honeymoon phase.

Irritability / Hostility or Disintegration stage
Culture shock kicks in. People start to interact with the host culture actively and most of the excitement of the previous stage turns into discomfort and hostility towards the host culture. Common symptoms are homesickness, impatience, anger, sadness and a feeling of incompetence.

Adjustment stage
A sense of easiness and humour start to re-emerge. People start to feel more comfortable in their new settings and surroundings.

Adaptation stage
Integration and comfort with the host culture increases, boosting your confidence and projecting a sense of belonging. Culture shock is replaced by the enjoyment of living in a new location. At this point culture shock is just a distant memory!

One step ahead of culture shock
There are several factors why people struggle more than others after moving to a new country.

Interpersonal skills, sociability, expectations, pre-departure research, similar previous experience, flexibility and different levels of support are some of the main key factors in keeping culture shock at bay.

culture shock
Photo by Flickr user Helga Weber

Ironically, the more self-aware an individual is, the higher likelihood of strong culture shock.

Tips to prevent and control culture shock
Be well prepared and learn as much about the host country. Focus on everyday life aspects such as customs, language, the political situation, currency and climate, housing, tax matters, food and last but not least cultural activities.

Plan the relocation process together with your spouse. Make sure that every family member is actively involved and listen to their needs and necessities. Communication should be clear and open for all those involved.

Be aware of culture shock and familiarise yourself with its phases. This knowledge is like a forecast of rough weather ahead. You'll still have to weather the storm but you'll be better equipped to cope well.

After taking what may be a well considered but nonetheless difficult decision, you may still feel the need for guidance and advice to settle into the new life you have chosen. Hire a relocation agent who will help you to reduce the stress often associated with relocation and enables you to focus on what you are good at.

Create goals and aims to look forward to and eventually achieve successfully.

Be positive and look ahead. Use this opportunity to the full and have fun!



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About the Author
Chris Galea

When considering a move to a new country, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life storie...

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