You have surely heard of culture shock before. People use it lightly as a way to describe the feeling of being immersed in a culture different from theirs. The term has been downplayed a lot, and many refer to it jokingly. Yet culture shock is a very real and serious phenomenon.
Moving to a new country and becoming accustomed to a new culture – however similar to yours you may think it is – isn’t all fun and games. Culture shock is the deeper cultural differences in mindset, customs and interpersonal interaction between you and your new country of residence.
Although it’s important for you to adjust to your new culture and their ways, you don’t have to forget all your own customs. Especially if you come from a very religious culture, you shouldn’t have to give up your practices and beliefs. Hanging on to some of your old ways might even help you to settle in to your new home country.
Culture shock is nerve wrecking. It’s a sense of anxiety, nervousness and alienation caused by being exposed to an alien environment. It’s important not to be hard on yourself and to let yourself and your family work through the different emotional waves that will come and go. Some will be positive while others will have you missing the comfort of your previous life.
Read as much as you can about the culture of your new country before you set off. Don’t get so caught up in the visa applications, money transfers and other hard adjustments that you forget about these soft adjustments.
Intercultural communication will be one of your most valuable skills. Every culture communicates differently. This is not a language reference. Even if you can speak the language of your new country, there are still many finer details and customs to communicating successfully.
Find out whether the country you are moving to works toward the greater good of the majority or whether it’s an every man for himself (individualistic) country. Knowing and understand this is the first step to getting things done, to communicate successfully with authorities and institutions, and ultimately, to make friends.
Keep you culture: If you find yourself in a different framework in your new country, try to respect it’s standpoint in order to get by, but explain to your new circles that you understand the world differently and that is why you might act differently from them. Don’t ever be condescending.
Direct Nature or Avoidance
A second thing to research beforehand is whether the people of your new home prefer blatant honesty and direct communication and whether they prefer a version that is coloured in. Germany, for example, is known for being very straightforward and they expect you to be the same, otherwise you might loose their respect.
Residents of other countries might get offended if you tell them straight out that you don’t enjoy their weather or their food or you disagree with the way they do things. Be mindful of this when interacting with everyone – from the person behind the coffee counter to your new boss.
Keep your culture: You might not enjoy changing your entire approach to communication, and this might take some getting used to. But once you have a circle of people that you can trust, you will be able to be yourself without offending your new friends. To get by with strangers or superiors, however, you will have to adjust.
Attitude Toward Women
You might come from a country where it’s normal for a man to wait at the door for a woman to walk first. This might not be the case in a new country. Research this before you move and don’t feel offended or disrespected if you, as a woman, get treated differently. In some countries, this is just the way it is.
Keep your culture: If you’re a man, you don’t have to kiss your good manners goodbye. There’s no reason why you can’t wait for a woman to walk first. Also remember to treat your wife with the same respect as you did back home. If you’re a woman, you might have to get used to men walking in front of you, but remember that they don’t mean it in a rude way. You might also have to fight for a seat on the train. See it as a challenge!
These are only a few ideas about cultural differences and adapting to a new culture. See it as a starting point and always inform yourself about cultural differences before allowing yourself to get upset by them.