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How To Handle Culture Shock After Relocation?

November 2022: A new country welcomes you not only with everyday routine but also with culture shock. Let's look closely at what it is, whether it can be avoided, and how to deal with it more efficiently.
If you throw a river fish into the sea, the creature will suffer because of a hostile environment.

If you place a person away from their homeland, they’ll survive physically. You can live in countries that are very different from where you were born. As a rule, there is no danger connected with a physical aspect. But sometimes we face problems that come to us from within: incompatibility of mentalities, cultures, and basic values.

New environment tears apart everything you’re used to. If you fail to cope with this change, you will feel worse physically. So, you’ll have to return to safe and familiar "waters" to avoid the destiny of that little fish we have just been talking about.

The consequences of culture shock are highly individual for each person. Its intensity and duration depend on previous experience, age, etc. But knowing what you will be dealing with can make you stronger, allowing you to handle it better when you live it through. Let's look at the stages most people go through, and how to minimize negative effects after relocation and fully adapt.



Accepting New Reality

This is how Canadian scientist Kalervo Oberg described the last stage in his theory, meaning the period when a person adapts to another culture and starts living in it without suffering. But to get to this point, one has to go through 3 stages before it:
  • Honeymoon. You love everything around you. Any event or discovery leads to pure excitement. It lasts for weeks or months. In the end, the rose-colored glasses fall, and homesickness gets louder and more painful

  • Frustration. It’s the hardest period. Stress accumulates, and some suffer from loss of sleep. The newly arrived feel lonely, lost, and alien. The language barrier and unknown traditions stand more in the way, destroying your normal life. Sometimes, one can even get angry at people around them. There is an overwhelming desire to go home to a familiar environment

  • Adjustment. It is a light in the dark tunnel of despair. The chaos of local life transforms into understandable patterns, making navigating through everyday routines easier. Information is better digested, and differences are perceived as something less mind-blowing. A new model of world perception is being built, which speeds up adaptation and eliminates the negativity in most situations

  • Acceptance. If you compare this stage to the levels of language learning, it is C1-C2. A person takes everything going on around them as something normal. To some extent (but not always and not immediately) one can even become a carrier of this culture

Don't expect to be able to cope with the culture shock in a couple of weeks. The optimal adjustment time is from 6 to 12 months. If you think you're doing great by the second or third week of your stay, you're probably in the "Honeymoon" period.



Preparing Soft Landing Ground

It is possible to make the "blow" less intense and reduce the duration of this shock if you understand and do something beforehand. We have compiled a checklist:

  • Conduct research
Join channels dedicated to living in the new country. Read articles by people who have already moved and settled in. This way you'll begin to accumulate useful knowledge. When you encounter difficult situations in person, they will trigger less negativity. For example, find out if it's customary to tip in restaurants in China, how to get fast and stable Internet in an apartment in Turkey, where to buy cheap furniture in Japan, etc.

  • Test the waters as a tourist
If you have time, spend a few days before the final move. It’ll prepare you physically and mentally. Take a closer look at the city and choose a convenient neighborhood to live in.

  • Start putting down your roots right away
Our roots are all about networking, acquaintances, and communication. Join and actively participate in local community events, go for Meetups, and interact more with different people. It's a useful experience: you'll get insightful tips and create vital connections.

"Newness to a situation over time decreases. Our cultural comfort correspondingly and necessarily increases as we participate in the daily norms of a place. We’ll offset the newness by exposure to the context and dynamics of different situations. And we’ll also meet people. This part is crucial because we’ll begin to form that relationship with the community"


Kristofer Gilmour with a TED speech on the topic

"Why we need to embrace culture shock"

  • Find an emotionally unloading activity
If you like to jog, keep doing it abroad. Well, if the weather doesn't allow it (too cold or too hot), think of something else. Gym workouts, swimming pool training, rock climbing, clay sculpting... ANY familiar or entirely new hobby that will take your mind off the negativity.



Shock-Free Relocation: Is It Possible?

Completely avoiding culture shock is an unlikely scenario. It is much easier when you come for a limited period. The thought of going home one day prevents you from getting too deep into depression.

But there is a good side. The ability to adapt to new environments faster and less painfully can be trained like a muscle. You just need to travel more, stay in other countries for longer periods, and broaden your horizons. Remember that a second global relocation process is easier than the first one. The negative aspects of culture shock become milder and less lasting. And sometimes not noticeable at all.

If you want to share your experience or ask any questions, write to our colleague from the marketing department Polina (@Semilina) on Telegram.
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