If you and your family are affected by strange, unfamiliar physical and psychological symptoms, you may be experiencing culture shock. In an early definition (1969) this condition was considered a mental ailment, and described people who have lost their own culture and cannot cope with living in a foreign environment.
Apart from some purely physical responses like exhaustion, dehydration, and nausea from strange smells and upset stomachs, the sheer number of adjustments to a foreign country and its culture can be overwhelming. You experience feelings of loss of home, work, pets, friends, support systems, family and identity, and have to go through a transition process.
As this affects all members of the family at the same time, you will experience difficulties in raising children, especially teenagers, and experience marital or partnership stress. Simultaneously, your trusted support system of family and friends is far away, and the working partner experiences extra stress by adjusting to a new work environment and extensive travel, thus limiting his availability for social support.
Culture shock is additionally aggravated if you have left aging parents or send children to universities back home – a family development change with similar effects under normal circumstances.
Culture Shock Stages
There are three different stages you have to go through:
The first stage, called the “honeymoon”, finds you excited and eager to experience everything new as soon as possible.
In the second stage you feel like a wet sponge, still emerged in water, with your feelings overflowing and soaking your environment. The fact that your partner and your family go through the same stages does aggravate culture shock as one does not understand why the other one is acting strange. You will soon blame the local culture for everything going wrong and lose proper perspective. Overwhelmed, you end up pulling back and retreating to familiar ground.
The third stage takes you to overcoming culture shock as you have gained self-confidence by coping successfully. As the culture and its people around you don’t seem to change, you are forced to accept the reality of this culture and its alternative views. You are no longer instinctively hostile or afraid to what is foreign and different but rather curious and eager to understand. You feel you can survive and have great personal strength. Things that used to frustrate, bother, or upset, you now hardly notice any more.
Symptoms of Culture Shock
● Unwarranted criticism of the culture and the people.
● Constant complaints about the climate.
● Utopian ideas concerning your previous culture.
● Continuous concern about the purity of water and food.
● Fear of touching the local people.
● Refusal to learn the new language.
● Preoccupation of being robbed or cheated.
● Pressing desire to talk with people who “really make sense.”
● Preoccupation of returning home.
How Culture Shock Affects You
|When you are working:||You throw yourself into your work and retreat from your family and partner.|
|When you are not working:||You avoid being confronted by strangers like staying in your home, escaping into a novel, or watching TV all day.|
|As a teenager:||You are unreasonable angry and rude to everybody, retreat to reading/movie watching/listening to music, constantly visit Internet chat rooms, etc.|
|As a child:||Disrupted sleep and nightmares, upset stomachs, frequent crying, insuring parents’ attention by aggressive behavior and regression in sucking thumbs and the like.|
Coping with Culture Shock
It is important to read the signs and accept culture shock without feeling guilty. Let everyone enjoy sulking for a little while and give your bodies and minds a much-needed rest. If you do not find a way out after some time you need to consult a specialist to help you and your family. In general, you all get adjusted to your new life within six months with the help of newfound friends.
● Research on culture shock and get training how to cope.
● Learn about cross-cultural experiences.
● Explore the host country.
● Learn the host language.
● Be flexible and positive.
● Make new friends.
● Get a life.
Finding New Friends
It is not uncommon for expatriates to trust complete strangers much faster and share problems at a much earlier stage than at home. As your familiar support system of friends and family is far away, there is an urgent desire to meet new people and make new friends. While you run the risks of misjudging people, the advantage is clearly the fact that you are in the same boat with many. You all share the risks of trusting the wrong people.
Expatriates are likely to help others when living together in smaller, rather than larger, communities. The best support is given in circumstances where they have to rely on each other, like in an emergency or in a politically hostile or unstable situation. Use your “gut” feeling, be bold and give more than you take as it will always come back one day.
You may feel rejected at some occasions as, once expatriates have established a circle of friends, they are not to keen on working on new friendships. You get tired to start this process all over again with a new transfer. Do not wait to be invited, invite yourself! Nobody is really waiting for you out there and you have to prove yourself first. The same applies to local friendships with the difference that locals regard having expatriates friends as a face-giving bonus. Be prepared to be assessed by your social rank, know the rules and keep within your bounds.
Excellent places to find new friends:
● Parent Association meetings and newcomer welcome parties.
● Women Clubs’ many social gatherings and group activities.
● Business Club meetings.
● Expatriate frequented bars.
● School invitations to cocktails, charity balls, international days.
● Condominium coffee mornings.
● Invitations by relocation and moving companies.
● Cultural seminars.
● The school bus stop in your street.
● Expatriate charity fairs.
● Sports activities like tennis, etc.
Clubs and Associations
Clubs play an important role in Asia and a professional or private membership should be considered.
As there is sometimes a thin line between professional and pure social objectives for joining a club, companies have become more reluctant to include a club membership in the expatriate package. While sometimes, a game of golf may actually have paved the way to a business transaction this approach may not be obvious to many colleagues and bosses at home.
As memberships of golf/clubs usually are very expensive you may opt to join one or two business associations professionally instead and a private international club for leisure for meeting friends who might even turn into business partners.
Often nationality linked clubs (such as the American Club, the Swiss Club) accept other nationals as associate members. There may be a waiting list as associate memberships are usual limited to 50 percent of ordinary memberships.
As reputable clubs usually have waiting lists often causing acceptance delays of several months, we recommend to apply for a club or business association as soon as possible and to pick up application forms on your pre-visit. You may indicate your office address if you do not have a permanent address on arrival.
Before joining a club or association you should check its objectives and compare these with your interests.