Culture shock: what it is and how to cope with it
Excitement, preparation and planning have carried you this far… you’ve made the choice to move to a new country, done your research, completed a successful look-see visit, read all the travel books and you know exactly what to expect. So the move should be a resounding success and your whole family should settle quickly and easily into their new life, right?
Actually no, for many people it may not be that simple.
What is Culture Shock?
Culture shock is a very real and widespread problem for relocating families – but despite being relatively common it is still widely misunderstood.
Let’s set aside the overseas element for a minute and bring this closer to home… Imagine taking a young child out of a tiny, sheltered village school where there are 120 local children in total and placing that same child into a busy inner city school in central London, with a massive multicultural population of 1200 children. Even if they had visited the school previously and knew roughly what to expect the reality of moving around it on a day to day basis with no prospect of returning to ‘normality’ would be an enormous challenge. After the first week or three, as reality sets in, the child might feel reluctant to keep returning to the new school and might display some unusual and unsettled behaviours. This is culture shock and it affects people of all ages.
What to expect; culture shock symptoms
At first the excitement of moving home will carry you through all the difficulties of the change and you’ll feel elated to have come so far. The difficulties start when the honeymoon period is over; when you realise that this is your life now and there’s no going back.
Symptoms of culture shock can be both psychological and physical and can vary from person to person. Some of the most common ones to look out for are depression, mood swings, withdrawal from loved ones, developing new fears, developing obsessions, lack of concentration, irregular sleep patterns, increase in illnesses or aches and pains and changes in appetite.
The culture shock graph gives you a rough timeline of the highs and lows of culture shock, but remember it’s not the same for everyone so be vigilant; keep a look out for signs and symptoms in your spouse, your children and yourself throughout your first year.
Children get culture shock too
It’s no secret that children are better at adjusting to new situations than adults but try not to assume that your confident happy child will be fine with the change just because s/he hasn’t expressed any concerns. Culture shock in children does happen and should not be overlooked.
Think about that poor child we just moved from a tiny village school into an inner city rabbit warren – previous friends are now miles away; the work is the same but the teachers are different and have less time; the children speak different languages in break/lunch times and our child may be struggling to fit in…
Minimising the risk of culture shock
You may not be able to avoid it completely but you can certainly try! Be as prepared as possible before your move and make sure that everyone knows what to expect…then when you arrive throw yourself into local life and spend as much time as possible looking forwards rather than backwards.
Yes, you’ll miss your old friends but work hard to make new ones and encourage your children to do the same. Find local events that will be fun for all the family and give yourselves plenty of things to look forward to and keep diaries of new things to explore. You can find more information and advice on minimising culture shock here.
How to deal with culture shock
OK, so it’s happened – you, or a family member, has succumbed to culture shock. Don’t panic! Try to recognise the feeling for what it is – difficulty in adjusting to the rhythm of your new life – and face it head on. For the most effective ways of dealing with culture shock get out there and grab life by the horns; make new friends, get involved in your local community, volunteer to help with local projects and generally get stuck in. It may seem insurmountably difficult at first but we promise you that if you make the effort you’ll soon be wondering what all the fuss was about.
Relocating is a mixed bag of emotions – exciting, scary, exhilarating, worrying, rewarding and stressful – but remember that your family unit is the key to your success. Be kind to each other, talk about your concerns, be open and honest and don’t dismiss anyone’s feelings as unimportant or trivial. Work together and you’ll soon be loving local life!