Coping strategies for culture shock
Expat parents and children can experience culture shock on more than one occasion. The obvious time for culture shock to strike is when one moves to a new country. The less obvious, but equally troublesome time, is when one returns back to the home country either for a visit or to move back after a long period away. This is generally known as ‘reverse culture shock’. In both cases the arrival in what is (or has become) an unfamiliar environment can leave both parent and child searching for something that seems like home.
How can parents help prepare themselves and their children for the shock of entering a new culture? Here are some helpful tips for before you leave and once you arrive.
Before you leave
Preparation is key to minimizing culture shock. Parents should read up as much as they can about the new location. You should not limit your resources to travel guides and news sources. I highly recommend digging deeper into the independent media and using tools like expat blogs, expat group websites and especially Facebook and Twitter. Look around to see what routines other expat parents in the area have. This will give you a very good idea of what to expect in terms of activities and services that will be available. If there are discussion boards or forums, put up a post to ask for advice and tips. Expats love to help one another and these “on the ground” insights can be invaluable! Come and join Expatability Chat on Facebook to ask questions.
Preparation doesn’t stop with the parents. Regardless of how old your child is, you should be as open as possible with them about the upcoming move or trip. Tell them that things will be different and that they might have to eat different food and hear a new language being spoken. But also make sure to balance this out with information about things that will be the same – familiar faces (even if it is just your own), familiar activities (playgrounds, parks, sports, pools, etc), and some familiar foods that you know you can find (or bring along).
When you arrive
Move forward! The worst thing that you can do for culture shock is to stand still and mourn over the loss of the previous place. The sooner you get out of the house and start exploring, the faster things will start to become familiar. If you have prepared properly, you should have a good idea of where to go to find things. Work through your list and make sure to blend some everyday activities into your exploration. You will be surprised at just how quickly you adapt to the new environment.
It is important to note that moving forward does not mean that you need to ignore any feelings of sadness over the move or trip away. Take advantage of quiet times (bedtime or meals) to ask your child how they are feeling. Are they sad? Do they miss the old house? Tell them that it is okay with be a bit sad and that you also miss your old home. Let them know that their feelings are normal and okay. Then close out the conversation with a discussion of the new things that they have discovered that day. It might be something small like a new park or food or something big like a new friend. Just make sure to end the conversation on a happy note.
Culture shock can be challenging for both parent and child. Study up in advance, do your best to find a new community and keep an open mind about the new place. Before you know it, it will feel like home.
By Lynn Morrison
Lynn Morrison is the co-founder of , the online community for expat parents in the Netherlands. Visit the website to find out more about the exciting lives of expat families in the Low Countries.