As an Escape Artist reader (and hopefully also an Insider!), you are probably dreaming of a new life abroad, where you can escape some of the craziness of your home country, enjoy a lower cost of living, and soak up some good old vitamin D. But, if you have not taken adequate preparations and don’t know what to expect, chances are you will be longing for the comforts of home and will find it difficult to embrace life in your new country.
That last thing you want, after making a huge change like this, is to have to run home with your tail between your legs. So, let’s not do that. Instead, you are going to do the following to mitigate the inevitable culture shock:
- Prepare yourself for what to expect emotionally during the cultural adaptation process so you can ride out the low points.
- Take steps both before you leave and when you get there to make the transition to your new culture easier, and to make you new destination really feel like home!
Are you ready to culturally adapt like a rockstar?
The 5 Stages of Cultural Adaptation
You are probably familiar with the concept of the five stages of grief, right? Well, any time you undergo an emotionally traumatic experience, there are stages you go through in dealing with it. Even good experiences, like getting married, having a baby, or starting a new career follow a similar pattern of ups and downs that can have you begging to get off the emotional rollercoaster.
Phase #1: The Honeymoon Phase
This is the fun phase. You step off that plane with feelings of hope, excitement, and optimism. It can even be described as euphoric. You really did it – you picked up and moved to a new country! It’s time to start your new life!
Phase #2: The Crisis Phase
Perhaps this should be renamed the “Holy Sh!t” phase, because it is suddenly going to dawn on you that you have left everything you know behind and plopped yourself in an alien landscape you don’t understand. You are going to be wondering what the heck you were thinking. Was someone slipping crazy pills in your coffee? You can’t do this!
Nope, it’s just your good buddy “culture shock”. You’ll have feelings of anxiety, fear, confusion, depression, and sadness. These are totally normal feelings, of course, born of the difficulties associated with assimilating into a new culture and experiencing homesickness.
This is the phase where many people will abandon their overseas adventure for the comfort and familiarity of home.
Phase #3: The Recovery Phase
This phase is where you take a deep breath, understand that what you’ve been feeling is culture shock and that it is totally normal, and continue to move forward.
You will re-orient yourself in this phase, get your bearings, and make a plan for moving forward. Essentially, you are moving from the feelings of panic and despair of the crisis phase, to feelings of understanding, acceptance, and resolve.
Your inner coach has given you some tough love and a pep talk – shake it off, Champ, you can DO this!
Phase #4: The Adjustment Phase
You’ve come out of the emotional dip at this point, and are steadily making progress in adapting to your new culture. You make a conscious effort to get out into the community to understand the people. You learn more about the culture every day, each experience helping you to adapt and manage your expectations. You are slowly getting used to how things work and things are starting to feel more normal.
You put consistent effort into making your new country into your new home. With patience and time, you begin to experience increased self-confidence and motivation, as well as comfort with your surroundings.
BONUS Phase #5: The Accomplishment Phase
Congratulations – you did it!
You stuck out the tough times and have successfully adapted to your new culture. While it is something you will need to keep working at every day, you finally feel like you are at home. You are thankful for the ups and downs you’ve experienced, as they have helped you learn so much along the way. They have shown you how resilient, determined, and resourceful you really are. You feel proud of yourself for doing something most people would never even dream of attempting.
The only thing left to ask yourself is: What adventure is next?
Tips to Successfully Adapt to a New Culture
Failing to plan is planning to fail; we all know the saying. And when you are putting yourself in a high-stress situation like moving to a new country, this timeless saying is even more applicable. So, it’s up to you to set yourself up for success ahead of time by taking the appropriate steps.
Learn the language
With all the language tools at our disposal today, there is no excuse for not learning to speak the language of your new country. If you are truly serious about adapting to your new culture, this is a MUST do. Check out Olly Richards’ language courses – my husband is working on the Spanish one right now and it is really helping him understand the language much better.
Do your research
Researching your new country is crucial to helping you understand it. While it is no match for on-the-ground experience, putting in some research hours will help you get a much better idea of what to expect when you get there. It will also help you to determine if the country is a good fit for you in the first place.
(P.S. – If you are eyeing up Costa Rica, per chance, you are definitely going to want to check out this month’s issue of Escape Artist Insiders magazine, which is all about this beautiful expat favorite!)
Connect with local expats
You aren’t reinventing the wheel here, so you get the great benefit of learning from others’ experiences. Connect with local expats before you leave to get a better understanding of what to expect and to give yourself a base of support once you arrive.
Get out into the community
This is your new home – get out and explore it! Experience it first-hand alongside the locals. Shop where they shop. Attend cultural events. Give back to the community. Have fun with it and enjoy the opportunity to learn about and adapt to your new culture.
Stay in touch with friends and family
While they may not understand why you have chosen to pursue your dream of living overseas, it is so important not to isolate yourself from your family and friends back home. Those relationships are important, so stay in touch by phone, text, email or whatever other means work for you. After all, who doesn’t want to call their mom when they are homesick?
Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World
Understanding the emotions you will go through upon moving to a new country will help you to go in with your eyes wide open and have some strategies in place to deal with the ups and downs. A lot of people are totally unprepared for the turmoil they will experience in this process and, when it doesn’t turn out to be all sunshine and rainbows, they are unable to deal with it and end up leaving.
Once you work your way through that initial culture shock, things will get easier, especially if you implement the strategies mentioned above. Do as much as you can to prepare yourself ahead of time, exercise flexibility and patience when you get there, and don’t forget that cultural adaptation is a process that takes both time and effort.
All that being said though, you are embarking upon the adventure of a lifetime. The world is your oyster, there for you to explore and to push you outside your comfort zone. So, get out there, be the rockstar that you are, and make sure to have some fun with it along the way!
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