Job relocation? How to conquer culture shock

You’ve landed that promotion and you’re packed up and ready to move. Maybe you’ve just accepted your dream job abroad. Or if you’re like many of us who’ve gone before you, your company is sending you to a new location.

Whether it’s across the country or around the globe, the move may have you feeling an interesting mixture of emotions ranging from excitement to apprehension. I know – I’ve been there, too. Many years ago, I touched down in Paris to embark on what would be the journey of a lifetime, with little money in my pocket and barely able to speak the language.

In this 3-part blog series, I’m going to walk you through everything you’ve ever wanted to know about adjusting to life in a new area. This first post will give you all the details on what “culture shock” is about, while subsequent posts will give you fast facts and helpful tips to help you adjust.

Let’s embark on our journey!

“Culture Shock”, Defined

Here’s a thought-provoking statement from InterNations:

“Those who can’t answer the question ‘what is culture shock?’ and refuse to face it often fail to overcome it.”ID-100123698

Originally coined in the 1950s, the term “culture shock” essentially describes both the physical and emotional effects that happen when someone relocates to a cultural environment that is new to him or her. Some people think of culture shock as a phenomenon that only happens when a person moves a great distance, such as from one country to another.

In reality, culture shock is far from a mysterious phenomenon – but a predictable experience that can happen to anyone – whether it’s your first time working in a new setting or you’ve lived and worked in a variety of environments and consider yourself a seasoned pro.

What You Need to Know

There are two key pieces of information for you to know if this is a new topic for you:

  1. Culture shock is often thought to happen in stages, although not every person will go through all the stages or experience them in the same way as someone else.
  2. How you experience culture shock depends on many factors, including how much personal and professional support you have, what your personal and family circumstances are (i.e. how your spouse or partner reacts), how significantly different the culture you relocate to is from your own, and even how familiar you are with the culture of your new environment.

The Stages of Culture Shock

The stages of culture shock are sometimes described in different ways, but are generally thought to include:

  1. The Honeymoon Stage: This is the phase where you’re feeling excited about everything you’re experiencing. You’re probably curious, enthusiastic, and full of energy. In fact, it might even feel like you’re on vacation!
  2. The Disintegration Stage: The “honeymoon’s over”, as they say…At this point, all that enthusiasm and energy might be replaced by a sense of discomfort, irritability, isolation, or of not fitting in. Your regular support systems may no longer feel as comfortably accessible. Many consider this to be the most challenging phase – and for good reason – you may begin to idealize your old life and withdraw from the new people around you, feel exhausted and/or suffer from recurring illness, and in general, feel disoriented, lost and/or confused.
  3. The Re-Integration (or Adjustment) Stage: Whew, now you’re starting to re-establish a sense of clarity and direction. Basically, you may feel more balanced at this stage – but it doesn’t happen overnight and you may still go through spells where you feel apprehensive, awkward, out of place, etc.
  4. The Adaptation Stage: In time (and this differs for each person), your confidence begins to increase as you adapt to your new environment and experience a new sense of belonging. In the earlier stages of adjustment, you may have experienced prejudices or general resentment towards your new environment. Now, however, you begin to take on a more understanding view, integrating various aspects of the new culture into your life.
  5. Re-entry Shock: So, what happens when you re-enter your “old” culture? You guessed it – many people experience what’s known as “reverse culture shock” when (and if) they return home and must readjust to their previous cultural environment.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where I’ll give you some fast facts and perspectives on this topic.

Do you want to work on gaining the confidence you need to shine – in any situation? Then grab my free confidence e-series today! Click here to get instant access.


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