How to deal with culture shock when relocating overseas

How to deal with culture shock when relocating overseas Featured Image

The famous Wizard of OZ quote got it right - there is no place like home. When moving to a new country, you’ll have to endure the difficult transition period of when the excitement wears off but before it begins to feel like home. As the initial novelty factors fade, you will likely find yourself faced with culture shock as you yearn for the familiar. But what is culture shock and how does it affect you? Are there any ways you can ease the discomfort of settling into a new culture and country?

At Allied, we help thousands of people move across the world every week so we know a thing or two about settling into a new culture. Here is how culture shock can affect you and how we recommend dealing with culture shock after relocating overseas. 

What is culture shock?

Culture shock refers to an experience of those travelling or living overseas when you encounter a culture different from your own. 

Culture shock is not limited to one emotion or feeling, with some research suggesting that there are five stages of culture shock. The first stage is the ‘honeymoon phase’ which is when everything is new and exciting, the differences have a certain novelty or charm. This can then be followed by the negative stage where you may feel frustrated and irritated by the differences. The third and final stage tends to be the ‘adjustment phase’ where you begin to accept these differences and your new surroundings become the new normal. 

It’s also common for expats and international students to experience reverse cultural shock when returning home after an extended period away. You may find that things which once felt familiar and normal no longer do. 

How can culture shock affect you?

The majority of people find that culture shock tends to build over time opposed to hitting all at once. While holidays and special events, such as Christmas and birthdays, can be especially confronting triggers for culture shock, you may find it will spring up in everyday life. It can often be as simple as not understanding a joke for culture shock to suddenly make you feel like an outsider. 

From not being able to find something you’re used to in the supermarkets to struggling to connect with new romantic partners or co-workers, culture shock can have a significant effect on your life.   

Common symptoms of culture shock include:

  • Feeling overly negative, frustrated, irritated and uncomfortable about the culture, local people and country

  • Withdrawing from social activities, spending increasing time alone and at home

  • Avoiding contact with local people and limiting interactions to other expats 

  • Increased sleeping, alcohol and substance abuse and other unhealthy habits

You may also experience worries about whether relocating was a mistake and a strong desire to return home. While these feelings are valid, it’s important to remember that returning to your previous country also means missing out on all the positives of living overseas. Culture shock tends to be the downside to a new adventure, but doesn’t diminish all the things which are so great about relocating to another country such as new experiences, making new friends and challenging yourself. 

Most expats eventually learn to accept that culture shock is part of the experience when it comes to relocating overseas. While it can be tough, there are ways to minimise the effects experienced. 

Coping strategies for culture shock

As culture shock is tough to avoid, it's best to learn how to deal with it and develop healthy habits. The following are our recommendations to help you settle into your new country and embrace a new culture. 

Accept how you feel

When it comes to dealing with culture shock, it’s best to first accept those feelings. After moving overseas there can be pressure to be loving every second and an hesitance to let those at home know how you really are feeling. However, attempting to ignore these feelings just means delaying the discomfort which can increase over time. It’s okay to feel homesick and unsure or at odds with your new home. 

Embrace standing out

One of the toughest things about trying to settle into a new environment is feeling like you always stand out. Whether it’s how you look, how you speak, what you wear or even how you cross the road, at first you may feel like everything you do is different. Making friends with locals is a great way to learn more about the common customs and practices of your new home. While it can feel demeaning to be told every time you’ve done something wrong or differently, try to embrace the feedback and recognise that these differences are what can make you so interesting to the locals. 

Establish a routine

Creating a daily routine is a great way to help deal with culture shock and begin to settle into your new life. Often doing something as small as getting a coffee from the same place every day can go a long way into feeling more settled and add a sense of normalcy. You can incorporate old parts of your routine into your new life, such as finding a favourite running path or great restaurant. Taking a familiar route to and from your home as well as memorising some landmarks can be helpful to avoid getting lost and helping to orientate yourself when exploring.  

Avoid relying on substances 

If you are trying to feel more at ease in your new surroundings, you may feel drawn to increased drinking or consuming other substances. While alcohol does have the benefits of giving you ‘liquid courage’ making it feel easier to talk to new people, try new things and embrace new environments, relying on it will make you feel worse in the long run. Not only will you need to weather the dreadful hangover the next day, but constant drinking can take a significant toll on your health and your wallet. You can make friends outside the bar and Discotheque by engaging with a local sports club or craft group. 

Reach out to others 

When it comes to experiencing culture shock, you are not alone! Reaching out to other people going through the same experience is a great way to help process the emotions and even make some new friends. We recommend meeting up with other expats in your local area through social media, related events or even in a language class. Having some company will make things that felt previously overwhelming or stressful feel more manageable and hopefully enjoyable. You can also reach out to those from home and be honest about how you are feeling. 

Travel around 

One of the benefits of living in a new country is exploring everything it has to offer. Travelling around can help reignite the feelings of curiosity and excitement about your new home and remind you why you were so enthusiastic about moving in the first place. Even if it's visiting a new neighbourhood, shop, or museum, being proactive to keep exploring will help you remain excited about your new home.  

Retain the familiar 

You don’t have to leave everything behind when you move overseas! Whether it’s a physical item, a tradition or a recipe, having something to remind you of your previous country can be incredibly comforting when facing culture shock. While your new country may not celebrate the same holidays, you can still keep the spirit alive by hosting your own celebrations and traditions. Introduce your new friends to what you love about your own culture by giving them opportunities to try your favourite foods, games and traditions. 

Remember the positives 

Ultimately, if all else fails try to focus on the positive aspects of living overseas. Reflect on the reasons why you decided to relocate such as a new job or change of lifestyle, and how you have overcome challenging experiences in the past. Be proud of yourself for making such a significant change and being brave enough to begin a new life overseas. 

Book your international relocation with Allied!

Wherever you are headed, Allied is here to help make your international move as stress-free as possible! Our experienced team will be there to assist you every single step of the way, from packing your belongings and furniture to setting up your new home overseas. 

At Allied, we offer more than the traditional moving services. We can help transport your furry or feathered friends overseas using our pet relocation services. If you are moving your car overseas, we’re also able to provide you with expert vehicle transportation

Get in touch with our friendly team and discuss the specifics of your move. We’ll provide you with a free quote tailored to your unique international relocation needs!