how to overcome the culture shock to adapt to a new country

Jan 14, 2022

Adapting to a new country is not easy. While each expatriate’s experience is unique, studies highlight that the process and time vary depending on the employee. Some researchers refer to this period as the adjusting cycle, while others call it the life cycle of the expatriates. What’s important is that the worker is prepared to face the emotional ups and downs expected to be suffered during the first months in their new work abroad.

Once the employee is selected to fulfill an assignment in another country, it is their responsibility to seek information about this country’s culture. Scholars say that for adapting to a new country, the expatriate must face these four stages:

The Honeymoon

Excitement is high in this stage since the employee is happy with their upcoming new life. The worker thinks about their professional development in the new working culture and forgets the difficulty of adapting to a new country. This phase extends for a few months, maybe several weeks.

The Culture Shock

The employee begins to experience the differences between his country of origin and the new one. The challenges of everyday life, especially outside the office, will make the expatriate feel disoriented, doubtful, anxious, frustrated, and helpless. If they remain stuck in this phase, the worker may return earlier.

Adaptation

After overcoming the critical point, the expatriate begins to understand the customs of the new culture. Both they and their family adapt to local dynamics while still missing certain aspects of their life in their own country. The employee begins to be productive and the barriers are reduced to transmit and receive knowledge of their work area.

Stability

Anxiety disappears and the employee gains confidence. After a learning process, they and their family have gotten more involved with the new culture that they feel safe. Language is no longer a problem and their friends’ network is extensive enough that they have established a new home unwittingly. In this phase, the expatriate begins to appreciate some characteristics and customs of the new country above his own.

Information is key for adapting to a new country

International tasks offer long-term benefits. Research reveals that at least 23% of expatriates returning to their countries are promoted during the first year since their return. It’s important to be conscious that adapting to a new country will be decisive to meet professional objectives.

We offer these tips to soften the culture shock and adapt without problems:

  • Before leaving, the expatriate must ask any question to their organization. While it is the same company, the work culture could be different in the new headquarters.
  • It is key to seek opinions from people who have lived the experience of working as an expatriate. That will help to understand what the foreign culture could be like.
  • Humility is key when we are in the process of change. Whether the employee has been a great leader in their country, their way of working may not adapt to the new reality. They must be polite and kind to share their knowledge.
  • If they have a partner, the employee must clarify the visa status for the spouses. They also need to evaluate all the possibilities so their partner can study, work, and keep busy while fulfilling all the goals.
  • As the adaptation process is not simple, they could evaluate the possibility of making periodic trips to their country.
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