Posted by Natalia Buttery on September 4th, 2019.
At one time or another we’ve all dreamed about moving abroad. But what can you really expect from life overseas? Should you believe the hype and anticipate a glorious adventure? Or will the reality be different?
Get prepared by finding out about some of the issues you might face – and how to tackle them!
A bit of an obvious one, but no matter how good your new life is, you’ll always miss what you left behind. Not only will you miss people, you’ll also be unable to attend birthdays, marriages and the social get-togethers you enjoyed when the people you love were within easy reach. A quick trip back home isn’t always possible, either financially or practically, so there are some things to bear in mind.
Culture shock occurs when we find ourselves exposed to cultural and social change. Persistent exposure can increase feelings of discomfort. The state of emotional turmoil we experience is usually caused by an inability to escape the newness of our surroundings and is a common risk when moving overseas.
You may find yourself overwhelmed by change as soon as you arrive, or you may find the ‘honeymoon period’ lingers for months before the effects of culture shock are felt.
So how can you prepare?
Firstly, anticipate the symptoms and recognize them for what they are if they appear.
Lethargy, doubt, feelings of panic and a desire to withdraw could all be indicative of culture shock. Try not to let these feelings scare or worry you. They are natural and all part of the relocation process.
Be realistic about your new life. Nothing is perfect and this is as true of a move abroad as anything else. You might love your new house but struggle to fit in with the local community. You might love the weather but dislike the insects. Try to find the silver lining.
A bolt-hole will help when you feel overwhelmed. This could be a room in your house, a café that reminds you of home or just a quiet spot where you can be alone with your thoughts. Some expats like to grab a hearty British meal, the tastes and aromas instantly transporting them back to Blighty!
In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, ‘don’t panic!’
One unforeseen consequence of your new life abroad could be reverse culture-shock. Things back home may suddenly seem strange, leaving you feeling like a tourist in your own home town.
This is another natural response and strategies already mentioned can also help with reverse culture-shock.
Anticipate the issue and recognise the symptoms. Accept beforehand that things may seem (and be) different when you go home and that this is okay. Bring reminders of your new life with you and turn to these for comfort. International cuisine is now commonplace, so seek out a restaurant serving food native to your new home and indulge yourself!
Here are some common issues, comments and questions you may encounter in your move abroad. For each we’ve applied the PRF solution. Be Positive; be Realistic; be Flexible.
“I should have fallen in love with my new home by now.”
Falling in love is an accumulative process and takes effort and commitment. Ask any married couple!
Realistically, you won’t fall in love with your new home the moment you arrive. The little joys will build up over time.
“Why do I still miss friends and family so much? Does this mean I should go home?”
You will always miss friends and family! Missing home is no reflection on your new situation or you as a person. Homesickness doesn’t indicate inadequacy and certainly doesn’t mean your new life fails to meet expectations.
Be flexible and avoid thinking in absolutes. Be realistic in your expectations and try to stay positive.
“I’m struggling with the language and don’t feel like I’ll ever understand the native tongue!”
Everyone learns a language at their own rate. Some people are naturals, others will struggle. A positive attitude will help you to learn at a faster rate, but you should also be realistic about your own abilities. Try not to be too hard on yourself. New things take time and learning a new language is unlikely to be the only challenge you face.
“Other expats seem to be so well established and happy. Will I ever be like them?”
Try to avoid comparing yourself to others. They almost certainly faced the same problems and challenges as you and maybe they will again. Try to be optimistic. Instead of making comparisons, consider other expats as potential friends whose advice and support could prove invaluable.
“Everything is so different, will I ever feel like I fit in? I just want to stay inside and hide away.”
You’re immersed in a new culture so you’re bound to feel out of place. This is normal. Withdrawing is a tempting way to cope with feelings of homesickness and the way most of us tend to react when we feel down. But isolation and loneliness are no cure, so be sure to find local friends and keep busy when homesickness strikes. Get out and about, stay active and force yourself to be sociable. It won’t be easy, but doing so is the best way to chase away the blues.
This, of course, is always easier said than done! But negativity breeds negativity and could make the situation worse. Ask yourself ‘is it really as bad as all that?’ Crucially, be kind to yourself. Moving to a new home, a new country and a new lifestyle are exceptionally stressful. Recognise the inherent difficulties as challenges and meet them with a smile.
The idea of moving abroad has always been romantic. You’ve pictured yourself reclining under a sun-drenched sky with a cold glass of your favourite tipple, wandering the cobbled streets of an ancient medieval town or meandering through apple orchards in sight of snow-capped mountains. You’d be forgiven for thinking such tranquillity will chase away all worry and strife.
While this could easily be true, there will undoubtedly be periods when things are less than idyllic. Life goes on regardless of where you live, the weather and the access you have to beautiful surroundings. There will always be times when you face trials and tribulations and stress will rear its ugly head.
Avoid blaming such moments on your decision to move, or your new lifestyle. Everyone, everywhere faces discomfort and low-points from time to time.
Avoid unrealistic expectations. Discover your new home and life on a day-to-day basis and give yourself ample time to adjust.
Flexibility means adjustment and a fluid way of thinking. Avoid black and white interpretations. Events, people and places are generally composed of a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly so keep an open mind and be open to change. A move abroad is, in almost every way, about change and the greatest of these may be the change you see in yourself.
Not everyone you meet will be friendly and welcoming, but this doesn’t mean everyone is unfriendly and unwelcoming. Nurture good friendships and avoid toxic people – generally applicable advice!
Your new home may not be perfect in every way. This doesn’t mean your new home is entirely imperfect. Overlook the imperfections. Relish what you love.
The new culture you find yourself in may present unforeseen difficulties and challenges but this doesn’t mean everything about the new culture is difficult and challenging. Focus on what’s good and what you enjoy.
Be prepared to change. Flow like water around your new community, culture and location and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much easier life becomes.
A fresh start will inspire you to learn new things and, in turn, you’ll face new decisions, new choices and new experiences. Embracing, rather than fighting, these new experiences means both you and your world have expanded – ultimately this may be one of the best reasons for moving abroad.
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