Living abroad can be a life-changing experience. I've lived in Brazil, South Korea, and Colombia and each place came with its own set of exciting adventures and challenging scenarios.
Living and working abroad in any country will always force you to go through a period of cultural adjustment.
If you'll soon travel, work, or visit abroad for a long period of time, understanding the adjustment process will allow you to have the most fulfilling academic, professional, or personal time.
1. Be Prepared for Culture Shock
In your new country, you'll bring your cultural background with you and it will impact how you adjust to your environment.
Culture shock is a common experience that describes the feelings of confusion, stress, and disorientation that occur when entering an unfamiliar culture.
Keep in mind that not everyone has the same reactions to cultural adjustment. Some people may experience culture shock in varying degrees, and at different times. Common reactions to culture shock include:
Withdrawing from social experiences
Anger over small things
Strong feelings of homesickness
Sleep difficulties and exhaustion
2. Be Open-Minded
Being open-minded while abroad will be the key to adapting to a new culture because you can't bring your culture, rules, or network of friends and family with you.
Leave your expectations behind of what the new culture will be like, and instead embrace the chance to learn something new and broaden your world vision.
Some things you'll get to experience because you're open-minded include:
You'll get to try new food.
It will lessen your prejudice toward others.
You'll get to make new friends.
You'll become an excellent problem-solver.
3. Make An Effort to Learn the Language
Putting in the effort to become conversational in Spanish greatly enhanced my experiences and personal connections while living 3 years in Colombia.
If you speak a popular language like English, you might be able to move around and communicate with some people. But if you really want to feel at home, it's best you make an effort to learn the local language.
Benefits of learning the language include:
You'll communicate better with locals.
Locals will be more welcoming.
You'll experience the richness of the host culture.
You'll find better job opportunities.
Ways to Learn the Language of Your Host Country
Search the web for group and/or private language classes offered in your area or online.
Start watching movies and series in the host language, using subtitles if you'd like.
Join social media groups to connect with other foreigners and expatriates in your host country.
Be brave and start talking to native speakers!
4. Get Involved in Events and Clubs
The idea of making new friends in your host country might seem scary. You might worry about the thought of feeling isolated in such a new environment.
Believe it or not, there are quite a few strategies you could implement that will get you integrated into your new community in no time.
Use social media platforms. Social media platforms and online communities are great ways to make friends in a new city. Some platforms you could try include:
Try a search term like "Expats in _________ (name of your host country)" and see what groups you can join.
Take classes and pick up hobbies. Whether you're a recreational runner, dancer, or language learner, signing up for classes also could mean signing up for friends. Sharing the same interests means that you'd automatically have something to talk about!
Even if you have no hobbies, you could always explore and experiment with different classes and events.
Try a search term such as " Running clubs in ___________ (name of your host country)."
5. Seek Support from Other Expats
While it's important that you engage with the natives of the new country you're living in, finding personal support from other expats in the country who are having similar experiences to you is super helpful as well.
They may not know you in the same way that your childhood friends do, but you may just very well end up forming life-long friendships. At the very least, you'll have people at your side during this monumental phase in your life.
Jasmine is studying in Thailand for the semester and is experiencing the affects of culture shock. What should she do?
Living abroad comes with its own set of challenges such as finding a new home, learning a new language, making new friends, and cultural adaptation.
It's overwhelming at first to think of all the changes you must experience, but once you get the hang of things, you'll realize that you've gained an invaluable new perspective on life.
To adapt to the new culture you live in with self-awareness, remember to: