In the last several posts, we’ve been discussing various aspects of the cultural adjustment process that many expats may experience when moving abroad.
We’ve discussed the experience of culture shock, reviewed some models of cultural adjustment, looked into the experience of repatriation (moving back home after time abroad), and covered some topics specific to moving abroad with kids or teens.
While these articles have only begun to scratch the surface, I hope that they have given you some things to think about as you prepare for your international move or as you try to make sense of your current experiences living abroad.
I’m sure this won’t be the last blog post on cultural adjustment, but it is the final post in this Cultural Adjustment Series, and I wanted to leave you with a few take-home points.
So here goes:
1. Keep in mind that adjustment means stress (by definition).
Remember that even exciting changes are stressful in that they shake up our systems and require us to adjust. Don’t underestimate the stress of an international move, even if you’re not feeling “stressed” in the typical ways you think of this word. Remember that stress responses can manifest in a host of different ways — from physical symptoms or fatigue to irritability and emotional ups and downs. When you notice these signs of stress, just recognize it’s part of the process and to be expected.
2. Be kind, gentle, and patient with yourself.
As you ride the waves through the various stages of adjustment to your new home, try to be as kind and gentle with yourself as you can. Resist the urge to dismiss your own feelings or tell yourself it shouldn’t be so hard or that you’re overreacting to things. It is what it is. This doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to help yourself feel better — but being hard on yourself about how you’re feeling isn’t going to help. Be patient and recognize that what you’re feeling is normal (even if it’s different from what your partner is feeling — there are many versions of “normal” when it comes to adjustment!).
The same applies to your partner or other family members — keep in mind that they’re going through their own unique but equally challenging adjustment process. Be gentle with one another, and keep the lines of communication open so you can help one another along the journey.
3. Remember that it’s a process — and that the story’s not over yet.
Keep in mind that the adjustment process is called “a process” for a reason. It’s not a one-and-done sort of thing. It takes time. Remembering this can help you recognize that what you’re feeling at any given moment is temporary — it won’t last forever. Have faith that things will progress and get easier with time — and take the steps you need to help yourself along that path.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need.
Whether it be reaching out to your partner, friends back home, the expat community, online forums, or a professional counselor, don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need as you move through this challenging process. Moving abroad can feel isolating — even when you move along with your partner or family — and letting others in on your experience can lighten the burden. You might learn that others are having or have had similar experiences, or you might just feel more connected by talking what you’re feeling. So don’t be timid — reach out and connect.
5. Recognize that with challenge comes growth.
In some of our most challenging times, we also have the opportunity to learn the most about ourselves.
This process of adjustment to a foreign culture may test all sorts of our limits, but it also gives us great opportunities to explore our own identities, our relationship with ourselves and those closest to us, and our values. Even when it’s uncomfortable, recognizing the opportunities for growth and self-reflection can help you keep putting one foot in front of the other and can give meaning to your journey.
Who knows? Perhaps one day, you’ll look back at this time with an appreciation for the role it played in the person you are to become.
p.s. As always, I would love to hear from you — your thoughts, reactions, or questions about this post or any of the posts in this series. Additionally, if there are subjects related to cultural adjustment that you’d like to learn more about in the future, please let me know!
However, if you choose to share your thoughts below, please keep in mind that these comments are visible to anyone who visits the blog. Therefore, I would encourage you to use a pseudonym (not use your real name) to protect your own privacy. If you would like to get in touch but would prefer to contact me privately, you can do so here.