How to handle culture shock when moving abroad

Disguised as fatigue, homesickness, frustration, disorientation - or just feeling overwhelmed by a new way of doing things. Whether you’re going abroad for a week, or moving to a new country: culture shock can affect us all, no matter how well travelled you are.

I’ve lived in 3 different countries, and every time I move it gets slightly easier. Our initial move to France was the hardest, made worse by language barriers which initially seemed impossible to break down. The second time round we moved to Berlin – and this time, feeling experienced and prepared, we dealt with culture shock head on.

Here are some of the things I learned along the way.

RELATED: I LEARNT FRENCH IN SIX MONTHS & YOU CAN TOO

FIND A COMMUNITY

Establishing a community is probably the single most important step in overcoming culture shock. Before we’d even taken our furniture out of the boxes, we introduced ourselves to our neighbours, door to door. A heartfelt introduction will almost certainly garner you an instant group of friends – or at least allies. Being on a first-name basis with those around you is a great security blanket: if you’re ever in need of urgent help, you won’t need to stray too far to find it.

If you’re not confident with the language, or suffer from social anxiety - write up an introduction message and slip it under the doors/through the letterboxes of everyone in your immediate vicinity.

Socialising is SO important when overcoming culture shockIf you’ve just moved country, head to Facebook to find online groups, or reach out to your university to direct you to societies if you’re an international student. Search for wider communities to ease your transition, and mingle in places where you’ll find like-minded people. They’ll in turn introduce you to their friends, and voila, you’ve got a network! Most likely, you’ll meet people in these communities who have experienced a similar culture shock – and they’ll have tips and tricks to help you.

RELATED: 5 THINGS NO ONE WILL TELL YOU ABOUT MOVING TO ENGLAND AT 23

group of friends in berlin

KEEP A SLICE OF HOME

It’s important to establish a balance of the new culture and your own. I attended local events, and kept up to date with national holidays. However, if the season’s right – anyone who walks past my house in Berlin is likely to hear the Strictly Come Dancing theme blaring out of the window. If there’s a type of food you feel you miss or can’t live without – try and find it. Though simple, it could make all the difference.

CREATE A ROUTINE

Feeling confused and overwhelmed in a new place can make you feel like you’ve lost some element of control over your life – and that’s super stressful. Spend a few days exploring what’s around you, and if you find places you like – go there every day for a while. Establish a clear daily routine in your home, or wherever you’re staying during that time.This can re-introduce a state of equilibrium in your life, and counter some of the symptoms of culture shock.

SET GOALS & BE PATIENT

Patience is a virtue when adapting to culture shock. Sometimes it takes a while for these things to become normal. Set personal goals – even if they’re as small as sparking up a conversation with a stranger. If you’ve pushed yourself to get out of bed and explore something new, buy yourself a nice treat to reward yourself for your efforts!

ALSO HELPFUL: WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT MOVING OVERSEAS

Moving country - and just travelling in itself - is exhausting, and you're more likely to feel disorientated in a new environment if you're depleted of your self care.

There’s no shame in taking a day to stay inside, watch some movies, eat some familiar food, and Skype your friends. Arrange a trip home if necessary, or even better: convince them fly out. Navigating culture shock can actually be really fun with a friend by your side!

HAVE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE

Attitude is an extremely important component of overcoming culture shock. Before you’ve even arrived at your new destination, expect that you’ll get a culture shock on some scale. Do your research – see what other people have said about the area you’ll be staying in, and come prepared.

Most importantly: understand that different isn’t worse.

Culture shock can actually be something truly special if you have the right attitude. It completely changes your perspective on your habits, culture and way of life, and makes you question why you feel uncomfortable about certain things when there’s absolutely no reason to be. Adopting some of these new cultural norms may well change you for the better. Celebrate your new hybrid culture, and before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to thriving in your new home!

READ MORE