Adapting To A New Culture

Moving is a stressful life event that can be more difficult when the move is to a new country and culture. Taking this big step into the unknown can be a challenge when cultural differences such as language, religion, politics, and customs come into play. These are some tips to help you adapt during the transition.

Forget stereotypes

Begin your transition by thinking about all the stereotypes you’ve ever heard about the people and the place you will move. Recognize them and realize that no one place, nor people can be painted with a broad brush.

Education about the country you’re moving to is most important. Read books, check websites, and look at local publications such as online magazines and newspapers. Talk with colleagues who have visited or worked in the country and contact the embassy or consulate of that country. When you do, you will be given a better insight about the way of life in general and what is essential day to day.

Learn the language

While it is incredibly important to learn and be familiar with the language, be aware of the familiar verses polite forms of address, especially in business settings. When you speak the native language, even if you make some mistakes, locals will typically admire you for trying.

Non-verbal communications

More than half of communication is non-verbal acts such as facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Beware that some hand gestures that are common in America can be very offensive in other countries. Educate yourself on what is and is not acceptable and get a feel for social customs.

Culture shock

No matter where in the world you may go, being somewhere different will be a bit of culture shock. Daily life will be different for everything from what you eat and wear to the way you get around and interact with others.

Prepare yourself to be anxious or disorientated. This is normal. But it can affect the ability to adjust and assimilate. Some ways to help you through culture shock include:

  • Develop relationships with co-worker’s families and get insight into their process of adapting.
  • Tour areas of historical importance and natural settings such as public parks, forests, or trails.
  • Join a club where you can meet other expats. These can often be found online. Share with them and learn from each other’s experiences.
  • Visit local places of worship, sports clubs, and schools.
  • Volunteer time at an organization.

Eating and drinking

Whatever you consume at home, be aware that finding the same items will be difficult. Go in with the expectation that everything will be different and keep an open mind when it comes to dining. It may be necessary to adjust your eating schedule as well. In some parts of the world, having a meal is an important and much slower process than in the United States. Easy-to-make foods will not be as accessible. Some locations have much later dining hours or expect that coworkers have certain meals (or drinks) together.


Most appliances will have to be converted when traveling to another country. Plug converters can be used with smaller household items such as lamps, kitchen items (coffee makers, blenders, etc.), and radios. If your assignment is longer term, consider purchasing laptop computers or mobile phone in the new location. They will likely adapt better. Be aware that local laptop keyboards will typically differ, even in some European countries. This may require a period of adjustment because keys won’t be where you expect as you type.

Home furnishings in other parts of the world are sparse compared to American homes. In some countries, appliances are often considered to be a renter’s or buyer’s personal purchase. Be prepared to purchase on location and note that some appliances such as refrigerators, clothes washers or stoves may be much smaller than an American would expect. Additionally, the price of buying these items may be more expensive.

Keep safety in mind

The minute you step out of your usual way of life, you need to be more aware of your surroundings and actions. Remember that crime and the way authorities respond differ from location to location. Prepare yourself by asking these questions:

What if I or someone in my family needs medical attention?

Become familiar with the local medical system and have a plan in place should that person ever need to go back to your native country. If traveling with children, it’s a good idea to locate a good doctor right away, even if you don’t need him or her right away. Be aware that new climates, air, and water quality and new diets can often be hard on the immune system.

What would we do if there is a national crisis?

Keep advised of travel warnings and get information about how to evacuate your family and get out of the country if necessary.

Are there special security concerns that require additional attention?

In some locations, it may be necessary to have extra security in residence, hire a bodyguard or full-time interpreter, or have kidnapping insurance.

What happens if communications are out of order?

Natural disasters or political disturbances have been known to shut down telephone, internet, and texting. Have a plan in place regarding how to keep in touch with your family should something happen.

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