Expat Shock – by Mercedes Escudero

by Patty Ryan posted on 3 December 2013

Mercedes Escudero examines what an expatriate goes through when first arriving in new country

What is your experience when moving to another country?

Have you ever felt out of place, maybe a little bit disoriented, with a strange feeling of alienation, overwhelmed, trapped, wanting to just run away and leave it all behind?  Is your room feeling  smaller and smaller and the ceilings seem to come down in a strange way? Sometimes, you just want to cry it all out and then a tear comes down your cheek.  You may also be trying to find, somewhere inside your heart, the strong person you usually are. Feelings of anxiety and frustration block your mind and soul.

Have you ever experience any of these feelings?  In psychology it  is called a culture shock.

What is culture shock?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a culture shock is:

“The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.”

 Many expats suffer from culture shock and many fail to adjust to living in a new country.

However, you need to know and be aware of the fact that this phenomenon, is part of the process of adjustment.  There are several stages you need to go through in order to overcome the trouble and achieve the adjustment.

This rollercoaster has the following ups and downs :

“Euphoria – disillusionment – hostility – adaptation – assimilation”

There is a feeling of euphoria when one arrives in a foreign country. We usually stop and think, “This is it!” As an expat one goes through a process that can lead to disillusionment and hostility.

The first sub stage is confusion and you experience it the morning after your arrival. You may begin to wonder- what in the world made you give that big “yes” to moving abroad ?

Then, when you pull yourself together, the need for communication is essential. You hardly speak the language. You hardly know the customs and traditions.  There is so much you need that frustration begins to take over your emotional state. Regular chores and things you usually do in your home country- like going to the doctor, or grocery-shopping, or even sending out a letter- become as hard to achieve as climbing to the top of Mount Everest. Fight it! Language is not a barrier. Everyone can get the message through, with time and patience and, perhaps, a piece of paper and a nice drawing. You’ll manage the language eventually and master the customs with a bit of time.

And finally, you are homesick. You are missing home and that special food or sound or landscape, your friends and family.

How can we  overcome a culture shock?

Just think of the unique experience you are going through, that will enrich your life in and out. You must think globally. Only a small percentage of the world’s population, get to live it. Since you are fortunate enough to experience living abroad, get on your feet and enjoy the country. This trip won’t last forever.

Don’t expect to be perfect and give yourself margin to fail. You will improve your skills with a mix of help, time and patience. Everything is out there for you to enjoy.

Make relations with locals and find friendly people that can help you in the transition and integration process of living in a foreign country. Join an expat club like the INC. Put your make up on, do some exercise, and give yourself a treat once in a while. Build yourself a life!

The whole healing point of all of these actions is the fact that, while you keep yourself so busy getting a new life, you don’t realize that the adjustment has been completed. So one day, not long ahead, you will wake up and find a new, happy, and proud “you”.

Nice to meet you!