Tag Archives: Culture shock
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You might be facing a unique set of challenges right now. Acclimatizing to a new locale, new cultural norms and social practices, ever-changing pandemic rules, children with identity issues, an injury, or an elderly relative, who just fell down a third time and needed to be hospitalized. 

These challenges bring with them additional levels of stress and dealing with them every day inevitably results in mental exhaustion, especially if you cannot be there in person and have to support through WhatsApp calls.

You might also downplay your own mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion or worse, ignore them altogether. That’s because as new members of the workplace or community, you don’t want to be seen as the “constant victim”. You might end up overworking and taking on too many responsibilities to show your “worth” and you’re not looking after yourself enough.

This can result in weight fluctuations, feeling drained or listless, and being unable to get out of bed. If any or all of those descriptions apply to you or to a family member, then this discussion would help you understand better what is going on. 

The Expat Experience

The “Expat Experience (XX)” involves working longer hours, adjusting to the rules and culture of the host country, trying to build a new circle of friends, and retaining some semblance of social life. You notice that things that were commonplace in your home country, perhaps easier access to medication or specific types of food, are way harder in the new country and add to the stress that is already near peak levels due to the recent move.

Stress is something we all have to manage but for you, stress is experienced more frequently and from a broader range of sources. It starts with the “small” things – handing over your previous work, clearing your office space out for the move, and saying goodbye to people you love or grew accustomed to.

For you, it only gets more complicated from there. There is a new language and an entire culture built around it that needs to be understood, people to interact with, transport networks to figure out, and more. Remember, all this is happening in conjunction with everyday obligations like cooking and cleaning, spending time with family, calling your relatives or parents in your home country.

You can see why the statistics skew in favor of you facing more burnouts, and the negative impact on personal and professional life that they bring.

Culture Shock 

Early on during an assignment, a large portion of you suffers from “culture shock” or cultural adjustment. The impact of these often manifests as symptoms similar to mild depression – feelings of isolation and helplessness, oversleeping and lethargy (or even the opposite: insomnia and lethargy), mood swings, and unexplained body aches. Homesickness adds to the symptoms, which combined with the fact that you might be new to your role makes things even tougher. It could also be that you don’t have a job or occupation just yet and feel that an important part of your identity is suddenly missing.

In this high-stress, emotional scenario, you often turn to the wrong things for management: substance abuse in the form of drugs or alcohol. 

I usually prescribe these seven easy-to-implement steps for helping your body with cultural adjustment.

  1. Implement a Daily Mission Walk. The focus here is not on high-impact training, but rather on consistency. Go for a short walk and make it a staple of your daily routine. Motivate yourself by small missions such as taking the dog for a walk, recycling the glass bottles, getting bread or flowers, buying groceries without the car, dropping a few items off at the local Brockenhaus (or Salvation Army).
  2. Plan a Digital Detox. This one is not easy, as you end up losing contact with your family and friends back home, but it is well established that overuse of social media and technology has a high impact on stress levels. A weekend of digital detox will help you regain focus and have some time to think and reflect. I usually try to stay away from social media for 24 hours over the weekend. During the RockMeRetreat we are practicing to stay away from media for several days.
  3. Practice PMR or a similar Relaxation Method. Work through Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) every day after lunch or before you go to sleep. Start with videos you can find on YouTube or buy CDs and audios from Medical Doctors such as Dr. Beth Salcedo (English) or Dr. Stephan Frucht (German).
  4. Start Meditating 5 Minutes a Day. Practicing active meditation is also a good idea. I created this video to get you started. There are many more detailed videos on how to do this out there. I’m teaching active meditation at the RockMeRetreat.
  5. Combine your first coffee with a morning meditation. You can also start your day with a short morning meditation such as this one. I try to combine my first coffee with a short meditation.
  6. Start a Journal. Journalling is a great method to deal with your mind and emotions. If it feels like a lot of work, try a bullet journal first.
  7. Join one of our Group Programs. Having a support group to help through any kind of transition is useful. With the current BANI world out there I would advise that you always build a support network fast and have a person you can trust and speak to about your challenges regularly.

Reverse Culture Shock

The hope that you would only experience culture shock once when you start an assignment is dashed by the revelation that by the end of that assignment, particularly if it was several years long, the same people experience a similar shock on returning home.

Also dubbed “re-entry shock”, the scenario is pretty similar to the original culture shock. After 5 or more years, the friend’s group, support networks, and even the workplace have all evolved and changed, while your memories and knowledge stopped at the point where they moved away. You find yourself in a similar boat as when you arrived in the host country all those years ago.

Reverse culture shock has not received the attention it deserves until now, but Vanessa Paisley’s “5-V Repatriation Model” is a great starting point to learn more about it.

When You Need Help From a Therapist

Coaching is not always the best solution, especially if symptoms have been persisting for a long time or were previously undiagnosed, perhaps even in the home country.  Should I identify that your symptoms are beyond what we deem “normal cultural adjustment” I will advise you to seek out professional help. 

The symptoms of depression are complex and vary, but have devastating long-term impacts on a person. 

If you are experiencing changes in sleep patterns, appetite, weight and mood swings, or any combination of symptoms listed on the link, please reach out immediately.

It is not easy to admit, whether to loved ones or even ourselves when things are tough. If you are feeling symptoms of culture shock, the first and by far the most important step is to honestly identify and acknowledge that you are not well. 

Without that acknowledgment, the treatment and healing can not begin. Also, asking for help can be shameful. Start with asking us for help by emailing romee@globalpeopletransitions.com for a first 25-Minute Call with me. 

We would also once again like to invite you to join our preparatory free workshops in advance of the RockMeRetreat and for anyone who would like to get to know our work with Expats, Expat Partners, Global Nomads, and Scientists better.

Cultural Overlaps

By Sara Micacchioni

Yachi Namamoto is Japanese, an expatriate residing in Hawaii, and a quiet intelligent individual. Though he initially is shy with strangers, he likes a lot to play host for his friends. In conversations, he will demonstrate techniques of jujitsu, in which he holds a high-ranking belt. He will also talk about the incidents that he experienced in his travels throughout Asia and America. Brought up in a middle-class, though relatively traditional home, Yachi Namamoto finished high school and taught ikebana, the art of flower arrangement. In high school, he became a member of a splinter faction of the Zengakuren, the militant student movement in Japan. He participated actively in numerous demonstrations and student revolts too.

How would you describe Yachi Namamoto? Do you think he identifies more as a Japanese or a Hawaii resident? Maybe he applied to and obtained his Green Card and he’s now a US citizen. Perhaps, sometimes he introduces himself as an expatriate and ikebana teacher, and other times as a middle-class man who is into politics. 

Like Yachi Namamoto, we all hold multiple intersecting identities which define who we are and how we understand and experience the world. When we think of these identities individually, they are just a snapshot. In fact, depending on the context in which we find ourselves, the importance, salience and awareness of certain identities change. This means that the perception we and the others have of our identities not only varies during the course of our lives, but it may change throughout the same day. At the same time, other identities might as well fade away in time as a result of growing older and having different responsibilities in life. For example, “student identity” may be a rather central one during university time, but it then gradually fades away in favour of other features such as “career identity” once graduates move onto different stages of their lives. 

And if you were to conceptualize your own understanding of who you are, what are the most important identities that come to your mind? 

How might others think of your identities? Is this answer similar or different than the first one?

Like Gardenswarts and Rowe (2003) point out, there are many aspects of identity, such as age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, ethnicity, race, parental and marital status, religion, union affiliation, department or unit group, etc. The list is actually much longer.

The way our multiple identities overlap is a fundamental symbol of our existence and functioning aspect of our individual personality, placed at the core of the scheme proposed by the two authors. 

The Kaleidoscope of Identities

Imagine a kaleidoscope with several different colorful pieces. Think about those pieces as your relevant identities. There are also three mirrors, and depending on the lens through which you observe the reflection, different patterns are generated. With a turn of the lens, one can see things from a different perspective and understand better what all the identities at play are.

Very often, we are too focused on our national identity, which we often use to describe ourselves in an international context where, given the abundance of nationalities, our national identity becomes more relevant. In fact, even if we rarely think of ourselves in these terms, we are a patchwork of multiple identities. We act according to certain internalized roles, rules, norms and functions which are typical of certain subcultures. 

Who we are is not individually determined by the single subcultures to which we belong. Rather, psychologically and socially, we are the result of the overlap of all these subcultures taken together and each person’s identity is shaped by this multiplicity of traits. As we said earlier, they are generally all equally relevant at the same time, though they always co-exist. They can also confer privilege and power or can be marked by oppression and marginalization.

Try to recall a situation in which you might have had a wrong impression about someone and think of what made you change your mind. 

About Sara

Author's Headshot
Sara

Sara Micacchioni is currently working as Academic Intern at Global People Transitions, where she is responsible for research and quality assurance projects. At the beginning of 2020, she graduated from an international English-taught master degree in Intercultural Management at the University of Burgundy, France. In the past, she also carried out several short-term and long-term voluntary work projects in Europe and South America.
Sara lived, studied, and worked in seven European countries and speaks four foreign languages. She considers herself an interculturalist with a real passion for globetrotting. In her mission to travel the world, she has now ticked off 30 countries globally.

Resources

Adler, P. (November 2002). ‘Beyond Cultural Identity: Reflections on Multiculturalism’. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from https://www.mediate.com/articles/adler3.cfm#comments

Gardenswartz, L & Rowe, A. (2003). Diverse Teams at Work: Capitalizing on the Power of Diversity, Society For Human Resource Management.

Ngo, C. (2014). ‘Kaleidoscope of identities’. Tedx UOregon. University of Oregon. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRGqgNuJDIk

Blogs

Edgar Schein on Culture

Danny

Guest Blog by Danny

Every day, there are people seeking opportunities to work abroad thanks to the internet that has increased information exchange, making it a lot easier for people to find jobs to apply for. While it goes well for most of them, some people still struggle with fitting in and properly adjusting to a new work environment.

Other than a chance to grow financially, anyone considering to work overseas must have other goals of advancing in different areas. But before you make that move, what are the top things you need to consider:

Anticipate culture shock

Most people do thorough research about a new environment before they move, but unlike moving from a city to another, changing nations, and perhaps continents, is not easy. Culture shock is the emotional, mental and physical disorientation someone experiences due to the sudden exposure to a totally new environment. Unfortunately, there is no test, even the Basic Skills Test that tests your cognitive ability for maximum productivity in the workplace, that can adequately prepare you for this kind of situation.

At first, the difference you realize while in the new environment may only be in the eating and dressing habits, but with time, concepts like time zones, economic structures, language barrier, organizational cultures, bureaucratic systems, among others, will catch you by surprise. Driving might even be difficult for you, with different rules to apply. You will probably experience what is called “culture shock”. Culture shock is the emotional, mental and physical disorientation someone experiences due to sudden exposure to a totally new environment. It includes changes in lifestyle habits, attitudes, food changes, language barrier, among others. It often refers to an emotional state similar to a depression where you do not want to meet the local population any longer and where you wish to retreat to your home.

Therefore, it always helps to anticipate a certain level of disorientation for the move to overseas.

Understand the work permit terms

A lot of people end up frustrated in a foreign place after termination of employment, having to find illegal ways of sticking around, simply due to failure to understand the terms of the visa.

Now, depending on which type of work permit you have, the terms are different. Some dictate that you return to your home country after being fired or losing a job, while some give you a chance to work for a limited number of years, upon which you must return to your nation. In most cases, the employer takes care of acquiring a work permit for their international hires, but that does not take off the duty you have of going through the paperwork to understand the conditions. Further, different countries stipulate different guidelines under which someone would receive a work permit, depending on the amount of work you do.

Getting credit can be very difficult

Do not just assume that once you move abroad things will be well for you, particularly financially. Once you are in a foreign country, it can be tough to get things done on credit and loans. Instead, consider getting a credit card with an international bank before you leave your nation, which is a lot easier to transfer the card over having to rally for people to vouch for you before you can acquire a credit card.

Banking can also get complicated

Working overseas might be the clean slate you needed to get your life on the right track both financially and careerwise, but when it comes to banking, you may need to come prepared, because anything could happen. The first step you must ensure you follow before the big move is to have reserve money in the bank, preferably in an international bank. While you may find it cheaper to travel on local currency with a weekly paycheck to keep your wallet busy, you will need some backup plan should anything go wrong, for example, a stall in your payment.

Have an international health cover

Among the worst things that could happen to you in a foreign land is to fall sick, when you do not have the comfort of family or a little understanding of the medical systems. Make it a priority to get an international medical cover that will take some of the pressure and worry away.

Change is not easy, leave alone a big change like this. While it is okay to get excited about your new job, take time to deliberate through some of the things enlisted here to help you transition effortlessly.

The Global Career Workbook

If you want to move abroad for work and do not know where to start check out Angie Weinberger’s “Global Career Workbook” here.

About the Blogger: Danny Kariuki

https://www.linkedin.com/in/danny-kariuki-31733374/

Danny Kariuki is a top-rated freelance writer on Upwork. He helps clients reach greater heights through top-notch content development strategies.

Guest post by Lucie Koch

I have been in Zürich for a few weeks now and I am starting to adjust to swiss city life. I am amazed every day by how cosmopolitan Zürich is with all the languages heard in the tram. It’s wonderful.

In my last blog post, I wrote about how entry into professional life was one kind of culture shock. I have started to adapt to the professional and Swiss cultural frame. Working for Global People Transitions is a very interesting experience, especially since I get to be involved in very diverse tasks, from administrative paperwork to exciting business development projects. I am discovering how many gearwheels must be activated and maintained for the business machine to work properly.

While I expected to have to adjust to the professional culture, I wasn’t quite prepared for the general culture shock that I experienced in Switzerland. As a child who grew up in France with parents from the cantons of Zurich and Luzern, and many family ties in Switzerland, I have been exposed to Swiss culture throughout my upbringing. I spent a few holidays in Switzerland when I was younger and identified quite strongly as Swiss. But then this month, I found myself suddenly confronted with cultural and structural enigmas: What is the deal with these expensive trash bags? Why do people eat so early? I also found myself confused about how to greet new people properly – do I offer a handshake? Should I do the ‘bise’ (kiss)? – which resulted in some awkward moments of hesitation and embarrassed smiles. It turns out, I might be more French than I thought.

These experiences made me think about the topic of mixed cultural identities, especially in the case of expatriation and specifically about the children of expatriates who grow up abroad.

Indeed, when you grow up in a country as a foreigner, especially in an area of low cultural diversity as it is the case for the French countryside where I grew up, the Swiss identity makes one stand out, especially for children. You don’t understand the other kids’ popular culture references and you speak another language with your family. The scarcity of Swiss items like cervela, landjäger, and swiss chips or mayonnaise turn them into ‘precious’ objects for the expat parents and to expat children, they appear as relics of Swiss-ness that you get to share once every other month in a kind of family tradition.

In the end, as a ‘born-expat’, one gets a reflected image of the parent’s culture. Indeed, a born-expat’s understanding of the ‘culture-of-origin’ is imagined (through the information absorbed from the media, short stays in the country or from the family’s opinions and stories) and not experienced. Therefore, young expats born abroad have an incomplete picture of a culture with which they strongly identify. The resulting culture shock, when the born-expat realizes how different reality is, can be very difficult, especially since it touches the perception of one’s own identity.

Children of expatriates are a very interesting focus of study when it comes to intercultural competence and how culture affects one’s identity and life. We are quite aware of how being an expatriate family is complicated logistically, emotionally and mentally on all members during the first years of immigration or how tricky it can be to raise children in a country in which we are not completely familiar with the education system. It is, however, important to consider that expat-children may face identity struggles when they grow up and to actively address the issues of identity and nationality during the upbringing.

Have you experienced any issues related to identity as an expat? Do you know a good way to address the question of identity with expat children?

I hope you enjoyed the read, I’ll write again next month.

Until then, have a great day!

Lucie

Lucie Koch was an intern at Global People Transitions GmbH in Zurich, Switzerland. She graduated from an Intercultural Management Master study, which led her to study in Dijon, France, a city she was already familiar with and in unfamiliar Finland (for one semester). Previously, she studied one year at Durham university (UK) as part of a Bachelor Erasmus Mobility program. She was born in 1994 to a Swiss expat couple in France. She grew up in the French countryside, around horses. She’s a self confessed introvert, fascinated by different languages, cultures, science (especially astronomy and biology) and philosophy. She also likes to spend time drawing, painting or in cinemas.

 

 

Hiking and writing

Hiking and writing are similar. You start with a regular writing practice and move on to more elaborate content afterward. One of the challenges of the writing process is that we are not always in the mood. Well, I’d like to compare it to hiking. Maybe you are not always in the mood for hiking either, but when you have been outside even for just half an hour and you moved your body, breathed fresh air you will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after your hike, your muscles are warm, your brain works better and you can handle more stress.

With writing it is similar. Once I completed my early morning writing I feel a lot more accomplished and ready to tackle the day. Mostly those pages are random. They are not worth reading again. They sometimes just list lose ideas and connect the associations in my head. Often I express a wish or two for the next day.

I stood on the Uetliberg (that’s the house mountain of Zurich) when I noticed that sometimes we walk up a mountain without knowing where the top is. We have no clarity how far the top is and what the top will look like.

We are not sure, what we will find there. For example, I expected there to be a restaurant but I did not expect it to be so full that I would walk out again right away without even considering a bio-break. Or I did not expect a water fountain up there where I could fill my water bottle, which was helpful.

If you consider your first year on an international assignment to be an uphill hike which takes your breath away and makes your heart pound faster than a “Geigerzaehler”, then you probably cannot wait to reach the top.

From the top you expect to have a view and your pace will be easier. You expect to walk along the top plain or you could just hike down. During my last hike I noted a few concepts that helped when I hiked up. I would like to share them with you for your support. Your current challenge could be that you don’t have a job in market you don’t understand or you have started a new role or you don’t know what 2018 will bring to your current role.

Stand at a safe space and look back down

We tend to forget what we have already managed, been through and survived when we only focus on the mountain top. Once in a while allow yourself a break and look back how far you have come already. What helps here is the weekly reflection exercise I recommend in the RockMe! App. You could also just take an A4 sized paper and write down “What is better than one year ago?”. 

You still need to hike at the top

Even when you are at the highest point of the mountain and would like to walk along the plains you still need to keep moving. As a manager you will still need to deal with people’s issues, as a Global Mobility Leader you will still manage special VIP cases, as an Expat Spouse you still have to take care of your partner and children.

You might expect too much of others

Expectations and disappointments are a normal part of human nature. If you want to move away from other people’s expectations and pressures, then you could try to write down and speak out wishes instead. Because with a wish you never know if it will be granted to you. And it’s ok to make a wish related to another person but it’s not okay that you expect anything of another person.

Hiking makes your muscles sore

If you are not a fitness-freak you might feel your muscles for a few days after you hiked the mountain. I also think it is the same when we have achieved an important aim. We often feel the after effects a few months later. Sometimes it is necessary that you remind yourself what you have achieved and you could allow yourself a small celebration too.

I recommend to celebrate with a Bratwurst at the top but that’s just a small instant wish. For your new team management, new project or first year on the international assignment you could celebrate. Invite your spouse, partner or best friend to a weekend treat.

Hike on!

Angie

PS: If you feel you need time out to reflect your experience and work on your next career or life steps in a safe environment, I recommend you enroll in our RockMe! Retreat.