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10 tips to overcome culture shock when emigrating

Luggage and a steam train in a stationEveryone knows that moving home ranks among the most stressful of life experiences; add to that the need to integrate into a completely new culture, and the emotional implications can be off the scale. When you first arrive in your new environment you will probably be excited about the experience, but feelings of insecurity normally follow, often resulting in a period of uncertainty and even depression. Eventually acceptance will emerge and your new life will begin in earnest.

There are ways to make the culture shock and the resulting period of adjustment more bearable, and thus to overcome the impact. Here are 10 top tips to consider:

Know where you are going

You wouldn’t buy a car or an appliance without doing plenty of research first; it follows that the same should apply to such a major life change as moving to a different country. This could be as simple as knowing what clothing is appropriate for the time of year when you are relocating, to save you from having to do a lot of shopping when you are first trying to settle. More important issues include knowledge of local laws. At what age can you legally drink alcohol? Can you use your current driving qualifications to obtain a licence?

Speak the language

British people have a tendency to believe that everyone should be able to speak English. If you move to a different country with this attitude you could be setting yourself up for a lot of problems. If the country’s first language is not English, try and learn as much as you can before emigrating; at the very least make sure you know the basics. If you can go into a shop and ask for a litre of milk (not a pint!) in the native tongue, you are far more likely to be accepted and settle quickly.

Don’t change YOU

Obviously you may need to adapt to take in issues such as culture and climate, but don’t change what makes you you. If you enjoy going to the gym, find the nearest one as soon as possible; if fishing is your thing, locate the nearest lake or river and join in with the locals. Not only will doing something you enjoy help to ease any tensions, but you will hopefully make new acquaintances and friends. Continuing with your normal activities will also help you to sustain a routine: vital if you are to prevent depression setting in.

Get out and about

Getting to know your new neighbourhood should be treated like an adventure—think of all those new shopping and eating experiences you could enjoy. If you have children, take them to the local playground or swimming baths. The benefits of this are twofold: you will become orientated with the area; and you and your children will become acquainted with the people around you. Obviously there may be less enjoyable parts of your neighbourhood, as with anywhere, but exploration will teach you this and give you an idea of the places you like and those you don’t. Planning to do things outside of the house will also give you more impetus to be happy in your new life.

Do not be narrow-minded

You may not like the behaviour you experience in your new environment: people could appear rude, miserable, or uninterested. Things are not always what they seem, though, so keep an open mind until you are more settled and more informed about the people and places around you. Making a rash judgment, and voicing your opinion, could taint a relationship or experience irredeemably.

Be a unit

It can be very easy when tensions arise to take them out on those closest to you. Remember that they are all going through the same process of adjustment, so support them if they are feeling insecure and this will hopefully be reciprocated. In a world which is bound to seem a little disconcerting at first, having stability at home will make your life so much easier.

Recognise that learning is long-term

You may think you know everything about the country and area you have moved to, but this is never going to be the case. Think about where you lived previously and how long it took you to get to know that area—and that was without the added implications of a different culture. Don’t assume that you know the answer to everything; observe others and what they do and say, and you will learn a lot.

Laugh even when you want to cry

At an emotional time it is best to try and turn those emotions to a positive. Everyone makes mistakes, so if you say something incorrectly, or make a mistake about what you’re supposed to do in a situation, laugh at yourself. Those around will laugh with you: a much better outcome than your embarrassment or insecurity making everyone feel awkward. Obviously this does not apply where laughter could cause offence, for instance in a religious establishment.

Keep a diary

Writing down your experiences and feelings can be invaluable in helping you to adjust to your new surroundings. If you made a mistake that day, making a note will prevent it from happening again. If you are feeling down, looking back to the previous week when you socialised with new friends will make you feel better. Most importantly you will always have someone to share with, especially if you live alone—even if it’s only yourself.

Stay connected

Don’t be afraid to keep in touch with people in the UK; it’s important to have the foundation of those links. Conversely, don’t spend all your time speaking to them and living in the past; you have a new and exciting life to embrace.

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