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Expatriate Relocation and Culture Shock

'Culture shock' is a term used in differing contexts, occasionally with different meanings. However, when used with reference to expatriate relocation it refers to the process of coming to understand and adapt to differences in culture manifest through daily interaction and situations.

Culture shock is a process that affects people of different walks of life. EFL teachers, managers, sportsmen and children all deal with culture shock as part of international relocation. Learning to recognise it and its effects is a useful means of minimising any negative side-effects of relocation.

Relocation abroad is a huge step. The changes and contrasts in the simple things such as the language, food, TV, weather, shopping and socialising are only a small part of the relocation process and culture shock. It is often the deeper differences in customs, mentality, world view and interpersonal interaction that have a more profound effect.

Experts have identified varying stages of culture shock. The most common stages of culture shock one faces with relocation abroad are:

Stimulation - the first stage of relocation is commonly full of hope and excitement. Culture shock is kept at bay due to a positive outlook mixed with an enthusiasm for the relocation. Interaction with the host culture is primarily passive.

Culture Shock - at this stage of the relocation people start to interact with the host culture actively, either through work or in day to day situations. The differences in behaviour combined with the stress of adapting to a new daily routine leads to a dislike and criticism of the host culture. Symptoms of culture shock start to appear such as homesickness, boredom, lethargy, irritability and hostility to the host culture.

Adjustment - after the initial settling-in period, an understanding and empathy with the host culture starts to develop. People feel more comfortable with their routines and surroundings. A working knowledge of the language begins to be used actively.

Enthusiasm - the relocation is now a distant memory and the host country becomes 'home'. The effects of culture shock lessen as a genuine enjoyment of the new location develops. Elements of the host culture's behaviours and mentality are adopted. Rather than criticise, certain areas of the host culture are preferred to the native culture.

Prior to relocation, it is important for individuals, couples and families to learn as much about the new host country as possible. If this is not done through a relocation briefing, then personal research should look at the subject of culture shock and areas such as the people, culture, social norms, religions, language, food, entertainment and accommodation.  Good preparation can go a long way in readying for and dealing with culture shock.


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