The Expat Curve Video describes in just over 3 minutes the stages of Culture Adjustment that expats face when they relocate. Living and working abroad can be one of the most exiting periods of your life - but when unprepared for the phases expatriates experience during their foreign assignment - it may very well be an almost traumatic occurrence to the family. See how you make it a positive experience. Published on 26 Nov 2013 by The Living Institute.
1. Honeymoon Phase
The first stage, or the honeymoon, is the immediate weeks on arrival in your new country where you are in the discovery mode. You are seeing the place really as a tourist at this point. Everything is beautiful, fantastic, great. You look at life through rose-tinted glasses. Excited by the move, you can only see the positive aspects of your new country.
Use the positive energy of this phase to try and connect with new social circles, establish routines etc as you will be open to all new experiences and willing to try different ways of doing things.
2. Initial Culture Shock
Initiated by a problem, whether in health at work or in the family. Back home this would not be a big thing. But in the new place you are more shaken. Do not take a trip back home at this point, as you may not want to return and if you do return you will go deeper and faster into culture shock. Rely on relations and routines you have built up in the honeymoon phase to get you through.
3. Superficial Adaptation
If you resist the urge to return home, you will probably then find yourself in the phase of superficial adaptation. You have learnt many of the easy norms of the society, simply by copying those around you. You know how to go about daily life and things are making sense. On the surface all looks OK, but soon you realise there is a level of deeper values, ideals, behaviours that are too strange for you. (More details provided in the article on "Understanding Your New Culture").
4. Full Culture Shock
Then you find yourself in full culture shock mode, where you conclude that the people in your new location are very strange and impossible to live with. You hide inside the house connecting through satellite TV, the internet and phone calls to your more civilised 'home' country only. You stay cocooned in your safe world and do not venture out. You will get upset about all the differences: Why does everything take longer here? Why can’t I park in front of the store like back home? Everything is so expensive here compared to home. Why can't I meet anyone? Why can’t I just find … ? Basically you are very frustrated and lonely.
Language differences exasperate this stage as you realise the difference between ‘tourist language’ and ‘living language’. The vocabulary required to go about daily life (and the problems therein) is far greater than you ever learnt on that 10 week introduction course you took before you relocated. Slang expressions throw you sideways. Life is tough. Emotions associated with this stage are typically anger and resentment toward the new culture as having caused difficulties and being less adequate than the old familiar ways.
It is hard to help people people during this stage of culture shock as they are no longer open to new ideas. But you must force yourself out the door to get past this.
You realise with time, that you don't have to become like the people in the new culture yourself, you just need to accept the differences and understand why they are as they are. Relate to the values and see things from their side of the fence. You come to appreciate the differences. A balanced perspective emerges that helps the person interpret both the previous home and the new host cultures. Life is becoming smoother and more enjoyable. You have made local friends and set up traditions and activities with them. Memories have been made that will be built upon. You are now aware of the local customs and well integrated in the community.
6. Coming Home - Reverse Culture Shock
Many expatriates then find at some point a last stage of the curve is encountered - Going Home. Re-entry is hard after the expatriate years. Your home country probably hasn't changed much. But you have. You felt this was the one place in the world where you thought that you belonged. The re-entry may feel like a set back as you come to terms with your new relationship with your initial culture. Prepare yourself for this. Treat the old country like a new country and apply the same techniques you learnt abroad to integrate back into the community you were once part of.
Remember - there is nothing wrong with you and most people go through these phases. If needed, reach out for professional help. This website is designed to aid you make the jump overseas far more enjoyable and informed. Check out my relocation tool-kit page for free downloads and recommendations. The Jump Overseas online Relocation Academy has specific coaching modules to help you through the hardest points in a relocation when you need directional help.
Have a question? send me a message, reach out and say where you are at and I will do my best to help you through these transitional moments. The moments are not permanent and they will pass. "It is not right or wrong, just different" is a great mantra to hold within you at tough times. Laughing about the absurd situations you find yourself in also helps to reduce stress.