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How To Handle Culture Shock When Living Abroad

Culture shock is what happens to many people after they’ve spent some time in a new environment. It’s not something that is likely to happen upon first arriving in a new country. It takes a while to build up.

However, there will come a point whilst living abroad when you may suddenly say to yourself “Wow, I can’t believe I’m living in such a different culture”. It’s the realisation that you’re far away from everything that’s familiar and comfortable.

It can still happen even if the country is similar to your home country. Even the smallest differences can cause a feeling of alienation and helplessness. Culture shock can and does happen to both long term travelers and those who retire abroad. 

Let’s look at some ways to deal with culture shock.

Remember, It’s Normal

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The first thing to remember is that feeling anxious in a new place is normal because it’s your mind’s way of making the adjustment to a new way of life. It’s actually necessary for you to go through this, because it gives you the means to process the change.

Think of it like riding a wave. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s no problem. So don’t worry, it’s only temporary, and it’s just a matter of time before it fades.

Just give yourself time to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to have to make some changes in your mindset. Once that period is over, you’ll find yourself making a smooth transition.

Creature Comforts

retire abroad

Although as an expat you’re going to have adjust to a new culture and way of life, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining some familiarity in your routine. There are plenty of things you can do to minimise the anxiety.

Establish a routine that will anchor you to a feeling of familiarity. Make a list of activities that you enjoy or are used to, and try to replicate them in some way. Create a version of your usual routine that is similar enough to what you’re used to, but different enough to remind you that you’re making a change.

Find food that you usually enjoy, go to the types of places that you normally go to, and stick with your usual daily habits for a while. This will help you to feel less separated from your normal life, while allowing you to gently experience a new life.

Get Out And About

retire abroad

Without contradicting any of the above, you should also make sure you give yourself plenty of opportunities to dive into your new environment. The last thing you want to do is hide away, so be sure to get out every day if you can.

Go somewhere new, even if it’s not particularly interesting. Observe people and their body language and mannerisms. Eat something new and different. The idea is to keep sampling what your new country has to offer, in small doses.

Do it in a controlled manner and pace yourself so that you’ll feel a sense of progress and accomplishment. That feeling will eventually drown out any worries.

Don’t Give Yourself A Hard Time

retire abroad

There might be times when you’ll feel like you’ve regressed a few steps back. Don’t worry, that’s just part of making a change. Whether it feels like it or not, progress is being made, and having a bad day is all part of your mind processing the transition.

If you do or say something silly, let it go. If you misunderstand someone or they misunderstand you, don’t worry about it. Most people will see that you’re new and go easy on you.

When you get that anxious feeling again, which may well happen from time to time, don’t see it as a bad thing. In fact it’s good, because it shows that your mind is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is to nudge you into a new culture, environment and way of life. So if you feel resistance, it’s a good sign.

Keep in mind why you decided to move abroad. It was to build a new life. With new life comes a bit of pain, which is the price you have to pay for personal growth.

As the days and weeks go by, you’ll observe yourself successfully wrestling with culture shock, and you’ll be impressed with the person you see. A bit of discomfort isn’t really a big deal when considering the rewards.

Culture shock is unpleasant, it feels weird and uncomfortable, and it can feel like it’s dragging on for too long. But if you want that new lifestyle, if you want to enjoy the climate and food of your new country, if you want to experience that new and better way of life, you’re going to have to face your fears and plough through it all.

If you can do that, you’ll rightfully earn everything you wanted from your new country.

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