In today’s multicultural and international world, it’s common for people to move to a different country. Their reasons may be personal; they move to experience life in a different culture, to learn a language, or to live with a partner from that country. Or they may be required to move because of work. Unfortunately, many are also obliged to move because of conflict in their country. But whether people choose to make the move or not, they are likely to experience culture shock – even in countries with a similar culture to their own.
Culture shock arises because we never truly know another country until we live there, perhaps for many years. We may think we understand them because of television and movies. So if a Briton moves to the United States, they expect it to be much like home. After all, we are often more familiar with US TV programmes than our own. But the sheer size of the US means that there are cultural differences even between states, and that rural areas can have very different attitudes from the city.
Getting over culture shock requires time and acceptance of the fact that different countries and people have different ways of doing things. Even countries that are broadly similar culturally may not be quite as we expect them to be. It is easy to forget that what we see on a screen is a fictional representation, and not necessarily an accurate depiction of life in that country. When we move countries, we must be prepared to take time to settle in, and make the effort to get to know local people. Making friends helps you to negotiate this time of transition and getting used to a new way of life.
Many Britons, especially when they move to countries like Spain where many of their compatriots live, try to make it like home. This does ensure that they avoid culture shock as much as possible. They spend their time speaking English, eating English food, and never make an effort to integrate with the local community. But they are denying themselves the opportunity to experience another culture and learn the language. It’s also discourteous to the host country. If you aren’t prepared to deal with culture shock, you should stay at home where everything is familiar.
So what about people who move to a country with a very different culture from their own? Should this be avoided? Not necessarily, providing the new resident accepts the differences. You can still retain elements of your own culture while embracing the new one. The issue is one of respect. It is rude to move to another country and expect them to change to accommodate you. If you feel uncomfortable with ideas that are very different from those you are used to, you would be far better off choosing a country that more closely fits your own.
Ultimately, experiencing a new culture takes time to get used to. You should be open-minded and ready to embrace the changes. That will allow you to make the most of the rich experiences offered by an international move. Make the effort to learn the language; not everyone is a natural linguist, but speaking some of the language shows respect to your new country, and will allow you to negotiate everyday matters like seeing a doctor. It will also help you to connect with people and avoid the feelings of isolation common in a new country – this will lessen the impact of culture shock and allow you to settle in more quickly.