Culture shock is an inevitable part of life in a foreign country and for expats retiring overseas, it can bring a whole host of unwanted tension and anxiety. Many expats who retire to another country expect their life to be blissful and serene just like the glossy-print magazines promised. However, when expectations don’t meet up with reality, culture shock can sometimes be severe. Learning a new language and culture take time and when little effort is given to the adjustment phase, life overseas can be anything but “paradise.” But there are ways to minimize culture shock and the ensuing transition process.
Set Reasonable Goals
Learning a new language takes time and effort. It’s unreasonable to expect that you can become fluent in the language after three months. Having realistic goals and expectations of yourself will allow you to transition more smoothly. When you experience culture shock you usually feel “out of control” and one way to combat that is to have reasonable expectations in the way you learn the language and involve yourself in the culture. The average language is made up of 600 words. A reasonable goal would be to learn two new words a day instead of 600 words a day! As you learn more of the language and are able to communicate your basic needs, your stress will lessen and so will your feelings of being “out of control.”
Keep a Healthy Balance
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re in a new culture. There are expat functions to attend, language school and cultural events to explore. Keep a healthy balance during the first year of transition. As you learn more of the language, you may want to divide your time equally between local events and expat gatherings. Many expats continue to work in a foreign country and, therefore, need to keep a healthy balance between work and expat life. One retiree to Cuenca, Ecuador explained, “I’m busier now than I’ve ever been; I can’t seem to keep up with it all.” If you start feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to re-evaluate and cut back on some activities. If you start feeling stressed out by language learning, take a break from it and explore the countryside. Don’t feel like you have to RSVP “yes” to every event or dinner invitation. Striking a balance is the key, especially in the first year of cultural adjustment.
Things don’t always run smoothly in other countries: water and electricity go out, buses don’t run on time, taxi drivers don’t know how to use their brakes, and pedestrians don’t have the right of way. Cultural shock occurs when you have rigid expectations and don’t allow for the occasional “chicken crossing the road.” It’s inevitable that you will compare one country with the other, but just don’t make a habit of it. The more accepting you become of your host country, the more you will enjoy life and the more flexible you will become.
Bring a Little Bit of Home with You
Many expats ship a container to their host country filled with all their precious possessions. Others take the minimalist approach and bring only the number of suitcases allowed by the airline. There is no right or wrong way of doing it, but the important thing is to allow your house to become your home. Bring along some of your favorite books and family photographs. When you’re in a foreign country and learning a new language, you will need some “comforts” of home. If a jar of extra chunky peanut butter makes you feel better, then pack a few extra in your suitcase!
A Sense of Humor
One of the greatest assets in life is a sense of humor. Many expats forget to pack some in their suitcase and become disgruntled after only a few months. Life rarely goes as planned and it’s a given that in a foreign country, life probably won’t run 100 percent perfectly all the time. In fact, it’s safe to assume that it won’t. Having a great sense of humor will help you through your language learning blunders and the leak in the ceiling that never gets fixed. Learning to laugh at life’s problems will lessen your burden and make your host country look like “paradise” once again.
Integrate Don’t Isolate
One of the biggest mistakes that expats make is not integrating into the culture. At first it will be difficult, but the language barrier and cultural differences will lessen when you make an effort to spend time with the people of your host country. You can do this in a variety of ways, including adopting a host family. Deepening relationships and lasting friendships will be your reward!
Adjusting to life overseas takes time, but nothing is more fulfilling than learning a new language and culture. If proper attention is given to accepting and appreciating the ways of your host country, the more rewarding your life will be. Culture shock is part of the adjustment process, but it should not become your new way of life!
“How Long Does it Take to Adjust to Life Overseas,” TheExpatGuy.com
Steve Kauffman, “How to Learn a Foreign Language,” Pickthebrain.com
The Free Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.org