Research-Backed Tips on How Expats Can Absorb the Culture of Their Host Country
It’s almost cliché to say moving abroad and integrating into a new culture is tough because it’s stating the obvious. Dealing with the unfamiliar nuances of individual and official relations can be daunting. Learning a new language and the way of life of the host country can be frightening too.
The result of these difficulties is usually that expats end up mingling exclusively with other expats and they never get to truly experience their host country. However, absorbing the culture of your host nation will make your time there more enjoyable. In addition, it will give you an edge at work. Here are a few tips on how to embrace and explore the culture of your host country.
Understand and Accept That It’s Normal to Experience Cultural Shock
In the book “The Intercultural Mind,” author Joseph Shaules, an expert in cultural psychology, laid a case for how the root cause of cultural shock lies in the subconscious. He cited how some people who were vibrant became less so after moving to another country. Once you get to a new country, your unconscious mind starts to notice how things are done differently and how things exists differently than in your home country. Little things like hunting long hours for a mere loaf of wholemeal bread can deplete your mental batteries, according to Shaules. A starting point for dealing with cultural shock is to accept that it’s normal to experience it. The acceptance makes you more at ease to seek help, which may include speaking to others about your struggles1.
Consciously Study Your New Environment
To move away from the state of shock, it will be helpful to consciously study how things are done and how they exist in your host country. Recall that it was your subconscious that was doing the observations and making mental notes about the differences. Research has shown that conscious processing plays a crucial role in supporting the decisions and actions you plan to take when a goal is in view2. In short, by consciously studying your new environment, you are giving yourself a chance to start adjusting consciously, and potentially appreciate, the new culture.
While making a conscious effort to learn about the country, chances are that you will have series of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them. And it might even help you adjust faster if you choose to ask questions. Psychological scientists at Harvard once found that there is a positive relationship between “question-asking and liking.” The researchers particularly wrote that asking questions that focus on other people, in this case about the new culture you find yourself, has “been shown to increase liking.3” The good thing about being liked is that people will be willing to help you.
Explore and Adopt
Since asking questions focused on other people have been proven to birth likeness, chances are that you’ll have offers to explore the culture of the country. The final step to absorb the culture is to take up the offers to explore.
While exploring, the experience might not go as smooth as you had thought. Your subconscious will find new variations that you’ll need to consciously unpack. All you need to do is repeat step one to three above. That way, you will slowly learn to appreciate your new culture.