Expat Tips: Embrace the Cultural Differences
Observe Your New Surroundings
The feeling when you first step off that boat, plane, or bus and into your new life abroad is electric. You’re filled with excitement at the endless possibilities which lie ahead of you. Unfortunately, this feeling can wear off with time and you start to recognize how different your new life is from your old one.
It’s normal to feel frustrated at the new rules you have to abide by in your host culture. You begin to compare the familiar behaviors and routines from the culture you know to the new ones you’re currently experiencing. As Lauren said in the video above, she was particularly irritated by the fact that she could no longer enjoy her Sunday grocery shopping in Germany because of the opening hours enforced across the nation.
If you find yourself saying things like “Well, back home we don’t do it like this”, you’re not alone. However, this way of thinking is not very productive and can cause you to fixate on the differences between you and the new culture, ultimately hindering your integration.
Reflect on Cultural Difference
To deal with this initial frustration, we recommend taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Perhaps you’re annoyed by the queuing customs in your new country or the general etiquette on public transportation. Whatever it may be, it’s okay to complain to other expats who might share the same frustration. Once you’ve gotten it out of your system, take a breath and analyze the benefit of this aversion you’re feeling towards a different cultural behavior. Is it really as bad as you’re making it out to be? Could it actually benefit you in the long run? Try to think of all the positives that come with the new situation. Lauren adds in her video that, although the lack of access to 24-hour shopping in Germany made her irate at the beginning, her calm and relaxing Sundays are something she relishes in now. By reflecting on the differences you have noticed, and taking a minute to process them in a calm, collected manner, you’re able to focus on why they might actually improve your quality of life.
Adjust to the New Situation
Once you have accepted all the things that are different, you can enter the final stage of this process: adjustment. This doesn’t mean you have to give up everything from your old/home country which makes you, you. I will forever think that baked beans on toast is an acceptable thing to enjoy for breakfast and that there’s nothing better than a good queue (can you tell I’m British?). However, this does not mean I can’t appreciate how other people around the world do things.
Acknowledging and processing these differences makes you an infinitely more tolerant individual. Our advice is to get up and actively engage with the new culture. This final step also gives you the chance to “check your ego” when it comes to the “right way” of doing things. Humans get stuck in a rut thinking that their way is the only correct way of conducting themselves, but this can lead to close-mindedness and intolerance. The act of embracing cultural differences also means acknowledging that your way might not always be the best way, and that’s what learning is all about.
How Does This Help Me?
The benefits that come from following these steps, and welcoming different cultures into your life, can be incredibly rewarding. It opens your eyes to the complexity of humans around the world and increases your tolerance and understanding in general. These are highly attractive traits for employers, too, both at national and international levels of business. By demonstrating that you can live or travel abroad successfully, you show that you’re adaptable, understanding, and can lead an international team. It might take some time to get used to your new culture’s quirks, but in the end, you’ll not only better yourself as a person but increase your intercultural intelligence which is highly sought-after in the job market of today.