Cultural Adjustment and Repatriation
When moving to a new culture or even repatriating to one’s home country, there is a normal period of adjustment. It is common to feel a sense of being out of place in a new culture (or even when returning to your home culture after time away) and there may be times when a person feels lonely and uncomfortable.
Being thrown into a new culture forces us to confront questions about ourselves and our identity. Language barriers and everyday challenges create an underlying level of stress. However, these can also be rewarding experiences that enrich our lives (and may be necessary for career, economic and familial reasons). Here are some tips for easing your cultural adjustment:
- Understand that you will face a period of transition. This normally lasts about 6 months. If you are having difficulties beyond that or are feeling very isolated or depressed, it may be necessary to seek professional help.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t stop making friends or think of your time abroad as “wasting time” until it’s over. However, making the right friends is also important. Surrounding yourself with people who are always complaining can make your transition worse. Expand your circle, seek positive people.
- Take time to ground yourself. Set aside some time for yourself and do at least one thing you enjoy on a regular basis. It may be one of your favorite activities from home or something new you want to pursue while in a different culture…a yoga class, reading or meditating every day, studying a new language, or learning to cook local dishes. Explore your new environment. This can be especially fun (and more comfortable) to do with a buddy or group.
- The way you think about situations has a huge effect on how you experience transitions. Mindfulness techniques can help ease any stress and keep you grounded. I work with clients to change negative thinking and reframe their experiences. Sometimes we’re repeating learned beliefs and behaviors from our family unit which are limiting our positive development.
Cultural Readjustment: Repatriation
While many people recognize the challenges of moving to a new culture, they often underestimate the transition involved in repatriating. After living away from your home country (especially for an extended period), you aren’t the same. You may feel a conflict between the outside (you look/feel like you belong, things are familiar) and your inner self. It may be hard for friends and family back home to understand how you’ve changed. You often pick up new habits and ways of looking at things which challenge you when back home. And, you may miss people and things about the place where you lived (yet, many people “back home” may not recognize or acknowledge this).
The tips above can also help when repatriating. Keeping in touch with your friends abroad or online expat/cultural groups can give you a sounding board when friends back home don’t understand. It may be useful to talk to a professional so you can process your feelings and work through challenges.
Existing stress and relationship problems are often exacerbated during such transitions. The need to address these may become more obvious when you’re under added strain.
If you’d like help through transitions, creating a happy and fulfilled life in Shanghai or working through any challenges you’re facing, contact Body & Soul to make an appointment with Bibiana. Bibiana is a holistic psychologist who combines clinical psychology, psycho genealogy (Family Tree therapy) and alternative techniques to help her patients be more aware and live happier lives.