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Adapting to a Foreign Country

Cultural Adjustment when moving to a Foreign Culture

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Moving overseas to a culture that you know almost nothing about is like taking a giant leap into the unknown. Hola, Bonjour, Guden tag…welcome to the international world!
What is the biggest question on your mind? It is most likely how to adapt quickly to the new country and what to expect there. We hope the following information will be helpful to you during this transition.
Cultural differences usually include language, religion, political organization, customs and more. One of the difficulties that many people have is dealing with the stereotypes of others. For example, Americans are often seen as loud, immature, wasteful, informal, and ignorant - obviously this does not apply to ALL of them - and likewise for the stereotypes of other cultures.
The first step in preparing for life in a new culture is to educate yourself about the country you’re moving to. Read books, rent videotapes, check out web sites, and talk with colleagues, who've been there, and contact the embassy or consulate of that country. These resources can give you good insight on the way of life in that country.
Next, become familiar with the language spoken there and be aware of the familiar vs. polite forms of address. Even a few basic phrases will be helpful. There is a saying that goes, "Speaking someone's native language is the quickest way to their heart." And even if you make some mistakes, they'll admire you for trying.
Beware of hand gestures and get a feel for social customs. Studies have determined that communication is based 55% on non-verbal acts such as facial expressions, gestures, etc. This can be crucial in a foreign environment. For example, former President Clinton made the mistake of making the okay sign in Brazil (a circle with the thumb and fore finger) which is a profanity in their culture. A big faux pas that could have been easily avoided!
Another factor to consider when moving to another country is culture shock. According to Webster, culture shock is: A condition of anxiety and disorientation that can affect someone suddenly exposed to a new culture. It's important to know that these feelings are pretty typical when adapting. After all, your way of life will be very different from what you're used to. It can affect everything from diet to the clothing you wear or the side of the street you drive on. The following are some suggestions on how to get through culture shock:
 - Join a club where you can meet other transplants and learn from one another's experiences. Visit the New Comers Club for more information.
 - Assimilate through places of worship, sports clubs, schools and develop relationships with coworker's families.
 - Have a newspaper from home mailed to you periodically, or go online for articles and info in your language.
 - Volunteer your time to an organization.
 - Take tours of the areas natural and historical wonders.
Because your way of life will be so different, it's important to carefully consider the following for you and your family's safety:
 - If someone in your family needs serious medical attention, at what point would you evacuate them back to their native country? Familiarize yourself with the medical system available.
 - If there is a national crisis, at what point would you evacuate your family and how would you get out? View travel warnings by clicking here.
 - Are there special security concerns that require additional attention (i.e. kidnapping insurance, hiring a body guard, etc.)?
 - If standard communications are out of order due to a political or natural disturbance, how will you notify family that you're alright?
 - Find a good doctor right away, especially if you have kids. A new climate and foreign environment can be hard on the immune system. Click here for information on immunizations.


If you're moving from the U.S. to overseas, most appliances will have to be converted to 220 Volts. You may find that the house you move into doesn't come with everything OR the kitchen sink. Appliances are often considered a renters or buyers personal purchase. Because of different dimensions and requirements, these are better to be purchased on location, but be prepared for what is often a hefty price tag.
Luckily, there are a few things that you can transport and adapt without much trouble. Plug converters can be used with: lamps, telephones, answering machines, radios, computers, printers, fax machines, exercise machines, humidifiers, and kitchen tools like coffee machines, blenders, mixers and food processors.


When living overseas, finding the same readily available items may be difficult. You might want to stock up on the following list of coveted items for U.S. expatriates: peanut butter, baking powder, cleaning products, toilet paper, cereal, macaroni & cheese and antibacterial soap.
Most importantly, go through this experience with an open mind and expect things to be different - it's part of the charm!
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