Cultural awareness before you move abroad
April 4, 2016
When you prepare to move abroad, whether it is a relocation to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), or a relocation from the UAE to another country where you haven’t lived before, you may first think about packing, making arrangements with moving companies and sorting out the visa.
All of these steps are certainly essential for a successful international moving, but expatriates often forget about the importance of cultural awareness. Without taking your time to learn the culture, you can run the risk of having difficulties in settling in.
Here are some essential tips to support your cultural understanding:
Learn the local language
Get local language skills and make yourself familiar with the communication style before moving to your new destination - it will help you settle in more quickly and socialize with the locals. In addition to learning the language, we recommend to observe the local body language and overall delivery. Observe if the locals use lots of eye contact or tend to look away. Check if they are really animated when they speak or completely formal.
We recommend to travel to the country some time prior to the international relocation to build your communication skills. Measure how comfortable and confident you are in social situations and put some steps in place to improve. Try to learn how to communicate with others in a way that denotes trust and respect.
Familiarize with local traditions
Often there exist pre-conceived ideas and stereotypes about what the new moving destination is like – if you have some, please try to replace them with an open mind and willingness to understand other points of view. Once you live in the new country and you have integrated, your perception is likely to change.
It can also be useful to research the country’s heritage and attend festivals, religious events and key public holidays. Try to join some local groups, clubs and societies where you can participate in local activities.
Alcohol and smoking
It is very important to have an awareness of the local attitudes towards the consumption of alcohol and smoking. Socially acceptable attitudes may differ widely from culture to culture. Some cultures are rather liberal, although there may still be age restrictions and public areas where it’s banned. In other countries smoking or drinking may be completely frowned upon. Being aware of the varying attitudes is very important to avoid causing offense.
Local dress code
In different countries, the dress-code and what’s deemed as the ‘norm’ can differ quite dramatically. Try to respect the differences and especially when participating in social activities or work. In many cultures there are traditional ways of dressing for festivals, e.g. carnival and other cultural events. If you wear a traditional dress as a fun, it can be an opportunity for expats to cross cultural barriers and become comfortable in their new home.
National food is generally tied closely to a country’s identity and for expats this can be a great learning curve. Just experiment with trying new foods in social settings, eat out at restaurants, birthday dinners and ceremonies. Not only will you learn about the flavours and tastes, you will also be able to observe the serving style and table etiquette. As soon as you feel confident enough, you may want to hold a dinner party and serve local food. Being a host is always a good opportunity to put everything you’ve learnt in to practice.