Get ready for your expat cultural shock
September 1, 2016
If you have just unpacked all your belongings and settled in your new home, you might be already relieved that your relocation is over. “Now it is time to enjoy the new surroundings” - you might be thinking. You are completely right. But there is something else you should do: Prepare yourself for your cultural shock.
What is a cultural shock?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes cultural shock as “a feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place that is very different from what you are used to”. To more or lesser extent, every expatriate experiences a cultural shock as it is triggered by several factors, even though a cause of cultural shock for one expat might not be for another.
Causes of a cultural shock
If you are coming from a mild weather, it can take a while until you adjust to the hot Saudi summers (but you will find air conditioning everywhere!).
Every country has its own typical dishes, which are part of their cultural heritage. In the case of Saudi Arabia, these dishes normally consist of meat and rice. However, notice that food might be cooked differently to what you are used to and that maybe you cannot find some of your favourite products easily.
If you cannot speak Arabic or even if you speak it extremely well, being all the day exposed to a foreign language can be tiring. People might speak fast, use colloquial expressions or talk in other dialects and you might feel that you need to ask them to repeat what they have said constantly.
- Dressing codes
Depending on your country of origin, you might find hard to adjust to some changes in the dressing styles of the Middle East or maybe you cannot find the right sizes for you.
- Social roles and rules of behaviour
When landing to another country, you will notice differences on how people related to each other compared with your home country. Some of these differences will be obvious (for example shops and restaurants closed during praying times in Saudi Arabia), while other ones will be just noticeable by meeting with local people (such as different perceptions of time).
How to minimise the cultural shock?
The good news is that if you are aware of the cultural differences and you prepare yourself, you can reduce the impact of the cultural shock.
Learn about your destination before you travel.
Search about the habits, typical foods or common behaviours. You can try to gather information about really broad topics such as education and etiquette, but also about daily practicalities like how to send a letter or the type of electrical outlets in the country.
Try to learn the local language and forget about the stereotypes
Studying another language is the best way to discover another culture and to break the stereotypes that you might have. It is also a way to know a bit of the local culture and it will allow you to relate with the local people as soon as you arrive and avoid isolation.
Allow yourself time to adjust
Being fully immersed in a new society takes time. Therefore, don’t try to rush by setting high expectations and embrace this transition period.