Creating New Roots:
Recognizing the Stages Leading to Culture Shock
by Susanne Babbel, MFT, PhD
Leaving your support system and familiar routines behind, adjusting to new customs, and trying to negotiate a new identity in two countries, can be difficult. In response, you may have feelings of overwhelm, alienation, anxiety, depression, and even suffer from physical illness. Sometimes everything may seem fine until years later when suddenly health issues, aging, loss of a loved one, marriage conflicts, parenthood, or other challenging and new situations appear in your life.
Consciously or unconsciously you may experience culture shock, which is “the result of being overwhelmed by major life changes to established patterns without usual support systems.” Using basic strategies to minimize culture shock is not only important for the mental and physical health of a person but also in creating new roots and feeling at home again.
There are three stages leading to culture shock. Just as in any new relationship, people start with the honeymoon phase in which they experience great curiosity and excitement about almost anything. Then they enter the negotiation phase where they become more critical of others and try to figure out how to negotiate their identity into their new environment. In the third phase, people either assimilate the new culture successfully or start feeling like an outsider, showing a decrease in self-confidence and enjoyment of their lives.
6 Keys to successfully overcoming culture shock and creating new roots in America.
1) Explore and familiarize yourself with the local culture:
Reading books, watching movies, exploring Globe Smart (www.globesmart.com), and contacting the relocation department in your company for additional information helps to provide you with more knowledge and understanding of new customs you are encountering. A European woman wrote, “Reading a lot helped me because the US culture is very much dependent on understanding expressions, references, and the humor is based on puns a lot. So, for me that meant going back to the classics and reading them in English and keeping up with several newspapers. Today, I would recommend reading blogs for language fluency and currency.”
2) Receive Support:
Getting to know people who have thorough knowledge of both cultures, old and new, and letting them explain the fundamental differences may provide a space where you can reflect, vent, feel supported and be heard. Additionally, by joining a group, for example offered by the international Student office, or the Internet, you have a chance to discuss the pros and cons of cultural differences but may also become aware of possible misinterpretations of American behavior. As a man expressed, “The most difficult adjustment was misinterpreting the American friendly openness as friendship.” Talking with individuals, joining in a group setting or sharing your concerns with a psychotherapist might offer you additional resources you have not thought of as well.
3) Maintain an attitude of wonder:
Keep practicing your curiosity and being open minded. Try not to give in to your judgments every time you have them. Keeping a flexible attitude will help you to be open to qualities that are distinguished from yours and may potentially widen the doors to people that could become very good friends. See this is an opportunity to grow and to develop personally and socially.
4) Take responsibility:
Ask yourself if there are any shortcomings of your own culture? Taking responsibility is the basic principle of any successful relationship and can be applied anywhere. What part do you play in bringing mutual understanding and promoting a positive dynamic? Be aware of your reactions as well as of others. Communicate with and educate native citizens about your customs and cultural differences. For example, often Americans express that Germans have a way of hurting someone with their direct comments and that they constantly complain. Perhaps a lack of understanding causes people to respond inappropriately and insincerely.
5) Improve your English:
The better you speak English and pronounce your words, the better you are understood by others, are able to follow discussions, are able to express yourself, and can engage in more meaningful conversations. When you first learn English write down what you want to say. Have reasonable expectations about your progress and attend free English conversation classes. Speak as little as you can in your own language. Ask others to speak slowly and to spell out words for you. Most of all, be patient with yourself!
6) Interact with Americans:
Find hobbies in your areas of interest, organize a get- together with your new colleagues and friends, or take them to a cultural event to get to know you and your cultural habits.
Living in a foreign country requires constant adjustments to new customs and a different environment. Sometimes challenges may appear in the early stages of relocation and sometimes they appear years after people have settled in. Using the six basic strategies to minimize culture shock is not only important for the mental and physical health of a person but also in creating roots and feeling at home again.
Burnout: How Europeans are at risk
We have been hearing about your struggles at work and have seen symptoms of burnout that include physical and mental exhaustion, depression and strong resistance of going to work. We created a blog
that provides a place for you to find tips on how to recognize and deal with burnout symptoms – and you can vent and find support!
The most common complaints we heard about your work are:
• Not meaningful or satisfying
• Too competitive
• Not challenging enough
• Vacations are too short
• No time for lunch or breaks
• Lack of creativity and movement
• Too many hours
• Feeling undervalued and trapped
• Having headaches and nausea
• Experiencing depression about career
• Gloomy environment: No natural light, small cubicles etc.
• Work environment is impersonal and uncaring
• Sacrifices and hardships are not acknowledged
Europeans who have been in the United States less than 5 years are at higher risk for burnout because they often feel that they have fewer options to leave their jobs.
Six factors that might keep Europeans from applying for another vocation:
• Do not possess green card to move on to a different company
• Lack of English skills
• Feel obligated to their boss because they brought them to this country
• Already have been trained and now need different skills for the new job
• Afraid to earn less money and would not be able to afford current life style
• Work has become their primary focus because they do not have adequate support yet
Signs and symptoms of burnout:
• Disappointment in and disengagement from colleagues and supervisor
• Loss of motivation
• Increased Homesickness after work
• Helplessness and despair
• Emotional exhaustion
• General frustration
• Feeling trapped
• Sense of being a failure
• Increased self-criticism
All these symptoms are also at risk to influence your private life and to have a negative impact on your primary relationships.
Ten tips on dealing with stress and preventing burnout symptoms:
• Take breaks for lunch, to stretch, or to move a little, even if nobody else does – you are more productive with food in your stomach and a little rest. If you are afraid to take an official break, get a cup of tea or coffee as an excuse to leave your chair. Move and stretch your legs under your desk-nobody can see you.
• Enhance your work environment by hanging up your own pictures that indicate who you are outside the office.
• Take vacations-don’t let them expire or accumulate for years.
• Talk to your supervisor about how to improve your work situation. Perhaps you can be transferred to a different job or take a class in order to qualify for new job duties –your boss does not want to train another person nor wants to lose you either.
• Ask to work from home once a week and make plans to reward yourself when you are finished with your duties.
• Start volunteering to find more meaning in life or to test out a new career.
• Overcome isolation by joining a group, a fun class or meeting with friends.
• Recognize the choices you do have.
• Empower yourself by looking for another job-just knowing you are not trapped will help.
• Let your friends and primary relationship support you after work.
Burnout by Herbert J. Freudenberger and Geraldine Richelson (Paperback - Jul 25, 1985)
WOMEN'S BURNOUT how to Spot it, how to reverse it and how to prevent it by Herbert J. Freudenberger (Paperback - 1986)
Stress in organizations: towards a phase model of burnout
By by Robert T. Golembiewski, Robert F. Muzenrider, and Jerry G. Stevenson (Hardcover - Dec 15, 1985)
Das Burnout-Syndrom: Theorie der inneren Erschöpfung (Hardcover)
by Matthias Burisch (Author)
Stress, Mobbing und Burn-out am Arbeitsplatz by Sven M. Litzcke and Horst Schuh
Freudenberger, H. (1974). Staff burn-out. Journal of Social Issues, 30, 159- 165.
Please, share your experience with us on our blog www.europeancounseling.wordpress.com and tell us what has been helpful to you. We would like to hear from you.
-Culture Shock! USA (Paperback)
by Esther Wanning (Author)
-A Good Indian Wife: A Novel (Hardcover)
by Anne Cherian (Author)
-Multicultural Counseling by Wand M.L. Lee
-Psychology of Culture Shock - ED2 by Adrian Furnham
Website on how to improve relationships with customers and suppliers in countries around the world.
A shortwave radio station to act as a link between independent cultural program makers and the European audience
Culture Shock News
www.cultureshocknews.com (Bay Area)
Culture Shock News is a 24/7 cultural entertainment show, using poetry, video, music, spoken word, dance, fine artists, slam performers and social commentaries to express the multicultural creative nature of our world today.