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As an expat, when you are assigned a job assignment to work overseas to travel to a new country, you may not know what to expect. Most may think that it is an extended holiday that will be enjoyable and may be blinded by the trills of being paid to go abroad. For example there is a popular expat forum where young workers abroad meet each other and discuss that they clearly aren’t enjoying themselves abroad as much as they thought they would. “Culture shock, a term first popularized by anthropologist Kalvero Oberg, refers to the psychological disorientation experienced by people who suddenly find themselves living and working in radically different cultural environments” (Ferraro, pg. 198). Many graduates are increasingly opting to go study, live, and work abroad in the pursuit of a professional career and success and adventure while there.
Meeting people in a foreign setting and in a foreign language is such a challenge because many of these young expats may make acquaintances, but not friends and end up living a lonely life by themselves living out of suitcases and five star hotels. Also, many of them are not prepared and don’t have a good expat package or support package. This is why it turns into misery and longing to go back to their home country and constantly missing their friends, family, and how their lives used to be before they traveled abroad. For example, an expat named Jon Perry had went overseas to Singapore and he feels as if he is no longer on an extended holiday and has been there for three years and feels like that is enough to start missing home. Also, for him the security of having a ‘gang’ wasn’t there for him so he was worried for the first few months and that it might have been lonely. Being single can make the experience more daunting rather than moving out with a partner. Overseas postings can be very lonely for anyone especially for young professionals. The only thing that is set up for these expats is their work when they go abroad. So, meeting people in a foreign setting and in a foreign language is a challenge for everyone and even for the most outgoing types often suffer from chronic shyness and inhibition. “Adjustment to different cultures involves the willingness to get out and explore the cultural landscape” (Ferraro, pg. 210). When you don’t know anyone the only three choices that you have is to either go out to a restaurant or bar by yourself, stay in your flat watching a television show channel in a foreign language, or working overtime to avoid going to an empty and lonely home, which can trap you into a vicious cycle.
Expats who work for Shell in the Netherlands are deemed luckier than most because the article mentions that in addition to its briefings prior to departure and again in the host country, the company sponsors the ‘Outpost’ network which assists expats with day to day living. Also, it mentions in the article that Margaret Malewski believes that even this strategy doesn’t go far enough. She believes that in an ideal world, employers should make an effort to recognize the challenges of expat life and continue to adapt their packages to reflect the changing profile of their expat populations. She stresses that the onus is also on employees to find out about the destination before they get there, making the employer aware that they’d be happy to have a cheap studio flat in the city centre and use public transportation, but in return they want a monthly flight home.
The key to weathering the rollercoaster of emotions you will experience while abroad is by accepting the fact that culture shock is unavoidable and it is important to stay open minded and find support groups of people who have experienced what you are experiencing. Also, be patient with yourself and congratulate yourself often such as buying the right kind of milk. Just keep in mind that the trick is to work out what you want from being abroad and to realize that you don’t have to adopt the country’s whole culture and you shouldn’t hang on to your old culture. “One way of minimizing the negative effects of culture shock is to take care of yourself physically” (Ferraro, pg. 212). By picking and choosing what you like you can create a whole new culture and what is right for you.
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