The Expatriate Adjustment Cycle

The Expatriate Adjustment Cycle

If you’re an expat and living in a foreign country for a certain period of time then you should not underestimate the cycle of ups and downs that this new change will bring. Poor knowledge with regards to the adjustment period will undoubtedly make coping more challenging than it has to be. This is why you will need to plan ahead in order to minimize the Culture Shock that is usually anticipated but not properly understood.

Let’s take a look at what this adjustment cycle is all about:

The last thing that you would want is to be ill-prepared to navigate the adjustment cycle that comes with being in a different culture. Below are the phases of the Expatriate Adjustment Cycle:

  • Preparation
  • Honeymoon
  • Culture Shock
  • Adaptation.

Not all expats are the same when it comes to their way of dealing with each phase. Some may be more anxious and stressed than others while some people can easily navigate the cycle without even breaking a sweat.

Why It Matters?

Understanding the Expatriate Adjustment Cycle is important if you want to live a stable and happy life in your new home. If you decide to move without doing any research, not only will you feel frustrated, but if you’re moving with your family, they’ll suffer, too.

Knowing that there phases that all expats go through will also help you feel less alone and remind you that there are things you can do to make sure your transition is smooth.

Let’s take a look at the phases in detail.

1. Preparation

It’s normal to feel an unease when being faced with a major life change such as moving to live or work abroad especially when you will have to adapt to new personalities, traditions, and lifestyle beliefs. On the upside, you may still feel excitement and enthusiasm towards the new experience and the multitude of possibilities that are opening up to you. In order to ease your nerves, you will need to ensure that you have all your travel documents ready like your visa and passport, and your packing necessities.

Family roles may end up changing if the employee is expected to be productive early on, while their partner will be left with managing the new living situation. Many things could start to happen all at once, and there is no time to process everything.

This is where a good planning strategy should also be applied. Here’s what you can do to make sure you don’t end up regretting the change: do as much research as you can on the new culture. What things do they do differently there? How will you make friends in the new country? Maybe you can look at YouTube videos to see what people do there for fun.

You’re probably thinking, “these things are so obvious, why wouldn’t I do my research before moving?” That’s true, but when you’re getting your stuff in order, it’s easy to forget to do even the simplest of things. A lot of the time, you’ll just tell yourself you’ll do your research later because you’re too busy arranging your documents right now so don’t forget to set some reminders on your phone!

2. Honeymoon

You’ve finally moved in to your new home and the honeymoon phase has begun. You’re happy and excited to be in a new country, among people who are different from you. There are so many possibilities. You’re going to make new friends, try new exotic cuisines, adopt new hobbies. This is the happiest you’ve been!

These feelings will last a couple of weeks so enjoy as much as you can while you still have them. Spend some time exploring your new neighborhood, look for new friends, go to new restaurants, practice the new language by talking to strangers (without creeping them out). Look for people who share your interests so you don’t get lonely or bored.

3. Culture Shock

Once the honeymoon phase ends, the loneliness and discomfort will begin to set in. Everything was fun and exciting when you were looking at the world through your honeymoon-tinted glasses, but as soon as you took them off, things became difficult. You start to notice the bad things about the new country. The language barrier becomes unbearable because you can’t even buy groceries without pulling up your phone and using Google Translate. How annoying is that?

The foreign friends who were always there to help you during the honeymoon phase are starting to avoid you because they think you’re not doing much to adjust to your new surroundings. Cultural differences seem interesting when we’re living in a foreign country for a few weeks or even months, but it feels strange and a bit sad when we realize that they’re going to be a part of our lives for a long time.

For many people, this is the most difficult stage of the Expatriate Adjustment Cycle, but if you were well prepared and did your research during the first phase and found things to occupy yourself doing things you like during the honeymoon phase, then you won’t have much trouble navigating this phase.

4. Adaptation

As you ease into your new life, you begin to realize that things aren’t so bad. Culture shock is finally over and now you feel more comfortable talking to people at local stores even if you don’t know the language. You have friends who you can hang out with when you’re lonely or bored and you’ve spent enough time exploring your neighborhood to know every nook and cranny of it.

If you made it through the first three phases, then this phase is your “reward”. Your life has finally become stable and you no longer feel the urge to go back to your home country. The hardest part of the cycle is over!

The Takeaway

Understanding the Expatriate Adjustment Cycle will help you feel less alone in your expat journey and help you figure out ways to navigate your new life in your new neighborhood. In the preparation phase, you do research on what the country you’re moving to is like and what you can do there.

When you move there, you enter the honeymoon phase. This is where you feel happy because of the cultural differences but when this phase ends, you enter the culture shock phase. The cultural differences don’t seem as fascinating anymore and all you can think about is your family back home. Once you make it through this phase, you reach the final stage–the adaptation phase. This is where your life in your new home becomes stable and you finally begin to feel at ease knowing that you’re not thinking about running away from where you are.

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