Any type of move can be stressful for a family. International moves have the added stress of culture shock, but dealing with it as a family can make the transition easier. Use these tips to help your family cope with culture shock after an international move.
What is culture shock anyway? Culture shock is the anxiety people face when moving to an entirely new environment. Culture shock can be an intensely overwhelming situation that can result in a person's negative outlook on their new environment.
Knowing the symptoms of culture shock is the best way to combat them when they arise. Look out for the following symptoms from members of your family:
- Irritability - Is everything annoying them -- even the small things?
- Physical pain - Headaches and stomachaches are often signs of stress as well as natural reactions to adjusting to new cuisines.
- Loneliness - Homesickness is normal, but if it's interfering with day-to-day life it could be a sign of something else.
- Tiredness - More than being jet-lagged.
How to adjust?
So how do you adjust as a family after your overseas move? Luckily, because you aren't on your own in a foreign country, you have a built-in support system to help get you through hard times. You aren't experiencing culture shock alone and you have multiple people going through the same situation.
Helping your kids adjust can be more difficult if they're old enough to worry about leaving friends, school and the comforts of home. Babies and toddlers won't be as devastated to move abroad like older children. If your older children or teenagers are having trouble adjusting to the host country, make time to talk with them about their concerns and anxieties.
Pen pals - Children are often most concerned with leaving friends behind. Help ease their minds by prompting them to collect friends' addresses and contact information so they can be pen pals after the move. Teens, who are likely social media savvy, may not have trouble keeping in touch with their friends back home, but perhaps a gift of a webcam to video chat with friends me could help with homesickness along the way.
Schools - Local schools are often a good choice for younger expat children as they are more likely to adjust easier and it will offer the best opportunities to learn the language and adapt culturally. International schools or English-speaking schools are generally the choice for older children. These schools often follow a British or American curriculum and the enrolled students coming from a range of countries. Be sure to properly research any school and get references as each school's qualities can differ. Encourage your children to participate in school activities, clubs and other events. School will be the best place for them to adjust to their new country.
Networking - Make connections in your host country ahead of time. If you're moving overseas for work, reach out to counterparts in that country for information. Perhaps you'll find another family with similarly-aged children, or a family that lives in the same neighborhood. Its often easier to adjust if you have information from someone in a similar situation. Utilize expat forums to find the information you're looking for ahead of your move. There may be clusters of expats from your home country that you could reach out to.
No matter what, your first job as a family is to help each other through the adjustment period.