May 2, 2011

How to Appreciate ‘Home’ While Moving Abroad

Culture shock is real and stems from being homesick and missing familiar things we had ‘back home.’ Broad categories of things we miss are family, friends, hangout places, habits, language and food. Realizing the familiar will soon become unfamiliar is scary. Preparing ourselves emotionally for the move is possible. I hope these exercises I created to help myself transition and move abroad help you as much as they have helped me. 


Family and Friends 
Planning how, when and where to deliver the news about a pending move is an important step to a smoother transition abroad. The sooner you start delivering your message the better. Four to six months in advance is a good rule of thumb to help you and your loved ones prepare mentally and emotionally. Also, keep in mind to complete the process with time to spare. It’s not a good feeling to be boarding the plane with names of people floating in our heads that have not been informed of our move. 

Hangouts
Places we love to spend time at and hangout become part of our lifestyle and culture. What are the places you like to spend time at in your current location? What makes these locations special or suitable to your lifestyle? Assess if the same or similar kind of hangouts will be available in your next city. If some things aren’t available, challenge yourself by thinking about what new kinds of hangouts you can find and how they will become part of your new lifestyle.

Habits
Part of adapting to any change in life is becoming more aware of ourselves on a habitual level. This is not easy and takes patience, reflection and tenderness; even for those of us who have been trying to do this for some time already. Spend some time everyday becoming aware of your habits – things you do every day without thinking about it. Akin to brushing your teeth before you go to bed- doing it because it’s part of a ritual and serves a purpose in our lives. Start taking an inventory of all your habits when you can make yourself present to do so. Think about how your habits reflect your personality as an individual and your identity based on your culture. Think about how hard it is to create new habits and break old ones. How do you think you will respond if your habits are challenged and need adjusting to create success elsewhere? What kind of habits do you think people in your new city, culture or country will have that will be different? Reading books on culture differences or watching movies from that culture may help in understanding or observing different behaviors before leaving. If you know someone in that country from your culture, ask them their thoughts on this topic. How do you think you can fit in and understand others behaviors? Do you think it will be hard to understand others or be understood?

Language
Being fluent in another culture’s language is integral to success and comfort in another culture. Whether the language is the same or different than the one you speak, adaptations will need to be made to how you talk- your accent, sounds, word choices, tone and speed. These changes will take time and some can be adapted automatically as and when interacting with local people. Of course we are all attached to our language and it’s not easy to change it. Consider how your success in another country is dependent on your language skills. If you need help you can hire an accent and conversational coach.

Food
Missing our mother’s food when we move away to college is normal. But, if we move away to another country for college, we will not only miss our mother’s cooking, but also our own culture’s readily available foods. Examine how attached to you are to your menu and food choices. How willing are you to try other foods and possibly even change your diet on a regular and permanent basis? Would you be able to buy ingredients for your own culture’s food and make it in your new location? Will you learn some cooking methods before leaving your home or once you reach your new home? Is it possible to carry some food items from your current home abroad?


Thank you for reading.

Author Jennifer Kumar helps Indians find cultural balance while working with Americans in India or in the US.

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