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October 14, 2012

A Personal Example of Adjusting to a New Reality in a Different Culture

In this post, I will walk you through a step by step process that will help you adjust to a new cultural reality. While you can use the steps/questions to work through your own cultural adjustment, I share a personal story based on my own experience living as a foreigner living in India married to a man from India. 

Step 1: What’s On Your Mind? What Are You Thinking About?
Many times thoughts we have about past experiences or things we read in books or anything else could affect us. Some of us have an easier time identifying our thoughts.
Identify the situation and your thoughts about it here:

Tomorrow will be my first time going out ‘alone’ in India. I have alone in quotes because I would be in a car, but with a driver. Though I have been in the car with that driver four days already along with my husband and father in law, this would be my first time alone and I wasn’t sure if I could communicate with the driver as I hadn’t heard him talk any English and my Malayalam is well, pretty bad!! I wasn’t worried he’d take me on the wrong route, but what if I had to talk to him, then how could I communicate? I was also worried that since I had jet lag still I would not be able to stay awake in the car. What happens if I fall asleep? Could the guy go off the route? Is this an illegitimate fear being that this is a driver from a respectable agency?

Step 2: Be willing to admit your emotions and feelings.
Are you able to identify and admit your feelings?

What kinds of feelings are you having? (List Your Feelings. If you are having a hard time, refer to this site-

It is important to label your feelings with feeling words, not judgments. Feelings are not good or bad, they are what they are. If we label them, it may cause us to avoid the feelings for fear of admitting we are ‘feeling something negative’. It’s ok. Don’t bury it. Feel it fully. It may be scary, but it’s ok. If you are in a safe place and with someone you trust, talk about it. List your feelings here:

Nervous Scared Tense Worried Frozen/Stiff Happy
Excited Adventurous Closed-In Trepidation Apprehensive

Step 3: What Physical Symptoms Are You Experiencing?
If you can’t identify your feelings, can you sense what is going on inside your body? Do you have any physical symptoms? What cues does your body give you to tell you that you are feeling different feelings?

Stomach was tight, felt like I’d throw up
Not Hungry, but I was starving
Insomnia (night before I couldn’t sleep)
Racing thoughts

Step 4: Think About Any Past Similar Experiences
We often feel things based on impending events or events that have already happened. What lessons did you learn from these experiences? Can they be applied to this situation? How? Can you create any plan to help you overcome that? Write your plan here:

I also was surprised I was so nervous, I mean I lived in India before and had drivers I could talk less with than this guy and also knew that driver for much fewer days and I never bothered about it. Goes to show I changed and became a bit more ….. or less… adventurous? Or is it being more cautious?

I was actually a bit more open to going on a bus alone which most people advise against. I felt a bus may be more ‘safe’ because there are more people to be a buffer zone in case I needed one, but in a car with one person alone…. I felt there is no buffer zone. And, really never been alone in a car with anyone in a long time since I drove myself around in the USA!

I also thought that I shouldn’t be so worried as this guy seems to get along well with my husband and he has no (my husband) has no worries about me being alone with him. I was feeling frozen still and did not know what to do or where I could learn lessons from, so I talked to my husband about it.

Step 5: Identify Ways to Alleviate These Feelings. (Create a Culture Shock Relief Plan.)
Try to create a plan here on ways to deal with your situation to relieve your culture shock, anxiety, stress and fear to bring peace and new coping skills.

After talking to my husband, and learning more about how ladies stay safe in India, he gave me a lot of good ideas and we came up with a plan.

The other worry I had was I had no usable cell phone. We had a borrowed, old phone from my husband's dad and he suggested that I call him before I left, once or twice during the ride and after arriving there. I also added to that plan, I would call his dad upon leaving, once during the drive, and as we get closer. The drive is about 45 minutes. Though I would have felt so dependent and clingy to do this, for me it really eased me. If I could call Krishna and his dad during the ride if any problem did come up, I could clearly talk to them. So, that really eased my feelings a lot. I also thought that if I kept making calls every so often, it would keep me awake. So, all this calling alleviated the fear of falling asleep as well!

After your experience, come back to this and journal your experience. Did your plan work? What was successful? Can you use any lessons from this plan in the future?

As an important note: If the feelings are indeed preventing you from doing something that is not dangerous or preventing you from living your life and achieving your dreams in your new residence, it’s important to identify what you can do to alleviate these feelings so that they don’t stop you from living the life you deserve. Talk to your spouse, family, friends, or even a cross-cultural coach (me!). Talk to someone who gives you comfort and can help you assess your situation and create solutions. These solutions can be part of your ‘culture shock safety plan’- a plan you can utilize anytime when you are experiencing culture shock and want to overcome it. This plan is not static and will change as you adapt and adjust to things throughout your life in your new home or other places you may move to.

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.