Dealing with culture shock from living overseas
To a new expat, life abroad is colorful and exotic. This can also mean shock as you find yourself outside your comfort zone; facing new challenges that you were aware but didn’t fully come to realize until after the move. Expats face barriers not found at home, such as differences in language, economics, interpersonal relationships, and legal realities. I hope to stemm some of the concerns as you contemplate a move abroad.
Living overseas is an amazing experience and I recommend that everyone try it at least once. But, it’s not for everyone. I, myself, have lived in Japan and the Czech Republic, having faced both the awesomeness and difficulties of being cut off from what I’m use to. Japan was so different yet wonderful in their eating and cultural attitudes; it made the whole experience amazing. However it wasn’t without its challenges. After a year, I certainly forgot from time-to-time that I wasn’t Japanese. Watching women being treated differently than what I’m accustomed also left me frazzled, and still, I voiced my objections. The Czech Republic was a another very different reality. The biggest issue that I have is the lack of diversity in both countries. Growing up in the Bay Area, I am use to much more color, which largely formed to my way of thinking and outlook on the world.
That being said, I didn’t move abroad to change their culture. I think Americans have a habit of doing that and I’m sure I'm guilty of leaving a moral footprint here and there. I moved abroad to experience something new and allow myself to change and increase my awareness of the world.
My survival strategy was formulated from feeling different. I did what I could to fit in as much as possible. I studied and spoke Japanese and Czech; albeit they knew I wasn’t local, at least in my mind I was part of the community, if not just for that single instance. I was also lucky to have friends from both countries who I could trust and communicate with in English. If not for that, I would have felt more isolated and certainly struggled with the realities there. Bruce Davis, co-founder of Silent Stay Retreat Centers in Assisi, Italy and Solano County, California, suggests of finding your diet that reminds you of home. For him it was Chinese food; often challenging in Italy as pasta and pizza are prevalent. He says to, “go into nature, a beach or the mountains.” He also suggests to look for other expats from your home country, from an online source or local expat club. “Read news from your home country or listen to familiar music.”
The economic and legal realities are different although becoming more uniform thanks to globalization in banking. My debit card can pull cash out at just about any ATM. Buying what I need is largely doable, although some flexibility is required: I mostly ate Czech sausages and Japanese rice balls when I lived there.
Buying a house and ingraining yourself deeper in the country, comes with new, unique challenges. Depending on where you are, you may be required to hold the ownership in a local trust, like in Mexico. You won’t likely be able to obtain a mortgage. And, if you’re looking for a contractor, well, best of luck.
More expats are banding together. Through a local restaurant or expat club on meetup.com, the expat community will find a way to re-create the sense of home. I’m generally preferential to partying with locals because for me there’s much more to learn. However in the end, I was happy to have as many options as possible.
At Eureka Wealth Management, I do more than prepare your financial strategy for your move overseas. I’ll advise you on obtaining the resources that you need so you’ll feel more at home once you get there. I also connect you with the right tax advisor and attorney that will help you meet your U.S. tax requirements and estate goals. I also will help you manage your investments that’s compliant with U.S. banking and Patriot Act rules. Call me for a free initial consultation at +1(760) 537-0791 or online at eurekawealthmanagement.com/expats.
Bruce Davis, Ph.D., runs Silent Stay Retreat Centers and was recently featured in American Airlines magazine (link). For more information visit silentstay.com.