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  • drmariecdumas

How is expat wellness unique?

Embarking on a journey to live in a new country is a thrilling yet challenging experience for any expat. Immigration offers a special opportunity to immerse oneself in a different culture, but the path to adaptation is often paved with obstacles. Unless you've lived it, it's hard to fully understand the magnitude of change that is experienced by an immigrant. In this article, we'll explore some helpful tips for understanding common emotional experiences for those who voluntarily immigrated, as we move towards picturing optimum expat cultural adjustment. Hopefully you'll discover valuable insights on how to navigate the bumps by understanding some common phases, and what to do to get through them with grace and your sanity intact! Hint: Cybertherapy Consulting sessions can help!

1. The Dream: Researching and Getting Excited

Do you remember that phase? The time when you looked for all of the positives of your destination country and dreamed about what possiblities you might manifest? You might have had some cognitive dissonance that led you to overemphasize the rosy prospects, and you may have viewed in a negative light the things about your former country that left you wanting more. You probably dove into expat resources and listened to those who had positive things to say. This optimistic view was most likely what you needed at the time to make the difficult separations that allowed you to begin your expat dream, even if getting on that plane was one of the most difficult mixed emotional rides of your life.

2. The Honeymoon Phase: Initial Euphoria

The first stage of expat adjustment is often marked by excitement and fascination with the new culture. Everything seems fresh, exotic, and full of possibilities. During this honeymoon phase, expats may feel a sense of awe as they explore their new surroundings. They can be spotted snapping photos that make for great social media posts, as they dive into the food experiences of their region, and begin to meet new people. However, it's crucial to recognize that this initial enthusiasm, though fun and one to certainly embrace and enjoy, is likely to fade once the reality of the challenges of living in a foreign environment sets in and becomes more permanent.

3. Cultural Shock: Navigating the Lows

As the novelty wears off, expats often encounter the infamous "culture shock." This phase is characterized by feelings of disorientation, frustration, and even homesickness. The disparity between expectations and reality becomes apparent, leading to a period of adjustment. Delayed personal belongings, living in a crude camping setup while you find a more permant home with essentials such as your favorite knives and pots and pans, can be trying. Unexpected costs, immigration hoops, and language barriers begin to feel very real. Trying to file taxes for the first time, to rent an apartment or buy a home, to find employment, get a driver's license, or enroll in healthcare, is rarely as simple as we imagine, and we can end up feeling completely stumped and frozen about what to do to solve the challenge before us. Normalizing cultural shock as a natural part of the expat experience can help individuals cope more effectively. Going it alone or with a reduced support system can be tough!

4. Adjustment: Finding a New Equilibrium

Gradually, most expats start to adapt to their new cultural environment. They develop coping mechanisms, build a support network, learn how to ask for help, and use local resources. In moving outside of our comfort zone, and releasing the shame of "not knowing" we gain a deeper understanding of local customs and social norms, and allow locals to enter our bubble and support us. Language skills improve, and a sense of familiarity replaces the initial disorientation. Flexibility, humility, and open-mindedness are key traits during this phase, as they allow expats to embrace the positive aspects of their new life. This phase is made much easier with the help of experienced professionals and wise expats. Cybertherapy Consulting can help you make the bridge between the lows of the previous state, and moving towards healthy adjustment.

5. Integration: Becoming a Part of the Community

Integration marks the final stage of expat adjustment, where individuals feel a genuine sense of belonging in their new home. This doesn't mean abandoning one's cultural identity, or that unreplicable feeling of your original "home" but rather embracing a blend of the old and the new. Expats who successfully integrate, often form meaningful relationships with locals, feel enthusiastic about their host country, actively participate in community events, and contribute to the social fabric of their adopted country. Knowing where to look for connection is important, and Cybertherapy can help you brainstorm what actions you'd like to take to achieve your unique vision of integration. A consultant offers an accompaniment which will help you stay on track towards optimum wellness, and that weekly accountability can really move things forward.

Tips for Successful Expat Adjustment:

a. Cultural Curiosity: Approach the new culture with curiosity and an open mind. Engage in local activities, attend cultural events, and explore traditions to gain a deeper understanding.

b. Build a Support System: Connect with fellow expats, professionals (like Cybertherapy or handholders), and locals alike. Building a support system can provide valuable insights, offer emotional support during challenging times, and facilitate a smoother adjustment process. Look for groups to join in your local area with shared interests.

c. Language Learning: Invest time in learning the local language, and be patient, it will take years for you to feel confident, and that's OK. Embrace your accent with pride and open yourself up to the idea of not fitting 100% in as a local. Your cultural background makes you unique, so assume it fully. Consider a blend of language learning consisting of both online study, and in-person classes, because group lessons are better for making new friends in the area. Proficiency in the language not only enhances daily interactions, but also fosters a deeper connection with the culture.

d. Maintain Connections and Seek New Ones: Stay connected with your roots, use free tools such as online videoconferencing to do similar activities that you might have previously done with your friends and family back home such as film nights, watching a sports game over videochat, coffee dates, and apéro catch-ups. Regular communication with family and friends from your home country will provide a sense of continuity and support. Don't forget to make the same kinds of efforts to meet new people in your local environment as well. Put yourself out there and propose a get-together with someone you think might make a good friend or contact, even if you're not sure. There's only one way to know!

e. Stay Resilient: Cultivate resilience and patience. Adapting to a new culture is a gradual process, and setbacks are a natural part of the journey. Stay positive and celebrate small victories along the way. Build in rewards for yourself when you acheive a goal, and remember, you're courageous just for having undertaken the adventure! Be humble and put yourself out there, as many times as it takes, to make connections that feel right for you.

Expat life is a journey that unfolds in distinct phases, each presenting its own set of challenges and rewards. Navigating cultural adjustment requires a blend of adaptability, open-mindedness, and resilience. By recognizing the stages of expat adjustment and implementing practical strategies, individuals can transform the initial challenges into opportunities for personal and cultural growth.

Embracing the complexity of the expat experience allows for a more enriched and fulfilling life in a new cultural landscape. Cybertherapy can help accompany you towards wellness, wherever you are, so don't hesitate to invest in yourself.



Dr. Marie C. Dumas, EI
Cybertherapy Consulting

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