Managing cultural change. Moving country and coping

Today, more than ever, flexibility concerning your career is key. So if you truly want to fulfil your potential then the need to move to another country should never be regarded as an obstacle, merely as another staging post in your progression.

Having said this, I have almost lost count of the times that a very desirable candidate has baulked at the prospect of taking up a job for which they would be ideally suited just because, when it came to it, they felt uncomfortable about cutting their ties with the old country and plunging into a new culture.

Of course, there’s no denying that finding oneself in a foreign land, adjusting to a new and probably challenging job, and without many of the support networks on which all of us depend is going to need considerable readjustment.

But we’re adaptable creatures, we’ve had to be to survive for all these millennia, so there are a number of strategies that can be successfully deployed to ease us in to our new environment.

Before we get to these, though, it’s worth pointing out that psychologists studying the behaviour of expatriates have recognised that individuals who have demonstrated a greater “openness to experience” are more likely to integrate smoothly with a new culture or environment. In fact, in a paper by Myers and Briggs they identified two distinct personality types: the judging who are decisive, organised, dislike surprises and enjoy routine and the  perceiving who are more flexible, relaxed, spontaneous and disorganised. While the characteristics of the judging personalities may be more organised and better planners perceiving personalities can go with the flow and are less time pressured so they handle different situations more easily.

That’s not to say that a move abroad will be straightforward for anyone – and there are typically four stages:

  • The Euphoric Stage when everything is new and exciting. Energy and enthusiasm are high and it feels, for the most part, like a holiday.
  • The Hostile Stage when strong feelings of dissatisfaction can arise caused by difficulties in communication, impatience, anger and a yearning for home.
  • The Adjustment Stage is when a sense of direction as well as a sense of humour begins to re-emerge.
  • The Adaptation Stage which is typified by increasing confidence and a sense of belonging as the individual begins true integration and acculturation. 

To help move through these stages as quickly and painlessly as possible there are certain steps you can take:

  1. Fully research your destination before you go. Spend time on the internet to find out moreover hire someone to support you. Consulates, embassies, travel agents and, of course, the local people can provide a huge amount of information.
  2. Take extra care over how you communicate.  In your new location, nuances of behaviour can be very different. Learn to listen deeply to everyone around you and be clear on what is being said. 
  3. Create a strong community around you by taking time to deepen the family relationships you currently have and create positive ones in your new community. 
  4. Look forward not backward. Often when we move, we remember ‘the good old times’ of our other location but it’s never helpful spending time comparing ‘there’ and ‘here’.
  5. Last, but by no means least, make sure that you are suited to the new job and it will be just as you imagine. This is where searching through a company like Lucas Blake can give you real advantage. By bringing together candidates with the best personal “fit” for the culture and requirements of our clients it ensures that this, vitally important, part of managing cultural change will always go smoothly.