Working abroad can be rewarding and educational. You get paid a generous salary while also being able to travel to new places. However, working as an expatriate also brings certain economic and cultural challenges. To successfully earn a living abroad, here are three tips on how to embrace the culture shock and thrive in a new environment.
Brave the Bureaucracy
Every new country you go to has their own “red tape” you’ll need to cut through. This first few brush-ups with the country’s bureaucratic issues, such as foreign employment quotas, work permits, social security alternatives, tax regulations, and insurance policies will be both physically and emotionally exhausting. Even the once-mundane tasks of securing a driver’s license or opening a bank account can be an exasperating experience. Prepare in advance by researching online and downloading application forms. If you are being sponsored by an employer, they may be able to provide some much-needed assistance.
Joshua Goldstein warns against three common mistakes when interacting with foreign government employees: failing to provide necessary documents, failing to bring an interpreter, and accidentally saying the wrong thing or volunteering too much information. Many developed nations provide workers the right to be represented by an attorney at status hearings or application interviews.
Avoid Making Comparisons
This is a huge social no-no and can get you labeled as a whiner or someone who is unable to adapt, depending on what you say. In extreme cases, innocuous comments may be construed as racially insensitive. Be self-aware of what you say and what you do in public. If you know you have a propensity to blatantly speak your opinions about something, try to guard your thoughts and stop yourself whenever you’re about to mouth something unpleasant about your host country. This isn’t to say successful expatriates thrive because they don’t speak their thoughts or they rid themselves of rights to free speech. It’s about being respectful of the foreign country’s cultural differences and adapting accordingly.
There are many less obvious ways to potentially offend residents of your host country, and these will be specific to the areas in which you are living. Do some research and try to identify customs and practices that may be taboo. Here are a few examples regarding the amount of food you consume.
It’s common for new expats to stick with people of similar ethnicity. This is particularly a temptation in metro areas with a large diaspora of immigrants from your home country. While this is a good way to avoid getting homesick, it limits your opportunities and slows down your ability to adapt to your newfound home. Sign up with platforms like Meetup to easily find groups sharing similar interests and hobbies who you can meet with up with. Attending such events can speed up your ability to pick up new things, such as the native language as well as nifty street smarts that can save you money.
In most metropolitan areas, there are resources through your work, the city, or private services that can help you adjust and navigate the maze of a foreign culture. For example, check out this resource page for Los Angeles immigrants. See if there is a diaspora network in your area, or find a mentor who understands your cultural background.
Being able to cope with the cultural differences of your new host country is easier said than done. Regardless of how much you prepare, there are going to be curveballs in your journey that will rattle you and seek to sidetrack your career plans. Use the three tips above to minimize impact and enable you to effectively absorb the shocks.