How To Adjust To A New Culture

Chloe Poulain
4 min readMay 23, 2021

Each country has its own sets of beliefs, values, attitudes and unwritten morals, and adjusting to a new culture can be hard. Not only does it challenge all of your pre-existing knowledge about how to be in a society, but it can also feel like a very destabilizing experience for your sense of self and identity. You have to rethink how to approach others and yourself. You have to learn a new normal that doesn’t seem normal to you, and how confusing is that? Here are some tips I have learned from moving into a different country and having to learn a new way of being :

  • Be Curious And Open-Minded

There are some things that you won’t understand, but don’t let your initial incomprehension debilitate you. There are some things that won’t make sense to you, but if you take the time and try to understand, you will quickly find meaning. If you meet something strange or unusual, don’t dismiss it. Ask yourself what meaning or function does it have in this social context. Why would people behave this way? Try to see it from their point of you. Use your empathetic skills here! It is necessary when entering a new culture to develop strategies of moral reasoning that will help you address disagreements among people who have a different culture identity from yours. Often, people are eager to talk about themselves, so engage in a meaningful conversation with people you meet. Ask them questions! Express your point of you while holding compassion for the other person’s opinion and perspective.

  • Use Your Observational Skills

The process of learning by watching others is called observational learning, and it includes four different stages which are attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Study shows that children learn new skills by observing others and then modeling what they saw or heard, and you can do that to! Go in a coffee shop and try to understand the dynamics that operate among people. Take notes in your head of what is common and acceptable behavior, and what is not. Look at the little things. For example, proximity is one. Personal space — how close we stand to our colleagues, our friends, strangers — varies widely between countries. Some “contact-cultures” such as Southern Europe, see closeness as an important communication tool, whereas some “non-contact cultures” such as Asia and North America, see physical closeness as less comfortable and more threatening. It’s important to understand how physical proximity can influence the way you’re being perceived, as it can determine the quality and content of your exchange with that person. For example, in Italy taking someones arm while walking is standard procedure whereas in Japan it would never happen because it would be seen as invasive and aggressive.

  • Give Yourself (and others) Permission To Make Mistakes

Mistakes are human, and we all make them! Don’t let guilt keep you from experiencing the excitement of learning new things. Some of the things you will do might come out as rude or inappropriate in a different culture, and that’s okay. If this happens, take note and try not to do it again. Tell people that you come from a different culture and that you didn’t know this was not okay. What a great way to start a good conversation about culture differences and learn new things! Most people will be very understanding, and if they’re not, go along with your day and don’t shame yourself for it.

  • It’s Okay to Experience Anxiety

When entering a new culture, it will feel scary at first. As humans, we are wired for connection and have a deep need for belonging. When connection and belonging are challenged, it can feel very threatening and scary at first. But don’t worry, most of the time people successfully accommodate to a new culture. Acknowledge that your anxiety makes perfect sense and take time for yourself.

  • Have Fun!

Learning how to BE in a new culture is very enriching, and it will teach you a lot about yourself and others. It’s a wonderful human experience so take advantage of it! Take in all the goodness others have to offer you, and remember that you have a lot of goodness to offer them as well! Discover all that you can discover. You don’t have to like everything, you don’t have to keep all that you’ve learned, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Enjoy your adventure and make the most out of it! You will have so much fun!

Adjusting to a new culture can be hard and scary at first, but it’s a truly wonderful experience that will for sure make you grow as a human being. You will learn so much and don’t forget to have fun!

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