What is Culture Shock?
Culture is made up of all the little things that we learn from our family, our friends, the media, literature, and even strangers to a degree. Not just how we speak or what we eat but also basic things like how we look, act, and communicate. Very often when you move to a new country, that culture can be vastly different from the one you know and you can find yourself getting very homesick – not only for family and friends left behind, but for things as simple as being able to have a glass of water from the tap or buy your favourite brand of cereal. This is no different for our children but they may have fewer means of expressing it and understanding it.
How Does It Feel?
Culture shock is a highly disorientating feeling that comes from being submerged into something completely different from what you are used to. It is not a medical or clinical condition that can be treated with a course of pills unfortunately. It can hit your children as soon as they arrive at your new life or it can sneak up on them when you least expect it, either way it can knock them quite hard and leave them feeling depressed, anxious and make you feel like you have made a hideous mistake.
Things that have always felt familiar to them; sounds, smells and even the weather, are all now completely different and it can be hard to prepare a young child for these changes in advance. Small things can help keep your child’s equilibrium as they adjust to their new lifestyle. Favourite toys, familiar books, the same lampshade or bedspread will help give them an anchor as things around them change. Ease them into the changes gradually. However tempting it might be to take them to see all the new wonderful sights that there are to see in the first week, hold off, baby steps, one thing at a time.
How To Help
Language and friends are always going to be the way to help your child, and you, feel less disorientated. Children don’t seem to need language to make friends but not being able to understand what people are saying and not knowing how to make people understand what you are saying can be frustrating. Learning the language of your new home is a must and helping your child learn to count to ten or say simple phrases like ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ can be a fun way to help your child get over the language barrier and get excited about this particular difference.
Even if the basic language doesn’t change from what you are used to, the chances are you don’t know a lot of the slang and local words for things, even in the UK – is it a cob, a bap, a roll? This is one of the many reasons why it’s a good idea to make some local friends as soon as you can. Your children will learn more in one afternoon with local kids than a week listening to you.
What to Look Out For
Communication and friendships will help both you and your child feel more settled – even if you can’t find that hair dye you have always used – but every child reacts differently to moving to a new place and even if your child starts off being really excited and enthusiastic about their new environment, keep a close eye on them. As the cultural changes become more apparent they may begin to feel overwhelmed. Signs that culture shock has hit them can include things like being extra sleepy, irritable, depressed or generally disinterested in things around them. Time and patience is the only cure for this I am afraid. As they begin to deal with the changes they will learn to integrate what they know from their old culture to their new culture.
Most places you go will already have an expat community, make use of them, they can be a wealth of help and understanding for your child especially if they are starting school and lastly, don’t panic – children are far more resilient than us grown-ups, everything around them could change but as long as they know your love for them isn’t going anywhere, they will cope with all the rest of it.