Do any of these statements sound like thoughts you’ve had?
“Whenever I’m here I miss home, but when I go back I miss Holland”
“Ever since I moved here I feel like I don’t fit in”
“Being an outsider makes me feel like there is something wrong with me”
“Fitting into a different society was much tougher than I expected”
“I’m not a loner-type but it’s just not easy to make close friends here”
“I have lived in so many different cultures that I feel over-adapted”
Many people migrate because they believe this will enrich their life. But besides the positive outcomes of moving, dealing with the culture of your new habitat can also cause mental stress. In psychology we call the process of cultural change and psychological change that results following meeting between cultures: acculturation.
Acculturative stress refers to the psychological, somatic, and social difficulties that may accompany acculturation processes, often manifesting in anxiety, depression and other forms of mental and physical maladaptation. Several factors are food, homesickness, social isolation, language barriers, customs, weather, transportation and services available and the treatment of most citizens toward foreigners. Expats face a challenge to their mental and physical health as stressors that affect them are not only new and unfamiliar but moreover their coping skills that worked in their home country may not work in the new country.
Adjusting to a new culture removed from their comforts can evoke feelings of helplessness, as one suddenly experiences a loss of control that results from culture shock. In order to adjust to a new culture, many factors play a role. Some of these are the work situation, one’s relational skills and motivational state as well as courage and risk taking. Spouses of the relocating expat may feel more acculturative stress, seeing as they may be more socially isolated due to not having colleagues.
Learning to understand that identification with the new as well as continuing to identify with the previous culture if possible can prevent acculturative stress. Moreover two different coping styles have been identified: problem solving – taking direct action to solve a problem, as well as emotion-focused coping, in which action is taken in order to make oneself feel better about a situation one cannot control. When interpreting change as a threat, experiencing acculturative stress is likely. If you, your spouse or children are struggling with the move to the Netherlands, please contact PsyQ International do discuss if and how they can help you. If you are in Australia, please visit your local GP and discuss whether a referral to a psychologist may help you.
Guest post by Mr.Baer Jonkers, Manager/Psychologist
Mr. Jonkers is a psychologist and manager at PsyQ International (http://www.psyq.nl/Expatriates/expats), a health care center which is specialised in treatment of expats/internationals in the Netherlands.