Culture transitions: the importance of managing expectations

By Deborah Dahab


Culture changes are more common than you would think. Anytime you are in a certain (familiar) setting where you know the rules and how “things are done” and move to a situation where your set of references is challenged, you have a culture change.

You may ask why I am talking about culture change if the title of this article is about culture transition. You see, the change is the event, the move, a particular situation, and the transition is the internal process that happens inside each one of us.

Have you ever met someone that has moved to another country and, despite being in a different culture, searches only to interact with people from her original culture, consumes food from her original culture and shows resistance to learn a new language? Well, most likely, even though there was a culture change, the transition has not (yet) happened.

The reasons why the transitions take long or don’t happen at all are as varied as the people on Earth. It will depend on their personality, the reasons they moved if they decided the move, their phase in life, and so on. However, one thing is common in situations where the transition takes longer. And it has to do with expectations.

We all have them, whether we like them or are aware of how much they influence our reaction to what happens to us. But if we look long enough, we are bound to realize that we are constantly expecting things and then comparing them to our perception of reality. And then, we are happy and satisfied or sad and disappointed.

When moving to a new culture, I find it important particularly important to manage expectations. And here are some tips on how to do that:

Connect with the new culture: In today’s world, it is quite easy to find people who have lived or are from the place you are heading to. Ask them about the good, the bad and the ugly. Connect with people from different backgrounds to have a broad view. Listen with an open heart and try not to judge. I know, that’s really hard but we tend to compare other cultures with our own. Try not to and be aware when you do.

Connect with your own culture: We tend to take the things in our culture for granted and now is the time to take stock of the aspects that you like and that you don’t like of your own culture. If you like that your culture is laid back, value that and reflect on how important each aspect is in how you lead your daily life.

Find out where you draw the line: Once you have an idea of the new culture and have thought about your own culture, think about aspects and values that you want to keep. Find out your “nonnegotiables” and aspects that you’re willing to adjust and change. Let’s say that you find that a laid-back environment is a “non-negotiable” and it’s an important aspect of your culture and who you are. That information can help you decide, for example, on where to look for housing, near a beach rather than at the city center.

Finally, nothing will ever be what we expect. Things can be better, worse or just plain different. And that’s a good thing because it allows us to live a more diverse and fulfilling life no matter where we go.

#interculturalcoaching #expatcoaching #wisebondcoaching #expats #expatriation

Photo by Ben White @ Unsplash

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