Service member learns about local Arab traditions from local holding a falcon

How to Adjust to a Foreign Culture

Living abroad is an exciting opportunity to experience diverse cultures and environments — to meet people from all over the world. However, there is often a period of adjustment after moving to a different country. It takes time to learn a new language, customs, gestures and a monetary system. Here are some strategies to help you adjust to a foreign culture.

The stages of cultural adjustment

It often helps to know that what you are experiencing has been experienced by many other service members and families. Understanding the stages of cultural adjustment can help you recognize that your feelings are perfectly normal.

  • Apprehension: When receiving overseas orders, it is not unusual to feel some unease or worry about how you will handle the new opportunity.
  • Exhilaration: Taking in the newness of the situation is exciting. A feeling of fascination or enthusiasm is typical as you pack up for your new destination and could last until shortly after your arrival in the foreign country. Hold onto that feeling.
  • Culture shock: After spending a bit of time in the new culture, you may become tired and overwhelmed from all of the learning you have to do — different types of measurements, tipping, shopping, money, housing — not to mention trying to master a foreign language.
  • Integration and acceptance: After a while, you get a better grasp of the language, the gestures become second nature and you know how to pay for things with new money. Your family begins to feel at home in the foreign country and more relaxed in your new settings.

Strategies for blending into a foreign culture

The better you can adapt to a new culture, the more you can seize your overseas adventure. Here are some strategies for getting along with the natives in your host country and blending into your new home.

  • Try to speak the language: Most individuals appreciate when you try to speak their language, even if you do so imperfectly.
  • Speak English clearly: Many individuals in the host country speak English, but don't understand slang phrases or jargon. Try to speak slowly and clearly to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Eat the native foods: In foreign cultures, food is often a symbol of hospitality. Eating the foods offered to you is a form of a compliment to your host. Even if you don't like it, try to eat it with a smile and thank the host for a tasty meal.
  • Dress appropriately: Clothing is a central part of the customs and traditions of most cultures. While shorts and a t-shirt may be perfectly OK to wear in the U.S., they may be considered rude in some parts of the world. Make sure you know what kinds of dress are offensive in your foreign culture.
  • Learn how to address people: Some cultures are very formal in how they address each other. Become familiar with the titles people use and what is considered courteous.
  • Be on time. Your friends in the U.S. may not mind if you're running 15 minutes late for a lunch, but in some cultures being tardy shows a lack of respect for the other person and is considered rude.
  • Be open-minded. Put your stereotypes aside and try to be receptive to new ideas and behaviors.

Adapting to a new culture, while not always easy, is part of the fun adventure of living overseas. Contact Military OneSource with any questions or concerns.