Guest blog by Katherine Barton from Barton Insights
Whether you and your family have been in London for a few days or already a few months, have you considered how you will make a success of your time here?
Understandably, most expatriates and companies focus their attention on the practical aspects of a relocation, such as visas, housing, shipping and schools. Less help or time is given to what happens next, after you have arrived… And yet managing the transition well (for all of the family) is key to the success of an international assignment.
Katherine Barton is Director of Barton Insights, specialists in British Culture and Cultural Awareness Training, Expatriate Transition and Executive Coaching.
She shares 2 main Insights that she thinks every expatriate should know and 5 Top Tips for taking control of your London experience.
‘Culture Shock’ or ‘Transition Stress’ is a natural part of moving overseas. The causes vary and are very personal – for some the biggest challenge is the new job or leaving a job to follow their spouse, for others it is the absence of friends or family or the differences in language, cultural attitudes and lifestyle. To name just a few….
Remember – you are not failing if you experience this. It is a very normal part of relocating and the adjustment process.
Changing home or job is a big change in Japan and it is an even greater transition when you do this in a foreign country, so be kind to yourself and accept that it is natural to take time to adapt to your new life.
Remember that how and when an individual experiences ‘Culture Shock’ varies. Typically it is after 2-3 months, but for others it is immediate or not for several months.
People often associate the idea of ‘Culture Shock’ with homesickness, depression, crying or loneliness. Whilst this is true, symptoms can also include tiredness, physical illness, feeling overwhelmed, loss of confidence, becoming more dependent on others, irritability and frustration, withdrawing to the safety of home or the office and stereotyping or mistrusting locals.
As we experience transition stress in different ways and at different times, it is easy to forget that a colleague or family member’s behaviour may be due to this. Being familiar with the signs means that you can better support yourself and others.
Celebrate small successes and look for positives.
Sometimes even speaking a few words of English with a stranger, opening a bank account or finding your way to a new place are real achievements when in a strange country. Acknowledge this! Keep a list or share these successes with your spouse – it builds confidence and helps you to keep a positive outlook.
There are many strategies to help you with transition stress and the adaptation process. Some of them are actually the cures for depression – eat healthily, make sure you have the correct vitamins, get your sleep and make sure you exercise. All of these will help your mindset and resilience, therefore improving your ability to cope with your new life in London and the many changes it brings.
Consider what new skills you need to develop
You are in a new situation, so be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone. You are very likely to have to try new things or do them in a different way to what you are used to. For many people, it is the first time they have had to make new friends as an adult, make small talk or present in English, date overseas or join a new group or business network.
You may identify an actual skill that you need to learn or develop, or simply that you need to be more open minded, flexible, curious, proactive, patient or brave. Trying out a new activity or behaviour can feel uncomfortable at first, but that is a natural part of growing and adjusting, so do persevere!
Invest in English language lessons, cultural training and expatriate transition coaching
If you are going to integrate and fully make the most of your time in London, give yourself and your family or employees the best chance of succeeding. Yes, you may survive without them, but language lessons or cultural training will fast-track your transition, so that you optimise your expatriate experience professionally and personally. Seeking external expertise is not a sign that you are failing – even top athletes and top business executives have coaches and proactively look for ways to perform at their best as quickly as possible.
Create a positive vision for your time in London
Whether you plan to be in London for a couple of years or many years, being clear about what you want to gain from this international experience is a key part of creating a successful assignment. Whether that is as an executive or as an accompanying spouse. This could be developing professional or personal skills, securing a promotion, getting fit, creating a better work-life balance, finding a new hobby, trying new cuisines, or places that you want to visit in London or Europe. When you look back, what do you want to say that you did or saw or achieved? What do you want to remember fondly about this time in London?
A mixture of personal and professional goals is best if you are an employee. They will motivate you and sustain you when you face difficult times. Starting to make them happen will also increase your enjoyment of your expatriate experience and sense of fulfilment.
Barton Insights works with companies and individual expatriates in person and by Skype – visit their website to find out more http://bit.ly/1Pxh2fA . You can also use the contact form if you have any questions for Katherine – she will be happy to help.