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Adapting to Your New Environment

Major life changes - even positive ones - always involve stress. There are many stressful times in an average person’s life: moving to a new community, changing careers, and separating from loved ones. When you move overseas, it involves facing several of these changes all at once, resulting in a very stressful situation. In addition, these changes occur while you are surrounded by an unfamiliar language and culture and lack the support systems you relied on at home.

It is only natural for people to react to this kind of upheaval with a temporary case of what is referred to as transitional shock or cultural shock.

Here are some hints to help you cope with your new situation and avoid the inevitable culture shock that can result after a move to a foreign country:

  • As quickly as possible, build a support network and make new friends. Spending time with other experienced expatriates can be helpful in this transition period. Join community groups, sports groups, or business associations where you can meet others in similar circumstances or with similar interests.
  • Be proactive in seeking information and resources. Learning about your new environment will help you quickly feel more comfortable and confident.
  • Create a comfortable home base - your home is your safe haven and a place where you and your family should be able to relax. Read our Tips on Preparing your Home for Residence.
  • Get sufficient rest and maintain a well-balanced diet.
  • Be patient with yourself and other family members, discussing and acknowledging how you feel. Keep in mind that each family member may react differently to the move at different times in the process. Encourage each family member to talk about their feelings and problems and to support each other. Be aware that mood swings are a normal results of culture shock. Many families discover that siblings will spend more time with each other than they did in their home country as they no longer have their former friends to socialize with. Expressing feelings in letters, emails or a journal can also be helpful.
  • If a child has severe mood swings and seems to be very frequently crying and upset, this is could be a symptom of culture shock. Older children may be able to express their emotions more accurately. However, a younger child may not have the communication skills to tell you what is wrong or how they are missing friends and family from their home country. Take these symptoms seriously and try to help them through this challenging period by first understanding the problem and then helping them deal with it.
  • Be culturally sensitive and do not criticize the host culture. Your home country and its culture will seem just as strange to newly arrived Indonesians. Become aware of cultural differences as well as the specific differences between your own culture and that of your host country. Cultures develop differently for various reasons. Talk with seasoned expats and find out why they think Indonesians do the things that you don't understand.
  • Realize that you cannot recreate your previous lifestyle here in Indonesia. You will need to develop a “new normal”. It may be small adjustments about how you go about your day or larger changes like creating new traditions for your family to celebrate special holidays. You might found that you like the changes better!
  • Learn to view challenges as new opportunities.
  • Integrate into your community at your own level of comfort.
  • Find meaningful and enjoyable activities that get you out in the community to expose you to the surrounding culture - engage in new hobbies, volunteer work, join local clubs or organizations, and explore the sights of the city.
  • Consciously plan for short-term activities, like reading a book or going to a movie; medium-term activities, such as a weekend getaway to a nearby destination; and long-term plans, such as a trip home or a family vacation to a neighboring country. These activities act as stress relief and something to look forward to, if you are experiencing a bad case of culture shock.
  • Practice stress-reducing techniques that work for you, i.e., listening to music, yoga, exercise or meditation. Activities that you did in your home country that helped with stress will also help you in Indonesia.
  • Join a community sports club or group for the stress relief of exercise and to build your circle of helpful and supportive friends.
  • Join a faith community for support and encouragement
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help! In general, the expat community is very generous with advice and are eager to help newcomers to ease their transition because they remember being a newcomer too!

Our thanks to Colliers International for their generous contribution of this article, which we have further adapted.


Updated April 9, 2019