Coming to a new country is often experienced as a culture shock. Many expats ask themselves, ‘Do I truly belong here?’ In my communication with several expats, I have a feeling that there are invisible barriers and that many are unprepared for how arduous the long winters in Scandinavia are and how the darkness affects them. In this article I will try to share my thoughts on conquering challenges as an expat in Scandinavia.
In this article I focus on five issues, which seem to be common challenges for many expats:
- Culture Shock
In the early stage of settling in a new country, many expats experience the feeling of being unprepared, and unpreparedness leads to stress. Studies show that expats are more vulnerable to experiencing stress, depression, anxiety, and martial challenges. Stress comes in many forms and can lead to unproductiveness, bad sleep, social anxiety and mood swings.
Over 90% of global expats reported having experienced stress and 98% experienced symptoms of burnout. Learning how to manage and reduce your stress levels as an expat will have a lasting effect on your overall health and well-being.
But how do you manage stress as an expat?
Here are some hints: Exercise is one of the best ways to help release symptoms of stress. Take long walks or sign up for workout classes at your local gym.
A new hobby can bring you joy and help you deal with a stressful week. You will also have the chance to meet new people in the area which is another great way to destress.
Focusing on something that brings you joy can help you deal with a stressful week and unwind
Share your stresses with someone who can help you let things go, that be your family or a professional consultant.
Get out and explore your new environment. That way you can even experience the benefits of living abroad.
The most common type of expat guilt is guilt that has to do with not being close to home, family or meeting the family’s expectations for you. This type of expat guilt is mostly stoked by express comments, subtle responses, coded messages, or even outright accusations of abandonment.
If you also have somebody or a group of people reinforcing guilt, it soon becomes a nagging, emotionally draining feeling. Accept that expat guilt doesn’t go away or vanishes, so make room for those uncomfortable feelings. Be clear about the values that made you decide to live abroad, and be kind and compassionate towards yourself.
Moving away from your home country was a necessary decision you considered and needed to make. Having now made it, you should focus your energy on managing the aftereffect of your decision. This you could do by scheduling regular skyping sessions, facetime, calls, etc.
Have an “emergency plan” when the guilt kicks in: call a person you trust, immerse in a self-care routine. Feel the guilt but remain on your journey. This is hard advice to give, but giving up and running back home maybe even worse.
Any seasoned expatriate has a story to tell when it comes to acclimatizing to the local culture. However, the physical and psychosocial symptoms of culture shock vary from expat to expat, as does the extent to which each person is affected. The good news, though, is that there are several strategies to diminish the severity and manage the symptoms.
Books and websites are good sources of information, but the best resources are the locals. Most people are proud of their culture, and delight in showing it off to newcomers. Asking questions with genuine curiosity will lead to a wealth of information.
Continue to learn about your host country; this is a critical step in the battle against culture shock. The more knowledge you have about your new environment, the better. Carefully watch how local people act in various situations that frustrate you and learn how to approach similar situations appropriately.
When considering moving somewhere that your native tongue is not the local language, you have to decide if you want to learn the new language or not.
Being able to communicate effectively can have a significant effect on the quality of life someone experiences, whether they live at home or abroad. Many expats in Scandinavia experience that they come a long way with English, as most Scandinavians speak English quite well. But simply making an effort to pick up some words in your new language is often greatly received, and it actually increases your chances of improving your language skills, without you even being aware.
It is always a good idea to learn the local language where you live. Doing so will help you get more out of your new expat life, and also will help reduce unnecessary stress which could arise from being isolated.
Habits are like little automated helpers, simplifying our daily tasks. Researchers in change reveal that habits often are based on deep-seated assumptions about ourselves and the world. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey have published a paper on “The Real Reason People Won’t Change”. In this paper they introduce the concept of the “Big Assumption”, a fundamental belief that supports competing commitments. For example, if you’re trying to meet new people but believe that you’re inherently shy, that Big Assumption might hinder your progress.
So, what can you do about it? Build resilience by acknowledging that slip-ups are natural. If you for instance attend local meetups, don’t hide in the corner. Get rid of your old habits and make a set of new ones.
As Kristi DePaul puts it: “Habit and routines are not interchangeable. A habit is a behavior done with little or no thought, whereas a routine is a series of behaviors frequently, and intentionally, repeated. To turn a behavior into a habit, it first needs to become a routine. How do you start?”
Use the search function in Daily Scandinavian. Play with search phrases – and experience your new findings – in person.
E. g.: Searching for “habits” gives you 54 articles that can inspire you!
Conquering Challenges as an Expat in Scandinavia – Conclusion
Reflect on your own expat experience. What are the competing commitments that have been holding you back? What fears or doubts have been lingering beneath the surface? Acknowledge them, face them, and remember, you are not alone in this journey.
Conquering Challenges as an Expat in Scandinavia, compiled by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Expat Therapy 4U