Managing Culture Shock
Culture shock and problems associated with it may have a powerful and lasting impact in the workplace. Once their physical relocation to Russia is complete, most international specialists and their families begin integrating into the Russian community and business environment. As any other country, Russia has its own culture and customs, people, mentality and view of the world, beliefs, behaviour, government, and social structure.
When going through the process of acculturation every expat will experience some form of culture shock. This is an essential although admittedly stressful part of the transition process. It also affects expat spouses who in particular often feel isolated and resentful when they experience life in a new cultural environment.
Culture shock is primarily a set of emotional reactions, such as homesickness, feelings of guilt, worry and anxiety, boredom, sadness, irritability, frustration, and difficulty falling or staying asleep. In addition, it may bring some physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, and a constant feeling of tiredness. These are normal responses to abnormal situations that can be expected under the circumstances. What is therefore needed is to remember that they are transitory and do not imply mental illness or an inability to cope.
Here are a few tips for avoiding the pitfalls of culture shock:
- Familiarize yourself with cultural practices common in Russia by reading or talking to people familiar with the culture. Have realistic expectations before you go. There are a few Internet sites for expats, including those living in Moscow who are ready to share their experience and advice, such as http://www.internations.org/moscow-expats, http://www.redtape.ru and http://www.expatica.com/ru. There you may find useful information and some tips for future relocation. Nevertheless, opinions differ, and they may be subjective and somewhat biased or prejudiced, so do not rely on them completely.
- Identify and practice realistic self-care and stress management techniques that you will be able to use when you are abroad; remember that the practices that you use in your homeland may not be practical or safe when you are abroad, so be creative.
- Keep an open mind and try to be flexible when things don’t go as planned. Make sure you have prepared everything for your upcoming arrival to Russia by checking http://ifaculty.hse.ru; there you will find useful information and prevent possible difficulties.
Culture shock is a normal developmental phase of adjustment to a new cultural environment.
- Establish new friendships with Russians who can help explain the reason behind some of the customs/behaviours you might find difficult to understand. This will help you make healthy adjustments abroad. Working through culture shock can be a valuable growth experience – one that strengthens identity and intercultural competence. And besides, your new friends will likely want to know more about your country and family’s traditions as well. There are many websites and online clubs, including those designed especially for women living abroad to keep them engaged and interested: http://www.iwcmoscow.ru/, http://awomoscow.org/, http://www.inyourpocket.com/russia/Moscow/Expat/Expat-Contacts.
- Connect with others while you are away. Don’t isolate yourself! Share your feelings with your landlord and colleagues. If you are talking with other foreigners working abroad, be sure you don’t get caught up in being negative together. Contact your family and friends back home, as nowadays there are many ways to keep in touch online and through various apps. To keep you connected, HSE offers free Wi-Fi in most of its buildings and in the guesthouse:
- Take care of yourself physically, including getting regular and sufficient amounts of sleep and food. Try new foods, even if at first they may seem unusual; give the new cuisine a chance, or find ones similar to what you have back home. People usually tend to forget about exercise when abroad; keep in mind that regular exercise is calming, and it is also a great way to boost your mood, release endorphins (opiates that relieve stress and make you feel happier) and helps you reenergize and refocus. It may also become another way of finding new friends. Information about gyms and other sports venues in Moscow can be found at http://www.hse.ru/recommends/moscowsports
- Give yourself permission to feel bad. Negative feelings are normal, and you should process these emotions rather than just push them away and fail to address the issue. Homesickness is natural, but do not let negative thoughts occupy you as they prevent you from enjoying the exciting new culture that surrounds you. You can always check for updates on interesting events in Moscow at http://www.hse.ru/en/recommends/ and find exciting places to visit at http://en.travel2moscow.com/.
- Don’t make any big life changes while abroad. It will take time to figure out how your new life experiences will fit into your previous culture and life experience.
- Consider learning Russian. It will not only help you feel more confident, and ease communication both at work and in your social life, but it is also an excellent way to develop a stronger understanding of Russian culture. HSE offers Russian language courses for employees at the Russian Language Centre. More information can be found at http://www.hse.ru/en/rfl/
The experience of culture shock has been accepted as completely normal and even desirable, as it is seen as part of the successful process of adaptation for employees. Therefore, it is important to embrace the new culture instead of resisting it, and to willingly recognize and accept the transformative changes that will help with the adaptation process. Soon, you will likely get used to life in Russia and start to feel more confident and comfortable. Day-to-day life will get easier and you will be happier as a result.
There will be times when you feel like talking to someone to share your concerns and feelings. Befrienders Worldwide is a longstanding network and a recent charity comprising 169 international centres in 29 countries. Their internet resource is available in several languages, offering helplines and centres that you can contact by phone, SMS, e-mail and other online channels. For more information visit http://www.befrienders.org/
HSE understands that moving to a different country and working in a completely new environment may cause some difficulties. The HSE Psychological Counselling Centre is staffed by psychologists who provide HSE staff and students a broad range of counselling services for mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, stress/crisis management, transitional issues, grief, substance abuse, and eating. Visits are confidential.
To make an appointment or obtain additional information about the services provided, as well as terms and conditions, you can contact the Centre by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you make an appointment, please make sure to specify the required information: your name, options for convenient date and time for a counselling session, contact phone number and e-mail address. As soon as your appointment is scheduled, you will be sent a confirmation letter.