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Cultural awareness – how to avoid faux pas in a new place

Moving to a new country, and making it a success, takes more than good logistics and a great new job. Discover the importance of cultural awareness in a successful relocation, from Santa Fe Relocation.

The one thing that is consistent with every international move is that you’re about to enter a brand-new culture. Before relocating, it’s important to submerge yourself in the local culture, customs and behaviours.

This cultural knowledge won’t just help you settle in and make new friends, give you a sense of confidence about the move, and ensure you know what you’re getting yourself into, it will prevent you inadvertently socially ostracising yourself or upsetting or confusing someone. Putting in the time and effort before, and during your first 6 months, to ingratiate yourself and learn more will pay dividends.

Get to know the basics before you leave

In the months before your flight, spend time discovering and researching your soon-to-be home. Treat this much as you might a holiday to start with: look at the history of the country, information about which languages are spoken and the tourist hot spots and highlights. By gathering this basic information, you can uncover a lot – you’ll learn the historical influences, as well as which parts of the country’s history they are most proud of.

Take some time to look into the political structure of the country, as well as the main parties in power, as well as the customs and behaviour of local police and governance. You should also spend time learning local laws, especially where those differ from the laws of your current country.

It’s then time to spend some time learning about the weather and climate. This will inform a lot of social behaviour and activities, as well as the kinds of clothes that might be worn.

From here it’s time to take a deeper dive into the do’s and don’ts – in fact there are often great tourist guides which outline some very clear-cut behaviours which you should pay a lot of attention too. Learning basic etiquette and behaviour and starting to put it into practice will help prevent faux pas when you arrive.

Speak to other expats

No matter where you are moving too, there’s a wealth of online resources and communities which can connect you to current or past expats with invaluable real-life experience of life in your new country. Reach out to them and try to get as much information as possible: learn from their experiences, both good and bad.

Ask a lot of questions, like what to expect from food and grocery shopping, whether there are specific clothes you should absolutely avoid or alternatively are absolutely necessary and ask about how holidays and birthdays are celebrated. Get ready to immerse yourself in local customs and be willing to shed behaviours and clothing which are not compatible with your new country.

Learn the language and culture for yourself

Now you know the basics and have some insights from others who have made the move themselves, it’s time to delve deeper into the culture and language.

If there’s one thing you can do to help you integrate and feel more confident about your move, it’s to learn the language in your new country. Whether you use an app, textbooks, or take lessons, any language skills you can garner before you leave will become invaluable. You are also likely to learn more about the culture as part of your studies. We suggest one to one lessons as often as possible before you go for the best results: the more you know, the better it will feel. Our experience points to those with language skills having more successful relocation experiences.

While you now know the ‘rules’ and customs at the forefront of your new home country, understanding the core culture takes time and effort. For this level of understanding, you need to speak and study with a local expert, who can teach you the underlying ‘why’ to many of the behaviours and cultural preferences. Spend time learning about local religious practice, holidays, customs and attitudes. This is the level of knowledge that is key to cultural awareness.

Prepare yourself for culture shock, and keep learning

Despite putting the work in, you need to prepare yourself for one last thing: culture shock. No matter how much research and preparation you have committed too, you are sure to feel an element of culture shock once you arrive. There are some things you just can’t prepare for, and that includes the reality of living amongst an entirely new culture.

Immerse yourself in local cuisine – almost all cultures have strong ties to their national food, specific dishes or cooking practices. Exploring the local food, trying new dishes and ingredients, and perhaps even learning to cook a local dish will all help you bond with those around you.

It’s important to see this as an exciting opportunity for growth and learning: you can use this shock to keep learning and absorbing the culture. The more you lean into the differences and discover more, the quicker you will come to feel at home in your new country.

If you would like to benefit from the professional cultural immersion programmes from international relocation experts with real local knowledge, we’re here to help. From Area Orientation services to introduce you to new places, to our Cultural and Language services, at Santa Fe Relocation we use our local expertise to make your move easy.

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