Mastering your Expat Life by Enhancing your Intercultural Resilience

Self-coaching is possible for everybody. Conquer your stress and culture shock by enhancing your intercultural resilience. Easy strategies will help you manage challenging times in your life abroad.

Have you ever reflected the key factors contributing to your happiness during your expat journey and life abroad?

Do you contemplate how to navigate through culture shock or enhance your cross-cultural success after being relocated to a foreign country?

Have you ever feared returning home earlier than planned or felt apprehensive about “failing” in your life abroad?

If any of these thoughts resonate with you, rest assured that you are not alone. Most expatriates, commonly referred to as expats, share similar concerns and anxieties. In this article, you will discover how to

  • transform stress and culture shock into greater resilience
  • improve your self-care in a life abroad
  • coach yourself to prevent expat burnout
  • train your interculture adaption abilities and resilience
  • make the most of your expat experience

The Inevitable Challenges of Expat Life

Living abroad is not always a walk in the park. Having a culture shock and having difficulties to adapt to the new environment are part of the journey. A culture shock is the normal and necessary process of becoming aware of the differences between customs and losing familiar habits in social interaction. Succeeding in your job abroad, establishing a structured daily routine, and having friends to confide in, typically aids in the adaptation process. But even then, you are not immune to culture shock.

During challenging times, negative thoughts and stress may keep you awake at night. Occasionally, the fear of failure can lead to regretting your decision to relocate. You may question whether you can handle all the struggle to make new friends or to achieve the professional success you envisioned. Perhaps you contemplate whether returning home and being in a familiar surround sooner rather than later would be a better choice.

What is Intercultural Resilience

In more positive times, your mind is likely filled with optimism. You may compile lists of factors that have already proven to enhance your success in the international realm. You reflect on your intercultural competences, the successful decisions you have made, and the challenging situations you have already overcome abroad. This type of thinking contributes to your resilience and helps coping with your culture shock. Resilience refers to the ability to manage crises, utilizing psychological, personal, and social resources to grow amidst challenges. It originates from the Latin word “resalire,” meaning to rise up again. Intercultural resilience, therefore, pertains to one’s capacity to navigate cultural challenges, adapt to cultural changes, and learn and grow from them.

Resilience is trainable

Resilience is dynamic and can change over time, especially with relocation. This also implies it can be build up or improved anytime. Research has shown that individuals with higher levels of resilience are better equipped to cope with unforeseen difficult situations, adapt to environmental changes, and recover more rapid from adverse events. Resilience is both content and context-specific, meaning that one may have developed resilience for one type of challenge but not yet for another.

Understanding Resilience: It’s More Than Just Strength

It’s important not to confuse resilience with always being strong and unyielding. Individuals who have also faced hardships can build high resilience. It is through falling that we learn to rise again. Isn’t that true? So even if you find yourself feeling depressed because everything seems overwhelmingly complicated in your expat life and foreign environment, even if you contemplate giving up your overseas experience and return to a familiar and comfortable environment, and even if tears and suffering have become part of your daily routine, it doesn’t always mean you lack resilience. Anxiety, homesickness, depression, confusion, and anger can all be normal components of culture shock.

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything
Vincent van Gogh

How to improve cross-cultural resilience and agility

By now, you understand that the stress, emotional hurdles, and even experiences of small failures are all part of the Expat life and the process of relocating to a foreign country. There will be times when you feel fully capable of handling these challenges, and other times when you feel overwhelmed and depleted of energy. Sometimes, the strategies you’ve relied on in the past may no longer be effective. Have you considered seeking psychological or expat coaching to navigate these difficulties? It’s understandable why some people initially try to manage their adaptation on their own before seeking external help.

Which self-coaching strategies can you implement to improve your cross-cultural success?

How can you enhance your resilience and thrive in your new cultural environment?

Remember, no matter where you currently stand, you have the ability to improve your resilience and regain inner strength, self-confidence, and a sense of belonging in this new culture.

To assist you in this process, I have categorized the strategies into three groups of skills that you are capable of integrating into your days. Strategies for Self-reflection, Mindfulness, and Mentoring

A. Self-reflection

  • Be self-supportive:

Write down 5 reminders about why you embarked on this expat experience. Recall the reasons that motivated you in the first place and remind yourself of the potential benefits and personal growth awaiting you.

  • Be future focused:

Write down 5 things you want to achieve during your time abroad. Categorize these goals into different time perspectives, such as the next six months or the coming year.

  • Find meaning:

Ask yourself how you can learn and grow from this experience. Consider the valuable lessons and personal development opportunities.

  • Equalize:

Whenever you find yourself being overly critical of yourself or feeling down, counterbalance those negative thoughts with equalizing thoughts. Recall moments when somebody smiled at you, times when you felt satisfied with your accomplishment, or instances when others complimented you.

B. Mindfulness

  • Cultivate awareness:

Take 2-3 minutes each day to consciously engage your senses. For example, pay attention to the physical sensations, tastes, smells, appearances, and sounds while brushing your teeth. This mindful practice can help you stay present, grounded, and connected to the present moment.

  • Foster curiosity:

Embrace a curious mindset when encountering unfamiliar situations. Ask yourself different w-questions to gain insight into cultural dynamics. For example, describe for yourself, what a person Specifically said or did. Explore why a person reacted in a certain way based on their cultural background. Observe how others react to specific behaviors.

  • Be kind to yourself:

Everybody hurts sometimes. Acknowledge that strong emotions are normal and do not equate failing. In moments of distress, choose a self-soothing gesture and offer yourself the same compassionate words of comfort you would extend to a friend in need. Self-soothing gestures can be the following: Give yourself a hug, place both hands on your heart, place one hand on your heart and one on your gut, or place one hand on your forehead and one on your heart.

  • Practice familiar traditions:

Cultivate a sense of familiarity and comfort by regularly practicing familiar traditions such as cooking your favorite recipes from home, indulging in your hobbies, or enjoying movie nights with films from your childhood.

C. Mentoring

  • Never stop learning:

Expand your knowledge about the cultural history and cultural norms of your host country by reading, watching videos, visiting museums.

  • Enhance language skills:

Even if you already possess strong language skills, it’s crucial to continuously improve to evade intercultural misunderstandings. Consider enrolling in language classes tailored to your skill level, watching movies or listening to radio programs. Ask native speakers about idioms and sayings.

  • Story sharing:

Talk to natives of your host country who have lived in or traveled to your home country to explore similarities and differences in experiences.

  • Mentoring:

See a mentor through your company or supporting agency. Ideally, mentoring should start in your home country with a mentor who has cultural experience in the host country, and who has been an expat, digital nomad, or exchange student themselves.

  • Role modeling:

Identify and learn from individuals whose expat life experiences you admire, whether they are friends, your bosses, or other expats.

Unleashing your Intercultural Resilience: A Pathway to Expat Success

You can do it! Get it on! Now is an awesome time to start coaching yourself!

Coaching yourself in developing intercultural resilience for your expat life is beneficial for navigating the challenges, coping with culture shock, and maximizing the benefits of living abroad. By understanding the nature of expatriate experiences, acknowledging the ups and downs, and recognizing that resilience is not about always staying strong but rising again after difficult times, you can better equip yourself for success. The strategies discussed, such as self-reflection, mindfulness, and mentoring, provide practical ways to improve your cross-cultural resilience and agility. Remember, no matter where you currently stand, you have the power to strengthen your resilience, boost self-confidence, and find a sense of belonging in your expat journey or life abroad. With determination and a willingness to learn and grow, you can transform your expat experience into a fulfilling and enriching chapter of your life.

Hi, I am Sarah, Expat coach with a PhD in Psychology. My passion is to learn and teach about human thinking, emotions, and behavior.

Sarah Eisenacher



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