The Significance of Cultural Immersion for Expats
It is common for expats and expat spouses to be surrounded and to create a social network with other expats. This obviously comes very naturally as they look for and identify with other individuals that are facing the same issues, trying to solve the same problems, struggling to adapt to a new place or culture and are on the need to build a good support system outside of home. Expats make tight bonds among themselves and keep long-lasting relationships as they navigate their way in foreign destinations.
While it is very positive and highly recommended for expats to get in touch and form solid relationships with other expats, it is equally important for them to practice cultural immersion while abroad.
Although it might be challenging, especially in some countries and cultures, to be close to nationals or make local friends, expats should try to foster (at least) circumstantial relationships with locals as a mechanism to gain insights on the local culture and acquire a better understanding of it. This in consequence will help expats better acclimate to their new environment and have a much more fulfilling and accomplished experience than one in which they exclusively frequent expat circles.
In simple terms, cultural immersion involves surrounding yourself with a different culture. Having a small chat with the neighbor, participating in free language exchange sessions, volunteering in a local charity, visiting the local farmers’ or food market or just observing what’s going on around every time you go out or have a drink in your neighborhood coffee shop could be some simple ways of practicing cultural immersion while abroad. Just by being in contact with locals and with the home culture, expats gain valuable knowledge and understanding of their new place, making them more culturally savvy and better prepared for future international assignments.
Expats should not be afraid of losing their identity or forgetting their own culture while immersing themselves in another culture. Cultural immersion does not mean cultural assimilation, it rather involves learning and understanding a different and unfamiliar culture. The extent of cultural immersion will depend on the expat’s level of comfort with the host cultural and his/her wiliness to explore more or less.
Cultural immersion exercises are a great tool for expats and expat families that are constantly trying to adjust to their new destination and making the most out of their international experience.