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What makes an international move different than other stressful situations? We face new words, customs, ideas -- all those things together known as "culture." How you initially respond to the differences varies, depending on many factors: How much choice did you have in the assignment? Do you speak the language? Are essentials such as comfortable housing in place? Do you face other challenges, such as health issues or a new baby? How high is your tolerance for uncertainty and chaos? How welcoming and attractive is the new place? How is morale at the embassy or consulate?

No matter how positive your first reaction, eventually you will face confusion, frustration, or irritation. Other negative consequences might include (See References 4 and 5):

  • sensory overload and a need to withdraw;
  • emotional distress, depression, or anxiety;
  • physical reactions, including sleep disturbances, indigestion, or headaches;
  • obsessive behaviors (such as constant cleaning);
  • confusion, disorientation, or an inability to concentrate;
  • fatigue or lack of energy;
  • suspicion and hostility toward local people;
  • poor school or work performance; and
  • relationship problems.

Many people experience some of these symptoms to a limited extent. However, if you continue to suffer from pervasive distress for weeks on end -- meaning nothing makes you feel better, not even good news or activities you previously enjoyed -- consider seeking professional help.

You can't avoid ups and downs in adjusting to a new culture. However, social scientists have identified three main factors contributing to success in adapting.


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