In many ways, and with the help of globalisation and technology, the world has become a small place. Many people are living in countries that they would not call ‘home’. They have relocated for work of lifestyle purposes and find themselves in a country where the culture, lifestyle and even the food and languages spoken are different. Cultural integration is an important and relevant topic now, especially when people begin struggling to integrate.

Integration difficulties

Feeling homesick and missing the familiar is one of the most common difficulties faced by those who are living in a new country and integrating into a new culture. It stands to reason that, when everything around you is new and foreign, that you also feel a little insecure and unstable. Human beings enjoy stability and familiarity so missing home is an understandable and common difficulty.
This difficulty can be exacerbated when there is little contact with people from home, or when you begin to hide the problems you are facing from your loved ones. Having little support can result in feeling isolated and alone, and these feelings can serve to magnify the differences in culture that you are experiencing.

Language differences are another big adjustment when living in a new country. Often this can be a big source of frustration, especially when you are struggling to communicate your needs and questions. It is not common for people to relocate to a country with a very different first language, but it does happen and it can become a big contributor to the adjustment stress experienced. Another adjustment, when coming from a very different culture, may also be the cuisine. Different cultures have different foods that they enjoy preparing and eating. If you find yourself in a place where the food feels very foreign, or tastes very different to the food you are familiar with, it can add to your general sense of isolation and instability.

Other integration difficulties include adjusting to the finer nuances in a particular society. For example eye contact – in Africa many cultures believe that eye-contact is a sign of superiority so in order to respect the person they are speaking to they will maintain very little, if any, eye contact. Lack of eye contact is experienced as disrespectful, or mistrustful in many western societies. Australian culture is also more forthcoming in disclosing personal information, whereas many European cultures will feel intimidated and offended by this sort of disclosure. These are a few examples of the differences in cultures that one may experience when relocating to a new country and integrating into that culture. It can be a very daunting experience when you are trying to find your feet in a new country as well as having to learn the social “do’s and don’ts” of that culture.

When to seek assistance

Relocating to another country is not an easy task and there are many factors that can contribute to general emotional instability.
It may be time to speak to a counsellor and seek support if you are:
• Feeling alone, isolated and very homesick
• Experiencing the signs of depression: disturbance in sleep and appetite, general lethargy, low motivation, tearfulness and hopelessness
• Experiencing anxiety: shortness of breath, racing heart, butterflies in the stomach, excessive sweating, trembling, and disturbed sleep or appetite.
• Feeling demotivated and lack energy
• Uninterested in experiencing new things and going site seeing
• Finding it particularly difficult to meet new people and make friends
• Finding that you are hiding your problems from friends and family back home.

How can counselling help me?

Counselling for cultural integration difficulties focusses mainly on offering support and assistiance in adjusting to your new environement. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression as a result of the adjustment difficulty then you may be treated with anti-depressants an anxiolytics to help you cope.
Your counsellor can also help teach you about the culture you are integrating into. He/she can provide a neutral and supportive space in which you can explore the finer nuances and social behaviours of the new culture and your counsellor can provide insight for you. It is important that you have some support when adjusting to your new country and, if you find it difficult to discuss your experiences and difficulties with your loved ones, then it is essential that you find support in counselling services.

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