Adjusting to a foreign culture

  • Published
  • By Michael Primo
  • Malmstrom Airman and Family Readiness Center

The Air Force has a specific cycle timeline for assignment notifications to overseas locations. But we all know that you can receive an assignment notification on any given day. If you spend any length of time in the military you will eventually change stations. If you’re lucky, at least one of these moves will be to another country. Living abroad is an exciting opportunity to experience diverse cultures and environments and to meet people from all over the world. However, there is often a period of adjustment after moving to a different country. It takes time to learn a new language, customs, gestures and a monetary system. Here are some strategies to help you adjust to a foreign culture.

The stages of cultural adjustment

It often helps to know that what you are experiencing has been experienced by many other service members and families. Understanding the stages of cultural adjustment can help you recognize that your feelings are perfectly normal.

  • Apprehension: When receiving overseas orders, it is not unusual to feel some unease or worry about how you will handle the new opportunity.

  • Exhilaration: Taking in the newness of the situation is exciting. A feeling of fascination or enthusiasm is typical as you pack up for your new destination and could last until shortly after your arrival in the foreign country. Hold onto that feeling.

  • Culture shock: After spending a bit of time in the new culture, you may become tired and overwhelmed from all of the learning you have to do — different types of measurements, tipping, shopping, money, housing — not to mention trying to master a foreign language.

  • Integration and acceptance: After a while, you get a better grasp of the language, the gestures become second nature and you know how to pay for things with new money. Your family begins to feel at home in the foreign country and more relaxed in your new settings.

    Strategies for blending into a foreign culture

    The better you can adapt to a new culture, the better you will enjoy your overseas adventure. Here are some strategies for getting along with the natives in your host country and blending into your new home.

  • Try to speak the language: Most individuals appreciate when you try to speak their language, even if you do so imperfectly. The Malmstrom Airman and Family Readiness Center can help you learn a new language. We have Rosetta Stone language lessons for German, Japanese, Korean, Italian, and Turkish. Additionally, we have Rosetta Stone to teach English for family members who may speak English as their second language. Visit the AFRC in Building 800 Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and someone will be happy to assist you.

  • Speak English clearly: Many individuals in the host country speak English, but don't understand slang phrases or jargon. Try to speak slowly and clearly to avoid misunderstandings.

  • Eat the native foods: In foreign cultures, food is often a symbol of hospitality. Eating the foods offered to you is a form of a compliment to your host. Even if you don't like it, try to eat it with a smile and thank the host for a tasty meal.

  • Dress appropriately: Clothing is a central part of the customs and traditions of most cultures. While shorts and a t-shirt may be perfectly OK to wear in the U.S., it may be considered rude in some parts of the world. Make sure you know what kinds of dress are offensive in your foreign culture.

  • Learn how to address people: Some cultures are very formal in how they address each other. Become familiar with the titles people use and what is considered courteous.

  • Be on time: Your friends in the U.S. may not mind if you're running 15 minutes late for a lunch, but in some cultures being tardy shows a lack of respect for the other person and is considered rude.

  • Be open-minded: Put your stereotypes aside and try to be receptive to new ideas and behaviors.

    Adapting to a new culture, while not always easy, is part of the fun adventure of living overseas. If and when you receive orders to a foreign country, embrace the experience and make the most of it. For those of you who have moved to a foreign country, share your experience and tips for success with those service members who might be moving to a location you have been previously.

For relocation assistance or information, contact Michael Primo at 731-4900 or stop by the Airman and Family Readiness Center, located in Building 800, 7311 Goddard Drive.