Dealing with Culture Shock in American Expatriate Community
The American expatriate community is the population of all Americans that are temporarily or permanently living outside the borders of the United States. These overseas-Americans, numbering over 6.32 million strong (Association for American Residents Overseas), confront many issues when they leave their homeland and transition to a new life in a foreign country. These issues can include dealing with the local language or trying to unravel the esoteric tax laws overseas workers must follow.
One of the major issues that American expatriates (or “expats”) confront is the issue of culture shock (Top Eight). Culture shock, in general, is the stress a person may feel experiencing an unfamiliar way of life after immigration, visiting a new country, or a move between social environments (Macionis and Gerber 54). Culture shock results from differences in culture like language or values toward personal space or cleanliness. Cultural differences that cause culture shock have been classified by Annelies E. M. Van Vianen, Irene E. De Pater, Amy L. Kristof-Brown and Erin C. Johnson in their article “Fitting In: Surface- and Deep-Level Cultural Differences and Expatriates' Adjustment" as being either “surface-level” differences or “deep-level” differences (700). Surface-level differences are those differences that are readily apparent to new expats. These would be things like food, housing conditions, climate and other easily observable aspects that a tourist would notice on vacation. Other aspects of a culture, like beliefs and values (such as openness to change and attitudes toward self-advancement), are classified as deep-level differences. An expat will only recognize deep level differences after “extended interactions with residents of the host country” and research has shown than surface level differences are easier to cope with for expats than deep-level differences (Kristof-Brown et al 700). In other words, an expat can get used to the food in Beijing or the weather in Dubai quicker than he could get used to the Japanese value of work or the Arab value of time. Other research has shown that expat adults and their adolescent children react to cultural shock differently. While adults worry about learning the local language and how to interact with the host culture, their teenage children care more about retaining the freedom they had at home (Weeks, Weeks and Willis-Muller 30).
The culture shock can have disastrous consequences for expats that go overseas and the companies that pay for them and their families. An expat experiencing culture shock may feel lonely, homesick or worse (“Culture Shock”). If severe enough, this culture shock malaise can manifest itself in poor work performance or may drive an expat to return to the United States early, missing out on the experiences gained from living and working overseas. The action of returning to the US early is referred to as...