Culture Shock: How to Deal

You’ve just secured your next assignment or direct hire position in a new city. You’re moving. You’re going to a place you may or may not be familiar with, and if you haven’t lived there before, your knowledge of the place is likely limited to minor details.

Maybe you got some information from the city’s tourism website. But those websites are directed at tourists and vacationers. You’re not a tourist. You’re not on vacation. You are a traveler. You are a professional who’s uprooted your entire life to take a job in a new place.

How do you make sure you get the most out of your assignment or new job culturally? Does it really matter? YES. What do you do when you’re not at work? Some people enjoy staying in and reading. Some people enjoy going to work out. Whatever it is you do to enjoy your free time, one thing is for certain: the people you’re surrounded by are going to shape a majority of your experience on assignment or in your new city.

I have done three cross-country relocations in the past nine years. Packing up all my things and dealing with the logistics is one thing. The most difficult part for me, though, is figuring out how to fit into the culture in my new city. I’m naturally an extroverted person; that being said, I always found it tough to connect with the people and their values in a new place when I first arrived.

Here are some steps I highly recommend to make sure you’re staying true to yourself but also to make sure you learn to love where you live.

Find a friend at work

The people you work alongside understand what it’s like to live there. They know the best place for a burger, the best grocery store to go to, and even know which roads to take at certain times of the day to avoid traffic. They probably know some details about fun traditions or activities that you may not know. Ask for advice or recommendations and then ask them to join you. This may be outside your comfort zone, but I’m willing to bet that you’ll make a friend out of it.

Join a gym/art studio/library/yoga studio

Just join something. Sure, you might be there on assignment for a limited time. But chances are, you will be able to bond with people who have the same shared interests as you. And if you don’t bond with anyone initially, that’s okay too. Being in a type of environment that fosters exercise, creativity, or learning can be extremely helpful in trying to adjust to your new surroundings.

Drink the juice

I relocated to Omaha, Nebraska from the San Francisco Bay Area almost five years ago. I’ve always been a sports fan, and considered myself pretty knowledgeable about the teams I aligned myself with. NOT COMPARED TO NEBRASKANS AND THEIR CORNHUSKERS. When I moved to Nebraska, it became very clear very quickly that Saturdays were devoted to Cornhusker football. Even in the off-season, people seemed to still care about this team. I was completely thrown off by how committed their fans were when I first moved here. Then I started paying attention to games, and making friends with people who committed to this team. Not every single Nebraskan is a huge fan, but many are. And it’s fun. I decided to become a fan. I drank the juice; it’s part of the culture here, and I have become even happier with my relocation because of it.

Ultimately, to be happy, you must bloom where you are planted. These are some steps that have helped me, and I hope you get something from them. The culture of your new place can be a huge change. Even the words you use can be different. (I now use the word “pop” instead of “soda.”) But change is a good thing, and it helps each of us grow, not only in our professional lives, but also in our personal ones.

Sara Goldsmith is a Team Lead for the Medical Laboratory division of Aureus Medical Group. 

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