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Anticipate the Psychologic Effects of Expatriate Life

Frank Gillingham, MD

While many expatriates find their overseas assignment thrilling, all of them experience some degree of disorientation, confusion and anxiety as they adjust to their host country's culture. In addition to the challenges of a foreign language and society, expatriates often find themselves on a journey of self discovery, questioning their personal goals, values and purpose, as even Sigmund Freuddid:

"Italy has captured me with the magical delirium of its wonders...Through these feelings of amazement and wonder I have a sudden impact with parts of myself and my personality that were hidden or unknown. Thus this journey is also and above all a journey into my inner world, a discovery of myself."—Sigmund Freud, as quoted by Dr. Mary Ann Bellini, Clinical Psychologist in Florence, Italy.

The Stages of Culture Adjustment

Culture adjustment often progresses through several stages.

Expatriates should remember that culture shock can affect some family members more than others.

"Usually (but not always) the partner of the international business person suffers more with symptoms of Culture Shock."—Clinical Psychologist, Florence, Italy.

Managing Cultural Adjustment

There are several steps the expatriate can take to help their adjustment and prevent culture shock: