Have you ever felt adrift in a new place, where everything unfamiliar makes you long for the comfort of home and the ease of familiar faces? Feeling alone amidst a crowd, struggling to understand and be understood, can make you feel so different or even invisible and deeply out of place. The effort to blend into this new world often leaves you more emotionally exhausted than any physical task could.
Moving to a new country brings with it a profound sense of loss—not just the physical distance from loved ones, but also the absence of familiar comforts and a deep-rooted sense of belonging. This cross-cultural loss affects your emotional health and sense of identity, making the journey of finding your place in this unfamiliar setting so challenging. Some common Cross-Cultural Losses include:
- Loss of Expressive Clarity: Moving abroad often leads to struggles in communicating as effectively as before, due to new language and cultural ways of expression. This impacts your ability to clearly share thoughts and emotions.
- Loss of Cultural Familiarity: Facing the challenge of understanding a new country’s systems, norms, and values, can lead to difficulties in everyday interactions and a lack of belonging.
- Loss of Confidence: Adjusting to new work or school settings in a different country can shake your confidence. Unfamiliar practices and cultural differences turn once easy tasks into challenges, impacting how you see yourself and your abilities.
- Loss of Belonging: Relocation can cause a deep feeling of disconnection from this new environment, making it incredibly difficult to blend in or feel a sense of home within the unfamiliar culture.
- Loss of Social Support: The move cuts off immediate support networks, increasing loneliness. Cultural and social differences make it harder to form new meaningful connections, which intensifies feelings of isolation.
My youth was mostly spent in Taiwan, aside from five years of elementary education in the United States. However, transitioning into adulthood in the U.S. exposed me to the complex nature of cross-cultural loss. For example, despite having excellent interpersonal skills in Taiwan, the simplist part of everyday interactions—making small talk—became a huge challenge. Every aspect, including starting conversations, maintaining them, and ending them politely, was a learning curve. It was about understanding not just the language, but the unspoken cultural nuances. It felt like navigating a set of entirely different, unspoken norms and rules—akin to an Argentine football (soccer) star attempting to play American football. This journey, while challenging, taught me the importance of patience, respect, and empathy in bridging cultural gaps.
Even though experiencing cross-cultural losses is an unavoidable part of the journey, how you respond to these losses can significantly impact your adjustment and overall well-being. Here are some strategies to help navigate these challenges:
- Awareness: Recognize the losses to better understand your feelings and pinpoint the hardest parts of your cultural transition.
- Understanding: Realize these losses are the cause of many challenges, like isolation or communication issues, providing clarity and a way to tackle them.
- Acceptance: Accept these losses as part of the cross-cultural journey, acknowledging that they’re not signs of your own failure or inadequacy but steps in the process.
- Reframing: See these challenges as opportunities to grow in flexibility. Through a multicultural perspective, value your unique strengths.
- Reconnecting: Find comfort in your cultural roots through familiar activities or maintaining connections with your home community for support and identity.
- Learning Plan: Treat learning new cultural norms as an exciting aspect of your journey, engaging actively with the culture to enrich your personal and cultural narrative.
By employing these strategies, you can better manage the challenges of cross-cultural losses. It’s about balancing the preservation of your own cultural identity while embracing the new and unfamiliar. This process takes time and patience, but with a proactive and positive approach, these experiences can lead to profound personal growth and a richer, more nuanced understanding of the world.
Authored by Dr. Kenneth Wang and Anise Health
Anise Health is a culturally-responsive mental health platform for the Asian community. Learn more about Anise Health’s clinical care model and 1:1 culturally-responsive services available in California and New York on our website here. If you live elsewhere in the US, are looking for something a bit lighter touch, or run an organization that wants to partner with us – be sure to also check out our group services including psychoeducational webinars, interactive workshops, and more!
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Kenneth T. Wang is a Professor in Clinical Psychology at Fuller Seminary, a licensed psychologist in California & Illinois, and a fellow of the American Psychological Association. Prior to Fuller, Kenneth taught at University of Missouri and worked as a staff psychologist at the University of Illinois and a counselor at National Dong-Hwa University in Taiwan. Kenneth’s research focuses on perfectionism, cross-cultural psychological adjustment, and psychological measurement. He is also a coach for executives who are perfectionists. Learn more about Dr. Kenneth Wang here: http://www.kennethwang.com/