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‘Moving to the U.S.’ Series | The Cultural Adjustment Curve

With the help of our members, we are creating a Thought-Leadership series on important factors to take into consideration when ‘Moving to the United States’. Today, we present Lena Beck Rørvig, Founder & CEO of BECK GLOBAL CONSULTING, who will address: “The Cultural Adjustment Curve”. |


Mark, a British executive, was excited for his new career opportunity to move from the United Kingdom to New York. His wife was not particularly pleased to go since she was not 100% sure if she would be able to get a work permit and how she would cope with leaving family and friends.

Moving to another country? Excited, full of hope, feeling strong and capable? Maybe you have experienced a spouse or child that was not excited about the opportunity?

No matter how you and your family feel and no matter how much you prepare, you and your family will experience emotional fluctuations and frustration, probably stronger and different from what you have experienced before.

It can be illustrated with the Cultural Adjustment Curve.

In short, it illustrates that when moving into an unfamiliar culture, we will go through different phases – and they can and will be repeated over and over again.

The phases are:

  1. The phase where we are excited about learning and experiencing new and different things. Some also call this the honeymoon phase.
  2. The phase where we find it annoying and frustrating that things are so different. We feel fatigued from learning and experiencing new things.
  3. The phase where we surface and feel we have adjusted and almost feel at home.
  4. The phase where we discover there is still so much more we do not know and understand, and it frustrates us again.
  5. The phase where we have adapted and feel capable.

We might think that after the last phase, we have assimilated, but we will continue to uncover new layers of the culture and society making us rediscover both the honeymoon phase and the frustration phase.

Not everybody starts off with the honeymoon phase – they might skip that and go directly to being frustrated. But if people do adjust, they will experience the honeymoon phase at a later time.

Awareness is the universal key to adapting and understanding. Awareness of the Adjustment Curve has helped many people through the difficult phases of moving to a new and different culture. It can help you to find the root cause of your frustration. Is it the environment or is it you?

Interestingly enough the adjustment curve also applies to executives that stay in their home country but become leaders of a foreign subsidiary in the home country. I was talking with an American executive leading a Greek subsidiary in the US. She, of course, started out with great excitement, had been to the Greek headquarter to interview with the global CEO. She felt they had bonded well and had a good rapport. After four months, she started becoming frustrated. She did not get the way they worked and thought they did not understand the proposals and recommendations she gave for the US market. Understanding the adjustment curve allowed her to approach their differences from a positive ankle based on getting to accept the cultural differences instead of criticizing the Greek company and the Greek culture.

Mark, the British executive moving to New York, also told me that he had not been aware of the adjustment curve. So after the initial ‘honeymoon phase’, he thought he had made a mistake moving. Mark found himself criticizing New York, America, and the Americans. He criticized the way he had to lead his team to perform and critiquing his boss.

When we do not instinctively recognize social cues, do not know the unwritten rules, do not get the expected response to what we say and do, we can start feeling a lack of control, frustration, and sometimes helplessness and stupidity.

And when we have those feelings, it is easy to blame the place we are and the country we are in instead of accepting that it is a normal feeling that has to do with our own adjustment and not the place and people around us.

When Mark was presented with the Adjustment Curve, he suddenly understood why he felt the way he did, and he could start coping. Funny enough, his skeptical wife adjusted really quickly even though it took her a while to get the work permit and get a job.

Awareness of the Adjustment Curve will not make you and your family able to skip the ups and downs of living in another culture. BUT it will make it easier to overcome the frustration during the adjustment phase. It will make it easier to find the root cause of your frustrations.

Author:

  • Lena Beck Rørvig, Founder & CEO of BECK GLOBAL CONSULTING | lbeck[at]beckglobalconsulting.com

Stay tuned for more on this series! We hope you enjoy these Thought-Leadership pieces written by our members.