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We live in a time when people from the most diverse cultures and nationalities intertwine across the globe. Due to the facilities brought by means of communication, technology and transport, the world became more interconnected and borders increasingly elastic. Moving geographically is easy. Virtually or in person, we can very quickly be exposed to cultures that are extremely different from our own.

People who, for various reasons, decide to adopt a new country to live in are the ones who are most subject to the impact of the cultural shock that triggers important changes in their relationships, affections, in the perception of themselves and the environment in which they live. A new language to learn, different ways of relating, homesickness, loneliness, separation, starting from scratch, and their homeland seen through different eyes are just some of the feelings that immigrants experience in their daily lives.

Intercultural psychology emerges both as a focus of research and clinical intervention in order to observe cultural phenomena that may affect the subject's psychic health, being the focus of the intercultural psychologist: to analyze the relationship between culture and human behavior,  being sensitized to the psychopathologies arising from migration and cultural issues as well as ensuring the social and psychological well-being of the expatriate.

Below are some of the main complaints presented by migrants in clinical practice:

  • Culture shock: Amazement and even disappointment with new elements found in the receiving culture, difficulty in understanding different habits and attitudes. Culture shock can serve both as a great tool for interesting discoveries and can arouse denial and avoidance of contact with the new.

  • Acculturative stress: It is shown as an overload of tasks that the subject is required to learn about the culture that welcomes him, generating emotional stress over time.

  • Pain of separation from family members.

  • Frustration: Not always everything goes as planned and for this reason a series of questions are generated regarding the decision to change the country itself and about perspectives for the future. In these cases, there may even be a phase of stagnation – for a short or long period of time – in daily activities.

  • Shock by the change of social position: the subject's social status often declines in his new country. Until he becomes established in his profession, he temporarily leaves for other types of employment that he would not do in his homeland. This move can profoundly affect your self-esteem.

  • Anxiety: It can arise when dealing with losses, separations, financial stressors, discrimination, etc. The most common symptoms are sleep disturbances, confusion in organizing daily tasks, impatience, difficulty in setting priorities and in interpersonal relationships.

  • All of the above items can generate depressive symptoms - the most frequent complaint in this type of clinic -  which are added to the experience of seeing oneself only in a foreign country, as well as the difficulty of entering a group and making bonds of friendship. The individual increasingly avoids putting himself in situations that demand a lot of energy, he is afraid of not being understood and of failing. In this way,  motivations flatten and everyday life becomes stagnant.

It is also interesting to know that the appearance of the problems described above can vary a lot for each person. An individual with high self-confidence will undoubtedly go over certain obstacles much more easily than someone who already carries some emotional vulnerability.

Seeking therapeutic guidance as soon as possible, when you run into some obstacles, often inherent to the path, helps a lot to organize feelings that are often still confused and muffled that need to be worked through. Delaying the search for help only adds to the anguish.

Doing a previous study of the country you are going to helps a lot. Reading about their peculiarities, talking to natives, having contacts, among other small actions, reassures those who are leaving and can make the change much easier.

However, one of the most precious tips for those who migrate is to know yourself and be aware of your plans and concrete reasons why you will be leaving your land.

Set your goals well, always keeping in mind those that make real sense to your life and that contribute to your own personal fulfillment.


Author: Andreia Hollenstein

CRP: 05/36484  

Clinical Psychologist & Psychoanalysis

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