To Adapt or not?
I recently moved countries (again… eye-roll), and I must confess the process of moving countries is, to say the least, interesting. Interesting here does not connote good or bad. That depends on what you make of it. Now, I can’t entirely agree with people saying traveling is the ultimate life experience, and neither am I convinced by people that say staying in one location forever is the best way to live. Each side has pros and cons, depending on what you make of it. However, relocating remains an interesting experience.
Over the years, as I relocated multiple times, I have realized that moving to a new country places you in a new, different context, no matter how similar the people from the country you are leaving and the new country seem. This experience becomes enhanced when the people are very different. Once you relocate, you have a decision to make. The decision is fundamental to how you would enjoy your time in the new country. Many people do not consciously make this decision and happen to go with the flow. Well, they still make the decision unconsciously, though. So whether conscious or unconscious, that decision has to be made, and you will make it.
The decision is apparent from the title of this piece.
How will I integrate into my new environment? Shall I adapt to the culture, people (and more), or not?
With every new relocation, you have to interact with the environment, i.e., the people, the culture of the people, the worldview of the people, the written and unwritten norms of interpersonal interaction, and more.
Now, that seems like a lot. And you can respond by choosing the path to ignore it. Oh, I pity you if you follow this path. Your stay in the new country will be difficult based on this path. Implicitly, you are saying the new environment does not warrant your attention. You will pay for that. You will have more difficulty than you imagined and lose opportunities for growth and success (in everything, i.e., business, relationships, career, and more). An example of people that follow this path are people that do not attempt to learn the local language of their host country nor build relationships with the locals.
Sometimes, choosing the path of ignoring the cultural context might (note the “might”) be a good option depending on the length of your stay in the new country and the purpose of your move. Expatriates who move around might ignore the local culture and stay within the expatriate bubble.
On the other hand, you can dive so deep into the culture that you lose your original culture, value system, and worldview. Maybe even your identity and what makes you unique. The loss of your identity, culture, worldview, and value system makes this path suboptimal. Although your choice is way better than ignoring the culture, you have chosen a path with short-term gain and long-term loss. You can only connect with one group of people. So, what choice do I have?
Well, there’s a middle road. Learn the new culture, and respect it but do not lose yourself. In other words, adapt.
According to Cambridge English Dictionary, to adapt means “to change your ideas or behavior to make them suitable for a new situation.”
This choice would involve learning about the people, their worldviews, and how they interact, adopting some of them, and modifying your views in specific ways to accommodate the new ideas. However, there is a point where you draw the line. You draw the line at the point where their worldview directly contradicts your core values. You cannot become them, but you can learn from them.
For example, I moved from a punctual, time-respecting culture to a culture that does not respect time or appointments. Do I choose to become like them? No, I decided to understand their context while enforcing the good values of punctuality in my relationships.
Over time, people will begin to respect you for your choice; some might even change when dealing with you. You also make accommodations for the culture without being too rigid. This way, people will note the effort you are making without compromising. It will cost you some friends, though… just saying.
Adapting is often tricky because it also involves challenging some of your beliefs and being willing to learn/change certain aspects. No one likes changing or challenging emotionally held beliefs. However, if you can do this, you grow so much that doors begin to open to you. For example, a European prostrating (a traditional means of greeting in my tribe) to an older man will earn more honor and greater access within my tribe than one who stands aloof.
Even evolution involves adaptation. Species unable to adapt to new conditions eventually die out
Finally, note that this dilemma does not only exist during relocation. No, no, no. It exists in every change of situation, e.g., switching jobs, moving neighborhoods, etc. Since these changes are life-impacting ones, it is best to make a conscious choice on whether to adapt. Any choice you make has its costs and associated consequences. Some consequences are better, but the price might be higher initially.