Why Can’t I Enjoy Life The Same Way After Moving Abroad?

When we move away from home – whether that’s within our own country or to another country, we probably will feel disoriented while settling in and adjusting to our new surroundings, work environment, social circles, driving and daily errand routes and more daily life activities.

In adjusting to all these different aspects of life, we will naturally find some approaches and ways of doing things easy to adjust to; while others really challenge us and we may even resist changing to suit the local needs. Depending on how different the cultures are and the person’s ability to adapt to different situations, to some these changes- these culture shocks feel like little bombs. We may feel frazzled or edgy- not sure when the next “culture shock bomb” will ignite and burst. We can’t run away, but also feel paralyzed as to how to deal with it or solve the problem.

When facing these overlapping and always occurring situations, we may feel a wide range of feelings or experience many different thoughts including:
  • Emotional Disorientation
  • Being “a stranger in a strange land”
  • Thinking all local food is “Odd Food” - and shying away from social activities where local or unfamiliar food is served
  • Assumptions that local people don't like my people, my culture or my language
  • Feeling unsafe out of the house (Sometimes this is founded, other times it’s unfounded.)
  • Disoriented in daily interactions (not understanding social cues, small talk, verbal and non-verbal language)
  • Misunderstanding of subtle communication differences
  • Inability to adjust to the infrastructure (inside and outside the home)
  • Finding new ways to live with different infrastructure
  • Climate differences
  • Getting daily work done
  • Solving Problems
  • What things are problems or acceptable in a local context
  • Having hobbies or fun
  • Misunderstood
  • Isolated
  • Over attachment to identity
  • Loss of identity through over-identifying with host culture
  • Criticizing everything
  • Melancholy
  • Being suspicious of everyone / unable to trust anyone
  • Over-dependence on people from their own country
  • Avoidance of locals
  • Misery
  • Interacting with locals based only on stereotypes
  • Anxiety

If you are experiencing any mix of these symptoms and they are preventing you from enjoying life, you have culture shock. It’s normal. http://www.drexel.edu/studyabroad/assets/pdf/HowtoCopewithCultureShock.pdfA publication by Drexel University defines culture shock as

“the loss of emotional equilibrium that a person suffers when he moves from a familiar environment where he has learned to function easily and successfully to one where he has not.”
Culture shock feelings are like the waves of an ocean- they have an ebb and flow that can fluctuate depending on your unique circumstances. Culture shock has a start point, but depending on the situations being faced has differing end points.

Are any of these symptoms paralyzing your daily life after moving away or abroad? Is fear of adjusting or the unknown in the new culture keeping you back from experiencing your new life abroad? Do you feel confused about adapting and how that will affect your identity? Do you want things to improve, but you don’t know where to start? Talk to your family or friends. If that doesn’t work or it’s too uncomfortable to talk to your family as you don’t want them to worry about you when you’re so far from home, enlist the help of your international student advisor, at-work counselor, or cross-cultural coach. We are here to help you sort out your thoughts, feelings, adapt to your new surroundings to create comfort without compromising your true identity. 


To work with a coach today to re-establish yourself, contact us today.

Thank you for reading.


Photo credit: Trent McBride @flickr under creative commons



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Jennifer Kumar, author of this post is a cross-cultural coach. If you need some assistance in adjusting to another culture or adjusting back to your ‘native culture,’ e-mail me at authenticjourneys at gmail dot com to start a discussion about how I can help you sort through your situation to help you realize a more comfortable adjustment and lifestyle.

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