The Truth About Culture Shock

Dec 10, 2021 | Blog

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Culture Shock

The Dark Side of Working Abroad

Culture Shock: The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Over the years, I’ve lived in quite a few countries outside of my home country, the United States. The thrill of working abroad can be incredible. What isn’t often talked about is the downside of moving abroad: culture shock. It happens to a lot of people (myself included) and it can be hard to identify, as it often doesn’t show up right away. If you haven’t made a big move before, you might not know what to look for. So, if you are thinking of accepting that dream job abroad, be aware of the following.

5 common causes of culture shock:


1. Language

You’re going to have a much easier time if you move to a country where people speak your language, but if you don’t, it’s best to have a working knowledge of that country’s language before you move. If you’re actually somewhat fluent (and I don’t mean American fluent) in the language, you can limit your depth of culture shock.

2. Food

New food is exciting and oftentimes delicious, but depending on where you move, your comfort foods may not be available or abundant. Depending on how far away you are from home, they may only have one brand of peanut butter (if they even have peanut butter), and it may not be the one you like. Sorry! I hate to break it to you, but if you’ve had a bad day and you’re dying to drown your sorrows in a plate of chicken wings, you may be out of luck.

3. Celebrations & Holidays

Holidays and other celebrations are different when you go abroad. Sometimes they’re on a different day, sometimes they’re celebrated completely differently, and sometimes they’re not celebrated at all. There’s no July 4th and no Thanksgiving in most places outside the U.S. – and depending where you are, New Year’s Eve and Christmas may be different as well. E., India has Diwali, a beautiful festival of lights, but you might still be sad when your friends back home are celebrating your traditions without you.

4. Money

The way money is handled, how much things cost, and how much tax you pay is different in every country. Tipping culture is different everywhere too. In some parts of the world, tipping is not expected, and can even be considered rude. Do your research (and create a budget) ahead of time, so you aren’t surprised by new costs or awkward conversations.

5. Toilet Usage & Hygiene

Toilets are different everywhere. Some have bidets, some don’t have toilet paper, and some are nothing but a hole in the ground. Outside of toilet hygiene, the acceptance of spitting, clearing one’s nose, and the expectation about handwashing varies from place to place. If you’re not adventurous and open to everything, this can wear on you a lot.

In my opinion, moving to a new country is definitely worth it for a number of reasons, but I suggest you try to mitigate the amount of culture shock you experience by researching the five points above. Or follow the advice of my mentor, Osho: They say: “Think twice before you jump.” I say: “Jump first and then think as much as you want!”

Thought twice and still ready to take the plunge? Or have you already moved? Check out my follow-up post on how to combat culture shock. Need even more support? Join my Essential Leadership Skills Workshop or connect with a group of like-minded leaders with my Leadership Mastermind program!


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