Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Culture Shock

Why do you want to move abroad? What are your expectations? Why is it important to you? These are all questions you should be asking yourself {and answering} if you plan on moving abroad.

So, why am I in Scotland anyway? Well, I met my husband online and after 1.5 yrs of dating long distance we decided to stop going back and forth. We chose to get married and spend our time together. We had a dilemma. LD was living in Scotland and I was in America. Where would we make our home? After much research and deliberation, we decided I'd move to Scotland. I wanted an adventure. I wanted to travel. I wanted to try something new. And believe me...I got it. I've always felt that you never come back the same when you travel. I always want to be changing and getting better. I want to see how other's live. I want to be a part of something greater than just my neck of the woods. This is why being an expat is important to me.

Most people envision expats as having an Eat Pray Love experience.  Walking through plaza's with a creamy gelato in your hands or sitting at a cafe writing your novel with bagpipes in the background. I'd say there is some of that, but it definitely isn't the norm. When you move abroad there are some challenges.

Do you know what culture shock is? Everybody thinks they are well adjusted and they won't have any problems but let me tell you. You will. Of course you will! You are in a country that isn't your own. They don't do things the same way. Even if the people speak the same language--they really don't. Living abroad is not the same as visiting. You will go through some culture shock. 

Culture shock will hit you in a variety of ways. It is different for everyone. It hit me about a month after I'd moved to Scotland. I hadn't seen the sky in 3 weeks and it had rained every single day since my arrival. I felt trapped. What had I done? I still didn't have friends. I didn't know my way around yet and I didn't have a job. I was wasting away. I had expected to be sightseeing non-stop and had pictured myself with many friends and a job by then {idealistic, I know!}. I was living in a studio flat that smelled of mould. This wasn't what I signed up for.

If you don't want to see yourself packing up and going home within your first few weeks you need to be prepared. Now answer these questions:

  1. Why are you moving abroad?
  2. What are your expectations?
  3. Why is this move important to you?

The answers to these questions will be what keeps you in the adventure and not cutting your dream short. You'll be able to see it through and enjoy it. For there is so much to enjoy!!

Here are some of my tips for keeping culture shock at bay {or keeping it to a minimum at least!}:

  • Do your research before you leave. Find out what is around you. Grocery stores, banks, pubs, and the movies. 
  • Join a church or group of some kind. You need to be around people. Locals that can welcome and help you. You'd be surprised what can be cured with a good old fashion conversation. 
  • Find some kind of work. This doesn't have to be formal employment but something to keep you busy. Whether it is volunteering at the local food drive or writing a that novel. Get yourself something to do. Idle hands and all that. 
  • Before you move make a list of places you want to see. Whether they are right around you or take a bit of a travel. Make a list you can check off. You wanted to move so you could see new things, go see them! 
  • Learn about public transportation. Ask questions and read about it. Then try it out. Make it your friend. 
  • Decide what methods you will use to keep in touch with friends and family. Email, Facebook, Vonage and Skype are my chosen forms of communication. Oh and Blackberry Messenger works abroad too! For free! I love this. 
  • Find other expats. You will feel a kinship with those from your home country. It will be helpful to have someone you can ask all manner of questions to. They will also help you exponentially with finding what you're looking for. They will give you the 411 on what to do and not to do. Use them. 
  • Have fun! If you wanted to walk with a gelato in your hands, do it! If you want to sit at a cafe drinking coffee and writing in your journal, do it! Just go out there and experience your new life as an expat. Carpe diem and all of that! 
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined." ~Thoreau

Christy {The Departure Diaries} is moving to Rome in April 2013. Let's what she has to say about the mental preparation needed to make the move abroad.
"I haven't moved abroad yet. But I have worked away from home for extended periods of time. Most of those times were absolutely fantastic, but I remember two specific jobs that were really, really tough. I wasn't prepared. 
When I move abroad next spring, I have several goals in mind. For me, this adventure is a big part of the artistic process of my life. People aren't meant to stay the same. We are always growing, changing and stretching. And if we aren't doing those things we should ask ourselves why not? Stagnancy is not healthy. 
So what is it that I'm preparing myself for now? Why do I really want to move abroad?
Let's examine my motivations:
When I turned 18 I traveled abroad for the first time. I spent three weeks on a whirlwind musical tour of five European countries. It was amazing. I loved every minute. And I knew that one day I had to go back. I never really thought travel would become such a priority to me. Then around six months before my twenty-first birthday I was offered a summer position working on cruise ships. And I took the job. And I got on the plane six months later. And I boarded the ship and did the work and loved it. And five years later I'd visited forty countries and had become an entirely different person.  
After five years on ships I was ready for something else. I was ready to try living a localized life, on land. Call it an experiment, if you will. I'd call it successful. And now I'm ready for something else. Something less structured. Something full of life and passion and freedom. Travel has always sated that wild hair in me that aches for the unknown. My trips overseas during my five years in California have taught me repeatedly that I feel like my best "me" when I'm traveling. Those trips have also shown me that I haven't seen enough. The more I see, the more I discover that I haven't seen anything yet. 
So that's why I'm moving abroad. Because exploration is my motivator. Knowing that, I know what to prepare for." 

Moving abroad? Have questions for Christy & Mary?
Leave us a comment!


  1. I definitely agree. To me, life is all about expanding your comfort zone, and there is no better way to do that than to immerse yourself in a different culture. But expanding your comfort zone is inherently uncomfortable:-) It can be challenging and exhuasting sometimes, but just takes a bit of regrouping and reminding myself of the reasons why we chose this path. Articulating your goals and managing your expectations are a huge part of a successful expat experience.

    1. it is a huge change! One can not expect there to be no issues or problems when moving into the unknown! It is a constant effort, even today 4 yrs later. But, I think travel makes you change and become better. I like that. It's worth it to go through the uncomfortable to be a better person through the process.

  2. THis is just terrific!
    And I loved what you said on Pret A Voyage about house guests.
    Yes, I have Paris in my sightlines but there is a lot of work to be done before I can make the move -mainly getting an artist's visa - no piece of cake at all!
    I'll be back to reread all this good common sense.
    merci carolg

  3. Hi,
    I'm a Scot and have been living abroad in Australia for seven years. I've recently decided that I don't want to live here forever- The HEAT! The LIGHT! I'm Scottish after all... :) Just found your blog and have found the questions you pose in this post very thought provoking, even though I'm moving back to my own country. Thanks for posting!

  4. The feeling you have when traveling it's misleading, makes you believe living abroad is so simple, like a continuous holiday. Not true. On a day to day basis you face so many issues, language, job, taxes and you have to comply with their rules and get used to a different way of doing things...but it gets better in least that's what happend to me. Really helpful post!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.