How to cope with culture shock during your expatriation?

Although expatriation is a unique experience, all expatriates have something in common. Indeed, when arriving in the host country, they all undergone a culture shock. Whether it is a nearby country such as Germany or Spain, or it is an expatriation to Japan or Latin America, they will face culture shock at some point.

Main cultural differences


Generally speaking, language and communication are the first real culture shock. Indeed, differences in the way people communicate can lead to frustration or incomprehension and misunderstanding, especially in the workplace. Numerous cultures rather start long, hypothetical conversations with little valid conclusions. Then, meetings and other gatherings may lack structure. On the other hand, others prefer discussions with a clear, well-defined structure that allows spokespersons to easily synthesise everything. Then, you need to know the country’s system and environment beforehand to be sure you can efficiently communicate with people.


Cultures can easily be categorised according to their approach to regulations. On the one hand, Germanic and Asian cultures highlight structure and order, with an approach that often focuses on practical matters and doing things right. On the other hand, Mediterranean cultures tend to enhance relationship building and relevant approaches to solve problems. Be sure to use the right approach based on the country’s culture.


Often neglected, the sense of humour is more than subjective and definitely unique to each culture and country. In many cultures (e.g. the British or the Spanish) humour is used to break the ice, even in a professional setting or with a complete stranger. Indeed, laughing is considered a simple way to create links. In other countries, especially in Asian countries, jokes can turn against you because they are considered superficial and useless. Then, observe your environment and the way people react according to the discussion in order to adapt to the best situation.

Moreover, there is the language barrier, the social pressure that makes you feel like a stranger, a feeling of intense loneliness and many others. However, in order to fully enjoy this unique expatriation experience, you should not hide behind any excuse.

Coping with this culture shock

The best approach for culture shock is obvious and yet very complex. One has to recognise differences and accept them, without closing in on yourself.

Knowledge-based approach

Consider learning about your host country. It is a crucial stage in battling against culture shock. The more you know about your new environment, the better. Carefully observe how the inhabitants act and react in various situations and learn how to take in similar situations appropriately. Moreover, throw fully yourself into learning the local language.

Books and websites are good sources of information, but the best one is the inhabitants. Most people are proud of their culture and enjoy showing it to newcomers. By asking the right questions and showing real interest (never hostility or derision), you will gather all the information you need.

Finally, bonding with the inhabitants is an advantage in many ways. Creating links is also a pro since it reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Activity-based approach

Stress linked to expatriate life inevitably leads to physical strain. They may cause illnesses, both in terms of metabolism and psychology. Then, developing good physical habits are significant when coping with culture shock. Daily activity is essential: go out, walk, discover the neighbourhoods, do sport, etc. But most important: never isolate yourself for several days. Improving your home environment can also help adopt a pet, plan your days… or not!

Emotion-based approach

The most effective way to deal with culture shock is to adapt. Leave your old culture behind and try little by little to adapt to the new one. You must be open-minded. By viewing this new culture with openness and respect, you will have much better result than if you were suspicious and critical.

There are many ways to better adapt:

  • Create a solid group of friends (friends, family, work). It will act as a pillar of strength and moral support to cope with shock
  • Narrow your outlook by considering the time spent abroad an opportunity for personal growth
  • Get out of your comfort zone, even if it is only for a few minutes each and every day
  • Keep your experiences, thoughts and feelings in a journal or blog
  • Get to know the inhabitants
  • Make the effort to learn, and especially to speak the language
  • Set small, achievable goals and regularly assess their progress
  • Do not blame the host culture when things do not go your way

To conclude, there are many reasons to go and experience life abroad as an expatriate. If the culture shock is one the reasons why you are still hesitating, doubt no more! With a little effort, you can make this unique experience one of your best memories.

And do not forget: if you need to translate your documents, Berlin Translate is here for you!

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