Cultural Shock: How Expats Adapt to New Environments

Cultural Shock: How Expats Adapt to New Environments

The Impact of Cultural Differences on Expats

Relocating to a new country is an exciting adventure, but it often comes with unexpected challenges, primarily related to differences in culture and customs.

For example, South Africans who move to Los Angeles quickly realize that the concept of a casual “pop-in” is not as appreciated as it is in their homeland.

Similarly, South Korean expats can be taken aback by the seemingly personal questions they encounter.

The Study on Expats’ Adaptation

A recent study focused on expatriates from various parts of the world sheds light on the time it takes for overseas employees to adapt to a new working environment.

The research conducted by reveals that a significant 60% of expats require at least a year to acclimate to their new surroundings.

Furthermore, the study highlights that one in six expatriates who move to the United States grapple with the cultural disparities they encounter.

A Glimpse into Expats’ Experiences

Expats’ experiences in their new countries vary widely.

For instance, a former Hong Kong resident who relocated to Pittsburgh, USA, expressed her astonishment when people addressed their friends’ parents by their first names.

In Hong Kong and similar to South Africa, it’s customary to refer to friends’ parents as “Auntie” or “Uncle,” or if using their first name, to add a respectful prefix.

This difference in addressing elders was a significant cultural shock for her.

Shoe Etiquette and Nudity Norms

Cultural differences also extend to seemingly minor details, which can have a considerable impact on an expat’s comfort level.

Take, for instance, the practice of wearing shoes indoors.

For some, like the former Hong Kong resident, seeing people wearing shoes inside their homes was unexpected and somewhat unsettling.

In contrast, a Texan expat who moved to Denmark experienced a different type of culture shock related to openness about nudity.

She noted that adult magazines were not covered in plastic and placed discreetly on high shelves as they were in the US. Additionally, Danish television featured more explicit content with topless or completely naked women.

Even advertisements on public transportation displayed breasts openly.

This expat also found it challenging to adapt to shared changing rooms where women freely walked around naked and certain beaches where nudity was accepted.

Tips for Coping with Culture Shock

To navigate culture shock successfully, a travel expert at offers valuable advice to expats.

Fully immersing oneself in the new culture, learning the local language, participating in cultural activities, and connecting with fellow expatriates can all contribute to a smoother adjustment process.

Most importantly, maintaining an open mind and a positive attitude toward the new culture is key.

Share Your Cultural Shock Experiences

For those who have experienced culture shock while living abroad, it can be both enlightening and challenging.

The article invites expats to share their most significant culture shock experiences anonymously and encourages open discussions about adapting to new norms.

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