Dealing With Culture Shock

Carrie Kellenberger in Jilin City, ChinaTeaching and living abroad can be the most incredible experience of your life or it can be the worst, depending on how you deal with the difficulties of living and working in a foreign country. Adjusting to a new country and a new culture can be trying, especially when we aren’t willing to adapt or be accepting of a culture that is completely different to our own.

This can lead to feelings of depression, loneliness, isolation and complaining.

The best way to start getting yourself accustomed to an exotic culture is to get involved. Get to know your new culture. Go out and experience life. Make new friends. Live. Wonder. Explore. I love going somewhere quiet, like a park, and watching how everyone interacts. I also get great pleasure out of walking. I love putting on my headphones and walking for hours. I like the feeling of being lost in a great sea of humanity. There’s no better way to be completely on level to observe, grow and learn firsthand. I never once made an excuse for myself to stay at home and watch TV.

Observe what you really like about your new culture. Don’t focus on the negatives. We all make comparisons. Comparing your new home to back home is only natural. Don’t get into the habit of looking at everything in a negative light.

It’s important to remember that there is nothing wrong with culture shock. Everyone gets it and everyone deals with it differently. The stress of starting a new job, living in a new country, trying to make new friends, navigating unfamiliar terrain and an inability to speak the language can all lead to culture shock. Everyday tasks such as using the phone, taking the bus or grocery shopping can become frustrating and difficult.

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Carrie in Beijing 2003Some people will admit they are suffering from it, others might not even realize they are going through it and some will flat out deny they are having any problems at all. It’s how we deal with culture shock that allows us to let ourselves go and immerse ourselves in a foreign culture.

There will be days when you hate your new home. I’ve had days where I hate China. I’ve had days where I hate Taiwan. I’ve also had days where I’ve cried and haven’t wanted to get out of bed. And you know what? It’s perfectly OK to feel like this. We all do. Try and remember that it will pass. Here are a few tried and true techniques to get you through those dog days.

1. Admit you have culture shock. Don’t try and deal with it alone. Try talking to a friend, preferably one who has already been down that road. Share your experiences. Part of dealing with culture shock is realising that you’re not alone.

2. Hang out with your foreign friends. It’s OK to admit that you are having a bad day. Organize activities like potlucks, game nights, bowling nights or movie nights to help yourself and your friends get their minds off the pressures of everyday life.

3. Watch English movies and eat comfort foods. It’s amazing what a simple Western meal like Mac and Cheese can do for you when you’re feeling down. I stock up on my comfort food while I’m at home or I’ll have my family send me my favorites.

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4. Exercise. Going for a walk or getting out of the house can really boost your energy levels and give you a kick in the pants when you need it.

5. Keep a journal. I can’t stress how much better you’ll feel after you’ve taken the time to release. Writing is very therapeutic and it will prove invaluable when you want to look back and reflect on your first few months abroad.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. I'm an experienced businesswoman and have worked in many leadership positions in Asia. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. I started writing about my health journey in 2009 after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, which came with other massive health issues. These diagnoses were the start of my journey as a health advocate and patient leader. Since then, My Several Worlds has been recognized worldwide as a top site for AS, fibromyalgia, and chronic illness by WEGO Health and Healthline.

18 thoughts on “Dealing With Culture Shock


    (January 30, 2007 - 6:45 pm)

    This is an excellent post. I think that I may be experiencing a bit of culture shock. You would think that after five months I would feel more at home. However, I find that in some way the culture shock is what you came for. Something completely different. An adventure.


    (January 31, 2007 - 4:50 pm)

    Culture shock is definitely a strange thing to deal with. I’ve suffered all sorts of culture shock. I’m normally an upbeat kind of person. I like to look at my glass as half full, so I can honestly say that I haven’t gone through a lot of traumatic culture shock.

    When I was in China, I was just so darned excited to be there that I threw myself into everyday life. I didn’t suffer many outward signs of culture shock.

    Taiwan has been a different story for me and one that I am just now starting to realise, now that I am a year into my contract here.

    jessica in rome

    (July 13, 2007 - 7:28 pm)

    Good tips! I try to focus on the positives as well. Expat life can be frustrating.


    (August 8, 2007 - 5:40 am)


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    A Personal Account of Dealing With Culture Shock in Taiwan « My Several Worlds

    (September 30, 2007 - 3:11 pm)

    […] took me over two months to take my own advice. The first step was admitting that I was suffering from culture shock and the second step was […]


    (December 13, 2007 - 10:59 pm)

    Thank you for this post. I am currently preparing to depart for a semester abroad in Prague and have been trying to ready myself as much as possible for culture shock. Your post has been one of the most practical and accessible guides I have found and is a comfort to hear from someone who has a far greater amount of international experience.


    (December 14, 2007 - 12:05 am)

    Hi Jess,

    I’m glad you found this post helpful. Living abroad can be rough at times, but the experiences you have and people you meet will far outweigh any of the obstacles you may encounter. You’re in for one helluva a journey. Good luck and happy traveling!

    The Outsider

    (April 22, 2008 - 9:55 am)

    Every foreigner in Taiwan has a specific status in Taiwanese society, just like the Taiwanese themselves. The Taiwanese classify you by race, skin color, language, purpose of coming to Taiwan, job, education level, being able to speak Chinese or not, looks and so on. The combination of all these factors into the status equation of the Taiwanese gives a single result: you and your status within the Taiwanese society.

    From this status derives the opportunities you get to make money, make friends and so on… It is quite complicated…

    Culture shock in Taiwan is not something you overcome by adapting yourself to society… it is actually something permanent… unless you decide to do exactly what the Taiwanese expect from you: teaching them English for free, not looking at their women, not learning Chinese, and not making more money than they do. “So do not fuckin’ think of making a livin’ a Taiwan if you don’t have the guts to give a shit ’bout some of these freaks”.

    I apologize… but sometimes I get a little bit emotional…


    (April 23, 2008 - 7:49 am)

    The Outsider,

    You’re right. Culture shock isn’t something we overcome. It is something permanent. We all have good days and bad days. Bad days usually make us remember that we are outsiders and we are living in a strange land. It’s how we deal with those bad days that make us overcome these feelings of negativity.

    I don’t agree with your last statement though. I think it’s a broad assumption to make that every Taiwanese person expects these kinds of things from us. I have amazing Taiwanese friends. I wouldn’t trade them for the world and they aren’t friends with me because of what I can give them.

    Our world is one big global village. Culture shock occurs everywhere, not just Taiwan and including back home.

    […] Dealing with Culture Shock. Even the most gung-ho teacher will find culture shock creeping in at some time. Read this post for ideas on how to make it through the rough patches. […]


    (February 16, 2009 - 2:07 am)

    Thanks for your advices. I try to be happy in new country. Sometimes is tough but your informations are useful. I will do it. Thanks again 🙂

    Mindy Lee

    (October 15, 2010 - 4:16 am)

    Carrie, this is an excellent article; real struggles and practical solutions. My family is originally from Taiwan. I love the photography section of your site. I am one of the Founders of Pencils Up and we will definitely refer our teachers to read your article in preparation for their adventures and teaching abroad!


      (October 18, 2010 - 8:58 am)

      Thanks very much, Mindy. I’m glad to hear such positive comments!


    (March 24, 2011 - 11:57 am)

    Yup. We are here three months. It’s been rough. My daughter is very unhappy some days. She will say she hates it here. She finally said that she specifically hates the town we are in. We don’t have time to travel or meet new people. I work, she goes to school.

    We have lived in Asia for four years now. I like other places like Nepal and India. I am yet accostomed to Taiwan. I like the Taiwanese people I have met so far. They are nice. Because I have a child, we are treated with respect and great kindness but I also have a deep belief that most people are….good and nice. I have met very few rude bad people out in the world…

    Culture shock is hard though. I have found myself feeling depressed. I see my daughter on that edge sometimes too. Our school isnt’ very understanding of culture shock and they have been very strict with my daughter. I am considering doing something else.


    But yeah, try to adventure. It helps relieve the stressed feelings…


      (March 29, 2011 - 8:05 am)

      Dear Tracy,

      Thank you for writing. I am sorry to hear that your daughter has been unhappy. It took some time for me to adjust to living in Taiwan as well, but after a few months, I started feeling much better about my decision to move here.


    (August 16, 2011 - 6:54 pm)

    Dear Carrie,

    Thank you for sharing this article.
    I came across this website while looking for a solution, advice…just some help regarding culture shock.
    I am originally from Portugal, Europe, and I was brought to the US by my parents when i was 14, told that i’d only be here for 9 months, and then return to my homeland.

    It’s been 12 years, and I’m still suffering from this situation. I have fully tried to adapt to the US, by having american friends, american boyfriend, an americanized life….but at the end, i find myself truly unhappy. I struggle to understand the way things are done here, like not having free education and health care. I struggle to understand how everything revolves around business. People dont work to live a happy life, they live to work…ending up not even being very involved with family and loved ones. There is also too many rules, and instead of the land of the freedom, i feel like i am caged . ( I apologize if any of you, believe my feelings are somewhat offensive, that is not what i’m trying to go for).
    I love many things about this country, but the main aspects of it, throw me off so hard.
    I’d come back if I could, and live the life that belongs to me, but I have been in New York for too long, the love of my life is american, my parents and brother still live here, and I’ve basically acquired a life here. I can’t leave my loved ones behind, so I can restart my life in my country, where the culture makes sense to me, where im truly confortable…. Unfortunally I feel like I am stuck, and I’ll never belong, and understand the culture fully… But everyday i Try, not only for myself, but one day when i do have kids, they’ll be american, and I’ll have to guide them through their own culture and understand their ways.

    It has been 12 long years….But I will not give up. good luck to all of us who still struggle with culture shock.

    Here’s a quote off the text that you wrote that stood out for me :

    “We all make comparisons. Comparing your new home to back home is only natural. Don’t get into the habit of looking at everything in a negative light.”

    Embrace the positives… 🙂


    (March 2, 2015 - 1:57 pm)

    I am so glad that I stumbled across your page here, I am currently living in South Korea and teaching English as a second language. So far I have been here around 4 months or precisely 33.1% of my way through my 1 year contract (for some reason I created a spreadsheet so I could count down until I leave :/ that doesn’t bode well). I have to say at first I was so excited and upon arrival the excitement only grew, en fact the first few months flew by in no time.
    I think I may be experiencing something of a belated or reversed culture shock. I am gradually growing to hate it here and feel like I am losing myself and more so the longer I am spending here the more I am growing to profoundly dislike it. Now on one hand I considered that if I am having such a rubbish time then why don’t I just break the contract and fly home…? Well, I suppose that I don’t want to be defeated and I want to see this through to the end. Not to mention the financial implications of considering such an action, regardless of how much you can save.
    I am ashamed to say that when I meet the new foreigners and I see the happiness and glee on the faces as they endeavor on this new journey I feel only bitterness and annoyance towards their upbeat perspective; thinking only to myself the novelty will ware off. I am fully aware that I am being a cold miserable git and somehow can’t help it. I had attributed all of misery and cold heart persona to being someone with a chip on my shoulder (both actually) and frankly not really caring what anyone thought of me. I certainly denied being affected by culture shock being someone who has traveled a lot, lived alone and independently from 16 whilst independently funding a bachelors and masters degree in engineering, following by successful beginnings to careers at more than one multi-billion/ multi-national company and moved house more times than I can count on my all my fingers. I had thought I was strong and in all honesty up routing my life, leaving everyone behind and disappearing was easy. That said after reading this post I think I can finally definitively say I am experiencing culture shock and it took reading this and analysing my own behaviour for myself to realise it.
    I wouldn’t say that my personal situation is fixable just by admitting it may be culture or is culture shock but certainly it helps.
    So in short i thank you for this information and i will put it to practical use. Also, apologies for this massive essay, I could have written so much more but just thought I would share a little of my experience.
    Kind regards 🙂

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (March 6, 2015 - 6:30 pm)

      Hi Benjamin,

      Culture shock can happen to even the most seasoned travelers, so don’t feel bad that you’re experiencing it. I lived in China for three years and didn’t experience any culture shock at all. Then I came to Taiwan and I was just miserable for about six months.

      What is it about South Korea that irks you?

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