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    Stranger at home – Difficulties we face while living abroad, the stages of culture shock

    2023. 09. 21.   |   Nincs hozzászólás »   

    After the initial excitement of moving to a new country, many people experience difficulties while trying to live their daily lives in the changed environment – even if it is not extremely different from their original one. 

    For any reason you travel abroad for a longer period of time – holiday, studies or work – you will most likely go through similar stages of experience while living in a new country.


    Everything is new, exciting, every day is full of new discoveries, tastes, and smell. Every encounter has a promise of being exposed to new information, filling your mind with the feeling that you are now a better, more cultured and experienced person, your knowledge and mindset has broadened. You feel amazing, you are a tourist, and all problems seem to have been left far behind in your origin country. 

    Your resources: extraversion, open-mindedness, energy, exploration skills

    Your difficulties: falling for tourist traps, not yet planning for long term, information overload, overspending


    You do realise that you will be here longer than just a few days, so you might as well dig into your new community. You start to get your papers done, you buy long-term passes for public transport, you register for a clubcard at the local supermarket chain. You start looking for friends, you find yourself a gym, a library, a dry-cleaner. The language barrier does not bother you yet, you might be even taking a language course, which you are hyped up about. 

    But no matter how nice of a cuisine the new country has, your food preferences has been shaped since childhood to your local dishes, and especially how your family members make them. The memory of the smell of your favourite food tingling in your nose sours the taste of the microwave one-dish meal or the pizza you ordered, which you were limited to in the recent period due to the lack of kitchen appliances at home. Tomatoes in your new country have a different taste, dairy products are sweeter than what you are used to, bread has a strange texture and even chocolate chip cookies are not the same as at home. And you just cannot find tobacco products anywhere in the supermarkets. 

    Shops are closed on random days, referring to events you never learned about in history classes back home. To open a bank account, the clerk asks for your entire family tree, the postal service does not bring out your package, their customer service has only one agent speaking a common language with you, you have no idea how much to tip in the restaurants, people shout loudly on the tram, and nothing is written in English anywhere.

    The realization of differences in customs and values between your current and origin country can cause quite a big headache. Change is not easy to deal with alone.  

    Let it be for a short or for longer period of time spent abroad, at some point you start to miss having family members and close friends around. You realize that making friends requires lots of time and energy as adults, you have to make efforts to create and/or engage in social situations. The lack of social network in close physical distance results in the lack of opportunity to share emotions, struggles, and to ask for advice. The information overload from the new environment can turn your emotional experience from excitement into culture shock, and even to disgust, aversion, which will enhance the isolation both emotionally and physically from your new country. You feel frustrated, angry and alone. 

    Not a great start to this new chapter of your life, you think. 

    Your resources: gathering information, long video-calls with family members, looking for support

    Your difficulties: bureaucracy, language barrier, getting lost in metro system, loneliness, missing family, friends, food, isolation, emotional challenges


    You have now lived in your new home long enough to know all the good bars and coffee shops around, to spot all the tourist scams, and you stopped blaming yourself that you did not research the area well enough before renting an apartment, so you could have found a cheaper and more quiet place to live than the party district. You know the bus routes taking you home by heart, no need to check the transport apps. 

    You have found some friends – most likely other international people fighting different stages of culture shock – so you have a small social circle to slowly build a reliable community with. You start building a routine, use your time more efficiently, while still exploring your new country’s beauty. 

    Your resources: social circle, planning skills, well-gathered local information, having purchased unlimited internet, google lens for translation, routine, looking for support

    Your difficulties: extending social circle, building and keeping routine, still not speaking the local language, opening up to people about difficulties


    After about a year, you have learnt a lot about your new country and your adaptation process – a true self-knowledge slide you just went down! You have accepted the different traffic system, you got used to the language and can even speak enough to not get fooled at the street market. You are fond of many new habits you have developed since living here, let it be sports, means of commuting, entertainment facilities, new games and traditions you built with your group of friends. 

    You feel a sense of belonging, you root for your new country’s sports team (unless they play against your origin country of course!), you are proud to read about their citizens and achievements in the papers, you consider yourself an equal member of the community. Your goals and dreams are now flourishing from this country, you are planning your future from here. 

    Your resources: supportive social circle, long-term plans, new habits, sense of belonging and being of equal value

    Your difficulties: becoming emotionally distant from the country of origin, balancing identity in your now bicultural mind


    Whichever stage you are in, remember that you are not alone, and that even though your experience feels difficult, it is normal, and will get better. Finding your own place and rhythm in the new environment might not happen overnight, so give yourself time. Keep your supportline available (family, friends), and slowly plan your next moves with backing up your emotional battery with things you love to do. 

    Looking for a helping professional is a great way to add to or make up for the lack of the social support you currently have in the stage you feel stuck at. Our psychologists are here to guide and support you in finding your needs in order to be able to reconnect with society and to feel more at home in a foreign country.


    Blanka Kívés, Psychologist

    Having studied and worked in multiple countries, I gained international studying and teaching experience in Hungary, South Korea, Italy and the US. Apart from crisis counselling, the psychology of intercultural relations and communities, as well as career counselling are my areas of expertise. Those who seek my counselling will receive support to overcome the difficulties and crises built up inside them, which will lead to courage, self-respect and self-knowledge. 

    (Megtekintve 1 alkalommal, ebből 1 ma)


    Kívés Blanka   

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