Culture Shock or: The Expat Rollercoaster

Culture shock is the

Led into misery by living my dream of working and staying abroad, because of a dubious thing called ‘Culture Shock’?


That’s what I thought when I heard the expression ‘Culture Shock’ for the first time. Here I was, feeling excited about moving into a new country, into a new life, and I should feel miserable?

But just why?
I thought this was complete and utter nonsense and shrugged it off.

Well, I had to find out that I was wrong.

Understanding Culture Shock is crucial for every expat

Culture Shock turned out to be real, and understanding the concept was vital: it helped me see what was happening with me, why I went from exhilaration into frustration at the blink of an eye.

Culture Shock, the expat rollercoaster

From an extreme high into an extreme low, and everything in between: that’s why Culture Shock is called ‘the Expat Rollercoaster’ by some People.
The up-and-downs start early: the prospect of our international assignment puts us on a high. The exhausting preparations for moving abroad on a low.

Earning your happy expat life…

Arriving in the new host town is usually exciting for us expats, and we’re on a high again. But the next low is just around the corner… and it will take some time before you get to the top again. If you ever do. This means you have to earn your happy expat life. Before you can lean back and enjoy the smooth ride, you have to go through the different phases of Culture Shock:

  • the Honeymoon Phase
  • the Rejection Phase
  • the Alienation Phase
  • the Adjustment Phase
  • the Mastery Phase

While some of them are great, others are not at all.

Everybody is having a fantastic time… except for me

As mentioned, sooner or later you will hit the first low in your expat life. And this can be very hard because you may look around and ask yourself why everybody else seems to have a great time while you are feeling lost and rejected?!

Lost dreams, time, money and career opportunities

During Culture Shock, some expats get to a point where they give up their new international life. To them, it seems like they are stuck in misery and will never manage to live a happy expat life in their host city, so they choose to move back home. The result? Lost dreams, time, money and career opportunities.

Know how to get out of the Culture Shock lows

So you’d better know there will be highs and lows. But how can you make it with ease through the bad times of expat life?

Our free course ‘Build a foundation for successful and happy expat living’ will help you with this: Get the best tools and tricks to make it smoothly through Culture Shock and other expat challenges.

photo © Daniel Carter

About Barbara Bruhwiler

Barbara is author of several books and co-founder of She has her "Expat Advice" column in a local magazine, and she authored the Guide to Johannesburg.


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