Culture Shock: How to Re-Wire your Mind after Moving Abroad

Culture Shock/Noun
The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

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Culture is a complex concept that affects all of us. But for those of us global nomads who move from one country of origin across the world to a new country, our culture can influence how we acclimatise to our new environment.

The way we view culture and ourselves can add to our homesickness, our feelings of isolation and to the misunderstandings that we have in our relationships.

Whatever culture you identify with, the real reason you feel homesick, isolated or frustrated, is because of what you are thinking: “They did it better back home”, “I’m different from everyone else” and “If they were from my culture then they would understand me!

What I want to offer, is that these thoughts are totally optional.


I want to teach you a mind-blowing concept… That everything in the world around us (the fact that you live somewhere new, the fact that people here are different from where you originally came from, that your family may live halfway across the world…) all of these circumstances are completely neutral until you have a thought about them.

How do I know that those circumstances are neutral?

By how different people can react to them!
Some people are going to be thinking “hell yes” to their new move abroad; whilst other people are going to lament the move, the differences and the fact that their family lives so far away. This neutrality is amazing news! Now you can choose what you are making those circumstances mean to YOU.

It means that the cultural beliefs you grew up with don’t HAVE to be the way you see the world or how you operate. We get to CHOOSE where we focus our mind. Those cultural beliefs feel deeply engrained in you because you have been thinking them for the most part of your life. We have practiced those thoughts so much that they have become automatic. But once you identify the thoughts, you can decide if you want to change them and then you can start practicing a new way of thinking!

I want to give you an example. I’m Australian. There is a concept in our culture called the Tall Poppy Syndrome. It basically refers to the culture where Australians cut down people who are seen as being too successful and prominent. We “cut tall poppies down to size”. We don’t like people to “big-note” themselves either. That means don’t blow your own trumpet, don’t do too well and don’t be too smart. The result is, we not only cut other people down to size but also ourselves. It means that I’m inclined to think to myself “stay small”, “be humble”, “don’t make yourself look too successful”. I’m a life coach. So this thought is terrible! So I’ve just decided to change it. I practice new thoughts like: “If I’m successful I get to help more people in the world”… Everything about my culture told me to act this way and now I have made the conscious decision to change this particular attitude to better my situation.

So how can this help homesick expats?

If you take a look at cultural theory, there are some cultures that might be more prone to homesickness and culture shock based on their cultural tendency to be less future-orientated and less able to deal with uncertainty.  For those cultures, they don’t enjoy not understanding the nuances of their new environment and they are more likely to focus on the discomfort in the moment (missing home and family) rather focusing on the long-term goal (work/life benefits and opportunities that come with the relocation).

Whatever culture you identify with, the real reason you feel homesick is because of what you are thinking. You are missing your home culture – the food, the places, the vibes and the people.  You are simply thinking thoughts like “It was better back home”, “I miss my old life” and “I miss the ways of my culture”.

If you think about the concept that everything around us is neutral, you can simply decide where to focus you mind.

I don’t believe in affirmations, because if we try and make our mind think thoughts we don’t truly believe, our brain will find all the reasons why we don’t believe that thought. So don’t practice “I love living here” unless you really believe it. Try something neutral to start with “I live in (insert name of city)”. You can work your way up from there: “Living in (insert name of city) is helping me learn and grow”, “(insert name of city) has provided new opportunities for me”, “I like living in (insert name of city)” and then finally you might truly believe “I love living in (insert name of city).”

What about dealing with Isolation?

Isolation can be exacerbated by living in a place that has cultural beliefs and norms that conflict with what you are used to. Isolation comes from feeling alone and from thoughts like  “I don’t belong here”,  “I don’t fit in” or “These people don’t get me”. These thoughts will limit your ability to acclimatise to the new environment. When you feel isolation you retreat and hide, which further reinforces isolation.

If you are thinking the thought “I don’t fit in here”, then you have an expectation that you should fit in. Just notice this. When we think “should” we make ourselves feel terrible. Instead of thinking that you “should” be like everyone else, what if you believed that you are fine as you are. The truth is, you might be different but you have the power to make that mean whatever you wanted. It can mean “I don’t fit in” or it could mean “I have a lot to offer others because I’m different”, “people might like me because I am different”, “my difference contributes to the vibrancy and diversity of this city”. I truly believe all of those things. I worked for years in the multicultural sector celebrating diversity. And the other truth is that you may not actually be that different at all. After all, every single one of us is HUMAN.

So go ahead and decide how you want to think about your cultural identity and the experiences that you are having in your current homeland. You can choose to embrace the differences, celebrate your uniqueness and be curious about the culture around you.

Thank you to my awesome Guest-Writer, Nicky Hammond!

Nicky is a life-coach to expat mums who have relocated to Australia. She is a mum herself of two energetic young boys and has lived and worked in 5 different countries around the world. Her coaching helps her clients simply feel better, build confidence and rediscover purpose and joy in their life.


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  • Reply
    Marijke Doldersum
    October 24, 2018 at 10:27 am

    This is a very interesting perspective! I can relate to it because I have moved myself over 5 times but also because I work with people who have moved abroad. It is very easy to blame the new country for things that don’t work out, I am sure I have done this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Reika Misaki
    October 24, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    Being culture shocked is really unavoidable, unless you already know things about the country you’re moving in. It can be very adaptable, though. This is a good read.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    Very true. We all have something to offer one another no matter which country we’re from. Very detailed article.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    I love this post!!!! I can totally relate because I’ve lived in 3 countries in the last 10 years of my life and culture shock is real but like you cleverly identified – Flexibility, Adaptability and been open-minded is key to handling the issues of culture shock.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    Great post with a lot of answers. I’m actually planning a move abroad and this was helpful.

  • Reply
    Jen @ Jenron Designs
    October 25, 2018 at 10:07 am

    While I think it is healthy to have a certain amount of humility and be humble, you really to have honor your own achievements, the world is always looking to cut you down at every turn. Tall poppy syndrome, sounds more like sour grapes syndrome to me, maybe the focus should be on those casting the stones and why they chose to cast them in the first place, instead of just celebrating an honorable achivement.

  • Reply
    Charlotte Jessop
    October 25, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    We are planning a move abroad at the moment. Therefore this was an interesting read for me. Thank you for this!

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