5 strategies to overcome challenges abroad


Moving to a new country is often an exhilarating and life-changing experience, presenting opportunities for personal growth, career advancement, and cultural enrichment. However, amidst the excitement lies a significant challenge that many face: culture shock.

Culture shock is a natural psychological reaction that occurs when people encounter unfamiliar cultural norms, values, and behaviours that challenge their accustomed way of life.

In this blog, we will explore five key strategies to help you overcome the challenges of culture shock and thrive in your new cultural environment. By equipping yourself with the right mindset, knowledge, and support systems, you can turn the daunting experience of culture shock into an opportunity for personal growth!

Understanding culture shock

At its core, culture shock refers to the psychological disorientation experienced when people encounter unfamiliar cultural surroundings. It arises from the stark contrast between the familiar cultural norms, values, and behaviours of one’s home country and those of the new country. This dissonance can trigger a range of emotional, cognitive, and behavioural responses as individuals grapple with the challenges of adapting to a different way of life.

What are the phases of culture shock?

Culture shock often unfolds in a series of distinct phases, each characterized by its unique set of emotions and experiences:


Initially, you may feel a sense of excitement, curiosity, and fascination with the new culture. Everything seems fresh, vibrant, and full of possibilities during this phase, as you explore the novelty of your surroundings.


As the initial euphoria wears off, you may begin to experience feelings of frustration, anxiety, and even homesickness. You may encounter difficulties in navigating everyday tasks, communicating effectively, or understanding cultural nuances, leading to a sense of disorientation and isolation.


Gradually, you start to adapt to the new cultural environment and develop coping mechanisms to overcome challenges. You become more familiar with local customs, norms, and expectations, and begin to feel more comfortable and confident in your ability to navigate cultural differences.


In the final stage of culture shock, you (hopefully!) achieve a sense of acceptance and integration into the new culture. You develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity, forge meaningful connections, and feel a sense of belonging in their new community.

What are the common symptoms of culture shock?

Culture shock can manifest in various ways, affecting people both emotionally and physically. Some common symptoms include:

  • Feelings of loneliness, sadness, or depression
  • Irritability, mood swings, or heightened sensitivity
  • Fatigue, sleep disturbances, or changes in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Withdrawal from social interactions or reluctance to engage with the new culture

Strategy 1: Educate yourself beforehand

Before embarking on your journey to a new country, investing time and effort into learning about its culture, customs, and traditions can significantly ease the transition and help you navigate the challenges of culture shock more effectively.

  1. Research the culture
  • Read about the history, geography, and socio-political landscape of the new country. Understanding the context in which the culture has evolved can provide valuable insights into its values, norms, and traditions.
  • Engage with online forums, social media groups, and expat communities to connect with those who have firsthand experience living in the new country (sometimes Reddit or Facebook groups can be your best allies!). Their insights and advice can offer practical tips for navigating cultural differences. Just don’t forget to take anything that’s said with a pinch of salt.
  1. Learn basic language skills
  • While fluency in the local language may not be essential, learning basic phrases and expressions can go a long way in facilitating communication and building rapport with locals. Life becomes much easier once you can order in the restaurant or tell the cashier that you want the bag.
  • Practice speaking and listening in the new language whenever possible, whether through language partners, language meetups, or immersive language experiences. We can also recommend watching movies with subtitles in the local language, as it is a more fun and immersive addition to the textbooks.
  1. Understand cultural norms and etiquette
  • Familiarise yourself with cultural norms, social conventions, and etiquette practices specific to the new country. Pay attention to subtle cues and nonverbal communication styles, as these can vary significantly across cultures.
  • Learn about appropriate behaviour in various social settings, such as greetings, gestures, dining customs, and gift-giving etiquette.
  • Be mindful of cultural taboos, sensitivities, and customs that may differ from those in your home country. Respect the local customs! Some countries are less forgiving of cross-cultural blunders than others.

Strategy 2: Maintain an open mind

One of the most critical strategies for overcoming culture shock is to approach your new cultural environment with an open mind and a willingness to embrace differences.

  1. Avoid making quick judgments
  • Resist the temptation to judge or stereotype people based on cultural differences. Understand that behaviours and attitudes may be shaped by cultural context and may not always align with your own cultural norms.
  • Approach interactions with curiosity and an open heart, seeking to understand the underlying motivations and perspectives behind people’s actions and behaviours.
  1. Be willing to adapt

Strategy 3: Build a support system

Navigating culture shock can be challenging, but having a strong support system in place can significantly ease the transition and provide invaluable emotional, practical, and social support.

  1. Connect with locals
  • Reach out and make an effort to connect with locals in your new community. Building relationships with people from the host culture can provide insights into local customs, traditions, and daily life.
  • Participate in community events, cultural festivals, and neighbourhood gatherings to meet and interact with locals. Don’t hesitate to strike up conversations and get to know people on a personal level.
  • Join local clubs, organizations, or interest groups aligned with your hobbies or passions. Engaging in shared activities is an excellent way to bond with locals and forge meaningful connections.
  1. Seek professional support if needed
  • If you’re struggling with culture shock or experiencing significant emotional distress, don’t hesitate to seek professional support. You can always reach out to a cultural transition coach or mental health experts, depending on your needs.

Strategy 4: Stay engaged and active

One of the most effective ways to combat culture shock and adapt to life in a new country is to stay engaged and active in your surroundings.

  1. Explore the new surroundings
  • Get out and explore your new neighbourhood, city, or region to familiarize yourself with your surroundings and discover hidden gems. Take leisurely walks, bike rides, or public transportation journeys to explore different areas and get a sense of the local vibe.
  1. Pursue hobbies and interests

Strategy 5: Take care of yourself

Amidst the excitement and challenges of adapting to a new country, it’s crucial not to overlook the importance of self-care.

  1. Practice self-compassion
  • Be kind and compassionate toward yourself as you navigate the ups and downs of culture shock. Acknowledge that it’s natural to experience a range of emotions, including frustration, homesickness, and anxiety, during the transition to life in a new country.
  • Treat yourself with the same kindness, understanding, and patience that you would offer to a friend facing similar challenges.
  1. Establish healthy routines
  • Establishing consistent routines can provide a sense of stability and structure amid the uncertainties of culture shock. Set regular mealtimes, sleep schedules, and exercise routines to support your physical health and well-being.
  • Incorporate activities that promote relaxation, stress relief, and rejuvenation into your daily routine. Whether it’s practising yoga, taking a leisurely walk, or enjoying a hot bath, prioritize activities that help you unwind and recharge.
  1. Engage in activities that bring you joy
  • Create a self-care toolkit filled with activities, practices, and resources that uplift and rejuvenate you. Refer to your toolkit whenever you need a boost of positivity, comfort, or inspiration during moments of culture shock or adjustment.

Embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and always be kind to yourself as you navigate this transition!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck at any point, remember that seeking support is a sign of strength. So whether you need personalised coaching sessions, additional resources, or just someone to lend an understanding ear, don’t hesitate to reach out.

For more interesting information and a different format, take a look at a video by InNow founder Fiorenza on this very topic here.