The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Category Archives: Culture Shock Toolbox

REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, what kinds of tools do you need if you decide to repatriate?

Reverse Culture Shock RosesTransitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is already having a constructive 2016: she is about to publish a second book, on reverse culture shock.

Reverse Culture Shock_coverHello, Displaced Nationers! This month, I have a very special preview for you! On March 30th, my book Reverse Culture Shock will be released! Unlike Culture Shock: A Practical Guide, this is not a how-to book. It’s a collection of adapted blog posts including some previously unpublished material.

Dealing with reverse culture shock is a continuously evolving process that requires constant adjustments, reflection and introspection. This collection is meant to bring you food for thought and give you a little nudge to ease a difficult transition.

Here’s an adapted excerpt, just for you… Even if you’re currently an expat, I hope you enjoy! Someday you, too, may face this phenomenon, if you decide to repatriate.

* * *

When I moved back from California to Europe, I spent the summer pruning trees, rosebushes and anything else I could find. It provided comfort in a way nothing else did. I got to be outdoors, didn’t have to interact, nobody asked me any questions or commented on how ‘American’ I sounded. I could just be. Quietly, peacefully.

What I needed the most was a set of gardening tools.

Yep, reverse culture shock was a doozy.

Here’s the thing about reverse culture shock: everything feels familiar and completely different at the same time. And no matter how hard you try to reconcile everything, it makes you feel like a puzzle put together wrong. Everything sort of fits but doesn’t.

Of course, intellectually, you reason with yourself. Your brain explains that both you and the place have changed, so what you’re feeling is natural. Meanwhile your insides are screaming bloody murder. That’s what it was like for me, anyway.

There is an aspect of mourning involved. You have to let go of the notion of home as a physical or geographical place (if that’s what it was to begin with) and of the idea that operating within a comfort zone is how things should be. You need to redefine what home and comfort mean to you.

And here’s the biggie: letting go of who you were before you left to incorporate the person you became while you were gone and see how both now fit into a new identity within that familiar environment that feels alien. It’s mind-boggling and the whole thing is a process.

The puzzle of home

Europe had changed…and I’d changed as well.

When I got back from the US, Europe had changed: there was a new currency (hello, Euro!), there were new streets, Starbucks and Subways had sprouted up all over the place, the use of language had changed, to name a few. For example, “Zähflüssiger Verkehr” had become “stop and go” and my French-speaking friends and colleagues said things like “c’est fun!”

Of course, I had changed as well. Not only in my eyes but also in the eyes of other people who kept reminding me that I wasn’t quite European anymore with a steady refrain of “You’re SO American!”

  • Accent: I had an American accent and naturally, people who knew me before I lived in America kept saying “you sound so American.” I understand the reaction, of course, but the effect was one of alienation all the same. What I heard was “you don’t sound European”. Which was fine too, except that I was in Europe trying to figure out how to fit back in after four years of being away.
  • Language: I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to in my native languages, which can feel alarming. People kept correcting me, pointing out that I was speaking weirdly, which had a distancing effect on me and on them as well. I wasn’t the way they remembered and these new aspects of me were disconcerting for them.
  • Laugh: I was told I had an American laugh, whatever that means.
  • Attitude/ways of thinking/seeing things: I had developed a new approach and attitude towards problem solving, thinking and managing everyday life. That attitude was also pointed out to me as being American. But it wasn’t something I could shake, so living with that perspective in Europe can be alienating on multiple levels.

I spent four years becoming aware of my “Europeanness” to come back to a Europe that felt alien to me and where people kept and still keep pointing out my “Americanness”.

I’ve come to accept that I’m just in between. Someone once said to me that it’s like sitting on a fence: you can see both sides but that fence just isn’t very comfortable.

Over time though, we get comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s the good news!
Just in between

* * *

Readers who are or have been repats, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month, when I’ll be back with one of my culture shock interviews. In future I plan to interview some repatriates as well.

Until then, here’s to discomfort! Cheers! Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox and the soon-to-be-released Reverse Culture Shock. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, and her author site.  

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

Photo credits: All photos are from Pixabay.

Advertisements

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, start the year off right: build something of value in your adopted culture

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol has enlisted the help of her latest interview guest for advice on having a “constructive” 2016.
Culture Shock Toolbox January 2016
Happy new year, Displaced Nationers! It’s January, the month of new year’s resolutions, mentoring (yes, January is National Mentoring Month!), and curling up on the couch with a blanket, yummy tea and a good book.

To be honest, the idea of new year’s resolutions always felt a little random to me. Turns out, the date is actually “completely arbitrary,” making nothing more than a timekeeping convention. But according to American psychologist George Ainslie, it still matters because it provides “a clean line between our old and new selves.”

So, in the spirit of new goals and motivations, we’re kicking off 2016 with motivational speaker and personal brand strategist Shade Adu. Shade has worked in Kazakhstan, Ghana and the United States, and is particularly interested in empowering women entrepreneurs.

Originally from the United States, Shade stumbled upon an opportunity to move to Kazakhstan to teach English. She traded her comfortable life in Newark, New Jersey, for the majesty—and quirkiness—of life in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital city. Keep reading to find out what happened…

* * *

Hi, Shade, and welcome to Culture Shock Toolbox. Tell us, which countries have you lived in and for how long?

I’ve lived in the Republic of Kazakhstan for three years. I was in the capital, Astana, for one year and now I’m in the smaller southern city of Taldykorgan, which is about 150 kilometers outside of the country’s former capital city, Almaty.

In the course of your transition to a Central Asian culture, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

All the time, as I’ve tracked on my blog, Kazakh Nights. When I first arrived in Kazakhstan, I told my students to “write” an assignment in their notebooks in Russian. Instead of saying the Russian word for “write”, I said “pee” and the entire class began to laugh at me. In Russian both words sound very similar.

How did you handle that situation? Would you handle it any differently now?

I shook my head. But it was funny then and it’s still funny now. I suppose I could see if there is a world record for butchering the most languages. I would be a shoe-in for first place. I have a working knowledge of Russian, Kazakh, French, & Spanish. Of those, my Russian is probably the best.

Can you think of a situation you handled with finesse, and why do you think that was?

As an African American woman in the former Soviet Union, I naturally stand out. It makes me the target of unwanted attention daily. When I went to the market, I stood out. If I went to restaurant, parade, wedding, local museum or event I was the center of attention.

During my first year in Kazakhstan, one of my amazing colleagues invited me to her wedding in a small Kazakh city outside of the capital. This wedding lasted all day and night with three venue changes. I was the center of attention. Everyone wanted to take pictures with me. It was uncomfortable—but I didn’t want to alarm my friend or ruin her big day. One of the guests said that I may be the first and the last black person some of these people see. This sent chills down my spine. But I handled the day and multiple photos (200+) like a champ, if I say so myself.

Kazakh wedding center of attention

If you had any advice for someone moving abroad for the first time, what tool would you suggest they develop first?

Don’t go into another country and culture with preconceived notions. I gave myself permission to live each day with a clean slate from what happened the previous day. I looked for opportunities to grow as a person. Also make an attempt to learn the language of the people. This skill has been extremely valuable to me. In addition to learning the dominant language, Russian, I’ve learned a couple of words in the local language, too. I felt it was important to learn Kazakh out of respect for my students and their families. Being able to say “hello” to my Kazakh neighbors or to one of my students’ elderly grandparents has been priceless. Last but far from least: always remember to add value—build something helpful with those tools of yours—and be willing to learn. That’s how to make the most of your experience.

Thank you so much, Shade. I love the idea of approaching interactions with the intention to add value. Our tools aren’t just for ourselves but for building relationships with others as well. It’s a great concept to keep in mind when you’re outside your comfort zone—and in everyday life as well. We couldn’t do better for a new year’s resolution!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Shade’s advice? If you like what she has to say, I recommend you visit her blog and her business site for further inspiration. You are also welcome to contact her with questions about life in Kazakhstan, and can follow her on Twitter.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

Photo credits for opening image: Shade Adu (supplied, by Nicholas Chen) with a man who asked to have a photo taken with her, at a mosque in Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan.

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, when you find yourself out of tune with the local language/culture, throw back your head and laugh it off!

Byron Williams, Jr. with one of his performers (supplied).

Byron Williams, Jr. with one of his performers (supplied).

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is in holiday mode with her latest interview guest.

Season’s greetings, Displaced Nationers! You may be in full hibernation mode by now or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, perhaps you’re ready to hit the beach! Either way, I’d like to offer you some holiday cheer through this month’s column. My guest is singer, song-writer and long-term expat Byron Williams, Jr. Byron grew up in Miami, Florida, and Portland, Maine, before moving to Europe in the 1990s.

He started singing in a gospel choir when he was eight years old—and has been singing ever since. Since 1998 he has made his home in Fredrikstad, Norway, where he performs soul, jazz and rhythm ‘n’ blues with his duo/trio at all kinds of events: parties, anniversaries, festivals and more. He can go from Frank Sinatra to Barry White and everything in between.

During this cold and grey season, Byron has been spreading comfort and joy with his concert series “Christmas Joy N’ Soul.” Talk about holiday spirit!

Byron kindly agreed to share some of his culture shock experiences with us. Tune in as we talk about mistaken identities, language classes, mispronounced words and what to pack to get through awkward moments. Actually, as it’s the holidays, why not literally tune in to Byron? Click here to hear him croon…while you read on.

* * *

Hi, Bryon. Welcome to Culture Shock Toolbox. I know you were born in Miami and then went all the way north to Portland, Maine. Where have you lived abroad?

Spain (Mallorca) for three years and Norway (Fredrikstad) for almost 17 years.

In the course of your transitions into European cultures, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

When I moved to Norway back in 1998, I was getting off the train in Oslo and heading towards the central station, when a man approached me asking me something in Norwegian. And I, being the polite American, told him “No, I’m sorry and continued on my way to the station. He continued to ask me questions and I replied: “No, I do not have any money to give you.” As I was getting closer to the entrance to the station, he told me that he was a customs agent and needed to see my passport. I apologized to him for thinking that he was a beggar.

How did you handle that situation?

We both laughed and went our separate ways 🙂

Can you think of a situation you handled with finesse, and why do you think that was?

When I began to take Norwegian classes, I mispronounced the word for “brick” in English and what came out sounded like the Norwegian word for murder. Back then the words sounded the same to me and didn’t notice it. Then my teacher started laughing and told me that the words meant two totally different things 🙂 I laughed it off by saying that that’s what happens when you learn a new language.

You have to have a sense of humor in life.

If you had any advice for someone moving abroad for the first time, what tool would you suggest they develop first?

Carry a smile in your culture shock toolbox, it will take you further 🙂 And stock up on those smiley face stickers and emoticons for when you need a reminder!

smiley face toolbox

Thank you so much, Bryon, for taking the time to do this interview! As newbies in another culture, we aren’t always as inconspicuous as we’d like to be. Humor will definitely see us you through those awkward moments and make you feel more in harmony with yourself and your surroundings. Especially in this holiday season, why not crack a smile and try putting one on someone else’s face?!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Byron’s advice? If you like what he has to say, I recommend you visit his site, where you can peruse his music. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

And to keep you in that holiday spirit, listen to Byron’s tribute to Barry White:

As always, thanks for reading, Displaced Nationers! Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month/year. See you in 2016!

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Newbie expats, to keep waves of culture shock from crashing over you, practice the art of tacking

Culture Shock Toolbox Beth Green

Beth Green at a Buddhist temple in Cebu City in the Philippines, during Chinese New Year (supplied).

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is back with her latest interview guest.

Ahoy, Displaced Nationers! This month, fellow Displaced Nation columnist Beth Green takes us on a brief tour of her extensive, initially aquatic travels. You know how children test the waters? Well, Beth got to do that quite literally. That’s right, Beth spent her childhood on a sailboat! Doesn’t that sound mouth-watering? Though I must admit that with my predisposition for motion sickness I’d probably spend most of the time with my head over the railing.

Anyhoo, Beth now lives on land—in Prague, the Czech Republic—where she works as a freelance writer and English-language coach. She is also a member of the Sisters in Crime mystery writers’ association. Upon discovering she is a traveler, bookworm and lover of spookiness, I knew I had to interview Beth for this column! And luckily for us, she kindly agreed to share her culture shock stories.

Join us as we talk about opening a conversation with an apology, cringing at our own meltdowns, sending stuff back in restaurants (or not!), and working weekends to make up for weekday public holidays (say what?!). You never know, you may pick up a few items for your culture shock toolbox!

* * *

Hi, Beth. Welcome to my column! As a TCK and an ATCK, you’ve led a peripatetic life. Tell us a little about where you’ve lived…

I’ve never lived anywhere for very long! As a kid, I traveled with my parents on a sailboat. We were in the Caribbean for seven years and the South Pacific for two, with stops along the coastal United States in between. I went to high school in Alaska and to university in the continental USA, but my junior year of university I went to Spain on exchange for a year. That experience inspired me to move to Europe when I graduated and work for a bit. I lived in the Czech Republic for three years, where I met my now-husband (who’s Australian…of course!). Then, we moved to China together to teach English. We were there for four-and-a-half years all together—but with a break in the middle when we did a long backpacking tour of Southeast Asia and India that included living on an island in Thailand for five months. After touching down briefly in the Philippines and Thailand again, we’ve been back in the Czech Republic for the past two years.

In the course of these many transitions, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

Oh, sure! The first time I moved to the Czech Republic I quickly realized I needed to start every conversation in Czech with an apology. That way I could make up for the inevitable times when I forgot to whom I should give kisses on the cheek rather than shake hands, or failed to greet everyone properly (as is customary in many more situations in Central Europe than in other cultures—you say “hello” and “goodbye” even to strangers in elevators). China as well was a tricky place to stay on the right side of etiquette. Speaking of which, I can recall an embarrassing meltdown I had once in China after being served a mango-papaya smoothie (what I had actually ordered, I realized later) rather than a melon smoothie like I thought I was getting. I lost all kinds of “face” that day.

Art of European Cheek Kissing

Photo credit: Women kissing at bus stop in Paris, France, by Steven Depolo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

How should you have handled that situation? What if any tools have you developed to adapt to this kind of scenario?

What I should have done—and what I learned to do later when I inevitably ordered the wrong thing due to either fanciful names on the menu or my ham-tongued attempts to speak and understand Mandarin—was just to give my smoothie to someone else and order another one. In certain cultures, you just can’t send stuff back in a restaurant! In other words, I had to get better at tacking: that’s when you zigzag back and forth with your sailboat instead of sailing right into the wind. I had to reminding myself constantly that expect the unexpected and not to make too many waves. Like the time in China when I was told that we would all work on Saturday to make up for a public holiday on Monday. What? That’s considered normal? Well, this will be a fun story later! And, I’d better make a note to check my next contract veeerrry thoroughly!

Smoothie debacle collage

Photo credits: (Top) Charm- and confidence-boosting smoothie, Ghangzhou, China, by Cory Doctorow via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Breakfast (Shanghai, China), by Martin Slavin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); dissatisfied character via Pixabay.

Can you think of a situation you handled with finesse, and why do you think that was?

I feel like my latest move, back to Europe from Asia, went well because I made a decision not to hard on myself when the waters got choppy. I also decided to take measures right away that past experience had taught would help lower my stress; for instance:

  • hiring someone to help with my visa paperwork (instead of doing on my own);
  • asking for help finding an apartment instead of taking the DIY approach;
  • joining a co-working space right off the bat (even before the apartment) so that I had a quiet place to work even when everything else was up in the air; and
  • enrolling in a refresher language course.

Of course, I’m lucky that I had the option to do all of those things—not everyone will when they move cultures.

If you had any advice for someone moving abroad for the first time, what tool would you suggest they develop first and why?

This advice is easy to give and hard to follow: develop patience and also trust in yourself: you will make progress eventually. Patience for yourself for not “catching on” quickly to situations (I find that culture shock seems to lower your IQ a bit at first!), patience for local people who might not understand your expectations (even though they’re crystal clear to you), patience for the culture shock itself. If we go back to our sailing metaphor: By tacking, you move into the wind gradually. But the zigzagging doesn’t necessarily slow you down. You can learn to tack efficiently—that’s what I tried to do when seeking help for some of the more stressful challenges of settling back into life in Prague. Use your first few months wisely, and eventually your culture shock will go away! Tacking is the Blu-Tack of the culture shock toolkit.

Tacking is the Blu-Tack

Photo credits: Tacking upwind, by Tom Purves via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Old blu-tack packaging, by Clive Darra via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Thank you so much, Beth, for sharing your experience with us! Like you said, if you develop the sailor’s tacking skill, soon it’ll all be water under the bridge. Plus, as you also pointed out, you’ll have great travel yarns to share! In the end, it’s the situations that are most difficult to navigate that make for the best lessons, right?! That’s what I love about culture shock: the lessons we learn and the way our horizons shift as a result.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Beth’s advice? If you like what she has to say, I recommend you visit her Booklust, Wanderlust book review column here on the Displaced Nation, as well as her personal site. And as those who frequent her column know, she’s a social media nut: find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, when it comes to culture shock, it’s best to measure your progress in increments and be patient

Photo credit: Cecilia Haynes at Cappadocia, Turkey (supplied).

Photo credit: Cecilia Haynes at Cappadocia, Turkey (supplied).

For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews a fellow Adult Third Culture Kid and freelance writer, Cecilia Haynes.

Hello, Displaced Nationers!

I’d like to introduce you to this month’s guest: fellow Adult Third Culture Kid Cecilia Haynes. A self-described “state department brat,” Cecilia is the product of a Chinese mother and an American father. As she writes on the About page for her blog, Unsettled TCK:

Moving is all I have ever known.

Cecilia tells a number of stories about herself in one of her blog’s most popular posts, 10 TCK Quirks. I really like the first one, when she says she’d rather not admit how old she was when she discovered that “Visa” didn’t simply mean “that thing in your passport that allows you to go to different countries.” She says it took her a long while to realized it was a credit card brand as well. For me, this anecdote beautifully illustrates a line I keep seeing on social media that reads:

Collect memories, not things.

As an adult Cecilia continues to travel the world while making her living as a freelance writer, photographer, web moderator and editor. She’s the co-host of the awesome biweekly TCK chat on Twitter where participants discuss all things TCK. Her work has been published in The Worlds Within Anthology, The Places We’ve Been: Field Reports from Travelers Under 35 and Among Worlds.

Cecilia has kindly agreed to share some of her culture shock stories. Read on to find out where this seasoned traveler has lived, what she’s experienced—and the tools she recommends for others who are going through cultural transitions…

* * *

Hi, Cecilia. Welcome to The Displaced Nation! As a TCK and an ATCK, you’ve lived all over world. Tell us a little about those places…
I was born in Hong Kong and then we went to Calcutta, India, before moving to Taipei, Taiwan, for two years and then to Beijing, China, also for two years. That was before going to New Delhi, India, and then Mclean, Virginia, USA, each for four years. Then it was back to India (Chennai) for three years, and then on to Manila, the Philippines, for one year, where I graduated from high school. After high school I went to the University of Virginia for four years before moving to Hong Kong for a year and then backpacking around the Tibetan Plateau and northern India for about a year, after which I spent a year in Alanya, Turkey before finally moving to Florida, where I currently live.

Wow, that’s a lot of transitions! Did you ever accidentally transfer the wrong customs or behaviors to a new culture, thus ending up with your foot in your mouth?
I was brought up in so many cultures that weren’t my own that I was pretty culturally sensitive from an early age. Even in Hong Kong where my mom’s family lives and in Ohio where my dad’s family lives, I’m an outsider. I sometimes have this internal awkwardness as I feel out a new cultural situation. Take off shoes or leave them on? Eat with hands, chopsticks, or knife and fork? Moment of silence before eating—does that mean I have to pretend to pray or say amen? But I can’t really think of a truly humiliating cultural transition story where I acted out of turn. That said, I do have plenty of hilarious misadventure stories, such as sitting between two of the nastiest toilets you can imagine on a third-class train in southern India for eight hours(!).

Say amen take off shoes

Photo credits: (top) The big yawn, by Ali Edwards’s sister via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Please take off shoes when reading the paper, by antjeverena via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

It sounds as though you fit in everywhere you go, even on an Indian train! What tools do you use?
I model my toolbox on those around me. I observe the local people and mimic their actions. If I am truly confused, I will just ask since it’s better to err on the side of caution than make a social blunder through being overconfident. My number one rule is to be respectful of other people’s customs.

Indian train misadventures

Indian Railways, by Grey Rocker via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Absolutely, respect is paramount. Can you think of a situation you handled particularly well? 
Since I am a mix/hapa, I can blend into much of Southeast and East Asia, which means that local people often assume knowledge I don’t have. When you’re an invisible immigrant, you need some special tools. For instance, I’ve developed a certain finesse for handling the times when people approach me speaking the local language, asking for directions, or even just attempting to bond over food or jokes. Inevitably, they are disappointed when they think I have lost my cultural heritage and become “Americanized”—so I hasten to clarify I’m an outsider to their culture because I am only partially from the United States, the other part being from Hong Kong.

hapa predicament

Parsons Chameleon, by Leonora Enking via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

If you had any advice for someone moving abroad for the first time, what tool would you suggest they develop first and why?
I would tell them to develop patience. Maybe you need a folding ruler to measure your progress in stages. Be patient while you adjust to your new home as it won’t be the same as your old one. Be patient as you adjust to the customs of the local community because they are likely VERY different from what you are used to. The pace can be slower or faster, you may have access to less, and people’s ideas of personal space vary widely—those are just a few examples. And, most of all, be patient with yourself. It will take you a while to navigate and feel comfortable within a new cultural landscape.

Photo credit: Folding rule via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Folding rule via Pixabay.


Thank you so much, Cecilia! Observing and mimicking are two great tools to smooth over cultural transitions. Plus that’s part of the fun, in a way, to experiment with other kinds of behavior. Who knows? You might change your behavior permanently and maybe even your sense of identity if enough of the culture resonates. And three-pronged (for your home, the culture and yourself) patience will definitely help bring down any walls that may be preventing you from becoming a part of your new community. I love the idea of a folding ruler for measuring progress in increments: great tool!

* * *

Readers, what do you think of Cecilia’s advice about practicing patience and not trying to do everything at once? If you like what she has to say, I recommend you visit her professional site, ceciliahaynes.com, where you can find her blog, Unsettled TCK. You can also, of course, get to know her on Facebook and Twitter.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for the next fab post.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: The 5 top tools for handling the culture shock roller coaster

Photo credits: HE Rybol in Germany; book cover art (both supplied).

Photo credits: HE Rybol in Germany; book cover art (both supplied).

For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol presents some of the material from her book, Culture Shock: A Practical Guide. For those who are new to her column, H.E. is the product of a German dad and a French mom. She was raised as a Third Culture Kid and has lived in the United States, Luxembourg, England, Spain, Switzerland and Singapore. She currently resides in Luxembourg.

Hello, Displaced Nationers. This month I want to take you into the (sometimes too rapidly beating) heart of culture shock.

As those of you who have experienced it will know, culture shock is about a series of ups and downs. On the down side, a traveler may feel:

  • alienated
  • anxious
  • disconnected
  • nervous
  • vulnerable

On the up side, they may feel:

  • curious
  • excited
  • free
  • happy
  • fully alive

If you are a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that for the past few months I’ve been quizzing expats about their experiences with culture shock so that I can add to, as well as sharpen, the tools for easing the condition that I’ve collected in my so-called culture shock toolbox.

This month I’m going to share a few ideas that you can find in my book, Culture Shock: A Practical Guide; but first let’s do something to put us into a culture-shocked state of mind. To that end, I’ve devised a quiz based on one of my own experiences.

In fact, what happened was that I continued helping until another Singaporean man walked by and said, in a rough tone: “Only a foreigner would do that.” He pressed his palms together, bowed slightly, and thanked me. I could see my helping was making the man with the flyers really uncomfortable, so I stayed just a little longer and then, wishing him good luck and smiling kindly (which he probably didn’t see as he barely looked at me!), left. Later I asked my local friends to help me interpret this rather strange (to me) encounter. They told me Singaporeans are cautious and tend to mind their own business. Is that because of they live in a nanny state? Maybe, maybe not…

Photo credit: Marina Bay Shoppes, Singapore, by David Jones[https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones/11389053863/] via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Photo credit: Marina Bay Shoppes, Singapore, by David Jones via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Raw…but exhilarating!

When we go into culture shock, we are in free fall. Having exited from our comfort zone, we are stripped straight down to our core. Oftentimes we lose confidence in our ability to meet the most basic needs: What do I eat? Where do I sleep?  Who do I connect with? Where do I belong? Will I be safe?

Cognitive dissonance is a big part of the problem. Our ideas and the reality we find sur place don’t match—which can feel threatening.

But leaving our comfort zone also propels us into a moment of accelerated growth. As we slowly begin to make sense of all the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures—and interactions with others—we expand our minds to incorporate new perspectives. There is potential for us to learn compassion, kindness and gratitude. The experience may feel raw—but it can also be exhilarating.

Photo credit: Roller coaster via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Legoland roller coaster in Denmark,via Pixabay.

Some of you readers should know me well enough by now that you can predict the next step: I can hardly wait to open my toolbox and offer you some tips for achieving this potential for growth.

5 tools for handling the culture shock roller coaster:

1. Consider the benefits: The term “culture shock” often evokes negative connotations. But let’s turn that on its head and pretend for a moment we don’t need a toolbox. Simply ask yourself:

How have challenging cultural transitions positively impacted my life?

2. Use food as an icebreaker: Food is a great way to learn about a new country and connect with people over a shared need. Say, how about getting out those cooking tools? 🙂

3. Communicate: “Please”, “thank you”, and a smile go a long way in someone else’s culture. Learn some basic phrases in the new language before you take off. For sure, a small phrase book, pocket dictionary or app ought to be in that toolbox. While you won’t end up having an in-depth conversation about political or social issues right away, at least you’ve made a start. Also, given that most communication is nonverbal, don’t be afraid to use your hands and feet—always fun no matter how clumsy it might feel! Find out about body language. What’s the polite way to hail a cab? Beckon someone to come over? Is it rude or polite to look someone directly in the eyes? Observe.

4. Slow down: Treat the fact that you are entering a new culture as an opportunity to slow down and take it easy. Take time to adapt and go of any preconceptions. Think of this tool as a pressure valve: open it up and let go all of that stress and pressure out. Don’t force yourself to visit as many sights as you can—even if you feel obliged to do so. The point is to enjoy yourself, isn’t it? Allow yourself time to fully experience this transition.

5. Practice the art of being grateful: Seeing life from a different perspective is a wonderful way to learn to appreciate what we have been given, on the road as well as in the home we’ve left behind. Here are some of the things I’ve become grateful for while traveling:
• hot water
• clean water
• a bed
• access to fresh food
• restrooms
Mostly, though, I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers, conversations I had with people I met along the way, friends I made, lessons I learned—and the privilege of having had the opportunity to experience all this in the first place. As often as possible, use the tools you have at hand to open your mind to the good things that surround you.

* * *

Readers, I hope this has you “fixed” until next month. Until then. Prost! Santé!

Editor’s Note: The above post was adapted from Chapter 1 of H.E. Rybol’s Culture Shock: A Practical Guide. It is followed by six chapters full of tips:
1. How to deal with craving comfort
2. How to process new information
3. How to cope without autopilot
4. How to deal with difficult situations
5. How to deal with alienation
6. How to unite both worlds within yourself

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for the next fab post.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, if you hammer away at something long enough, you might just get used to it!

Culture Shock Toolbox Valerie Hamer
For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews displaced creative Valerie Hamer about her culture shock memories and coping strategies.

Hello Displaced Nationers! The moment I learned that this month’s guest, Valerie Hamer, goes by the moniker of “Faraway Hammer,” I knew she had to be on this column. After all, no toolbox worth its salt would be complete without a hammer, even a cultural one!

Forgive me for hamming it up, but I really believe that Valerie, who is “British by birth and a nomad by choice,” will have some great insights for us.

But before we get into that, let’s go over why she has chosen to go by the name of Faraway Hammer. As it turns out, that’s how people pronounce “Valerie Hamer” in Asia, where Valerie has lived for over fifteen years. She loves how her name sounds with an Asian accent, so much so that she decided to name her writing site after it. Head on over there and you’ll discover that although Val has been a “world citizen” for some time now, she still loves her native Britain, and although her passport says teacher, her heart says says writer—of non-fiction, because she thinks the lives of “ordinary, everyday, regular people” are “richer and more interesting than any fictional character.”

Further to which, Val is the author of two non-fiction books with amusing titles:

And now it’s time for the toolbox part. Valerie has kindly agreed to share some of her culture shock experiences with us. Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Valerie, and welcome back to the Displaced Nation. Now, I understand you were born and raised in the UK. But what about your alter-ego, Faraway Hammer? Where has she lived?

In Japan for seven years, Vietnam for a couple of months, and currently in year seven in South Korea.

In the context of transitioning from England to various Asian countries, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

I find language learning in a new country to be the thing that will get me into bother, usually when two words sound very similar. That’s how in Japan I once asked a shop assistant if there was poop inside the cakes instead of red beans!

Photo credit: Dorayaki, by Emran Kassim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Dorayaki, by Emran Kassim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Here’s another example. On public transport in Asia it’s normal to take and hold the bags of those standing, whether stranger or friend, if you are lucky enough to get a seat. The first time that happened to me I wrestled with the old lady trying to be helpful. I just assumed I was being mugged.

What does one do in a situation like that?

With my language gaffes I found people laughed as they actually appreciated my effort to speak. Having said that, such rookie mistakes have put me off learning Korean to any great extent. I don’t have the patience to go through that stage again. With the “bag helping” incident I would probably react the same way again in a new country/culture. Strangely, nothing I read or heard prepared me for that moment in Korea—perhaps people forget about such things when they adapt to a place, and forget to mention them?

Photo credit: Seoul Subway by Dale Ellerm via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Seoul Subway by Dale Ellerm via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Looking back on your transition from the UK to Asia, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I can’t think of any. As I said, I continue to remain stubbornly “western” in many ways, but it’s also true to say that I’ve adapted to many things and no longer think about them. If you hammer away at something for long enough…

If you had to give advice to someone who just moved to a new country, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

Develop a keen eye. You can learn a lot by being aware of ordinary interactions between locals.

Thank you so much, Valerie! I think you’ve hit the nail soundly on the head, so to speak. Language gaffes can be icebreakers if you don’t mind people laughing at your expense. And donning your safety specs to observe the details of everyday life before you plunge in: that’s an excellent way to smooth the rough edges of a cultural transition. But of course there will also be times when you just have to hammer away at it; progress isn’t always immediate.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Valerie’s advice? If you like it and appreciate her sense of humor, I suggest you visit her writing site and/or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She is currently working on her new Web site and her second book.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, if success in another country is what you’re after, throw the tools away and go for total immersion

Fiona Citkin for Culture Shock Toolbox
For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews displaced creative Fiona Citkin about her culture shock memories and coping strategies.

Hello, Displaced Nationers! Today I’m excited to introduce you to Fiona Citkin, who is a professional “diversiculturalist.” She runs her own consultancy on intercultural business competence and has written a major work on the link between intercultural competency and diversity in business, for which she was named Champion of Diversity in 2012.

Lately she has turned her attention to women leaders in the United States who are immigrants. These women came from other countries and “made” it in the world’s most competitive society, despite facing what Fiona calls “quadruple jeopardy”: 1) being women; 2) being mothers; 3) being ambitious; and 4) being foreign born. Fiona’s book is called Cracking the Code: How American Immigrant Women Leaders Achieve Success under Stress. If you’re curious to find out more, I urge you to follow her Huffington Post column, where she provides monthly reports on her research findings.

Fiona has experienced no small measure of that immigrant stress, and success, herself. She grew up and was educated in the Ukraine but has now made the leap to New Jersey.

Though Fiona is constantly on the go, I was able to catch up with her and ask her a few questions about her own culture shock experiences and tools for dealing with them. Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Fiona, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was born in Ukraine and lived there most of my life. I started a family; defended two doctorates; wrote an academic book on terminology and translation science; and became head of the English Department at Uzhgorod State University in Transcarpathia (Western Ukraine). I was a visiting professor at the Universities of Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Bern, Switzerland, etc.—and have attended many linguistic conferences all over Europe. The longest time I stayed abroad while living in Ukraine was for a teacher-study semester at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In short, I knew the taste of success in my homeland. And then I became a Fulbright Scholar to the United States, which gave me the experience of what it means to have one’s old life burn down and try to be a phoenix in a foreign land. As a newcomer in America, I have reinvented myself more than once.

In the context of transitioning from Europe to the United States, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

Here’s a story: I’ve been taught British English, like everybody in Europe. Learning the differences between the British and the American English seems funny now—but wasn’t then. For example, my co-worker Hugh, a friendly guy, suddenly started paying compliments to me, like “Oh, your pants are beautiful” – “Another pair of pretty pants, Fiona” – “I wish my fiancé had such nice pants as yours.” I felt confused and didn’t respond, because in Britain “pants” typically denotes ladies’ underwear…what does he want, I thought? Finally, a girlfriend explained to me that Hugh meant to praise my choice of what in Britain is referred to as “trousers.”

He likes my pants

Photo credit: Pixabay.

What does one do in a situation like that?

When I am not sure what to say, I say nothing and just smile.

Looking back on your transition from the Ukraine to the East Coast of the U.S., can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I hate to brag about “finesse” in cultural matters. No amount of time you live in your new/adopted country can guarantee your 100% integration and “finesse”—because deep down you’ll always be yourself, have a soft spot for your native land, and retain some inborn traits of your original culture. For my upcoming book I have interviewed 50 outstanding American women achievers who happen to be first-generation immigrants, so I have not only my own experience but also their accumulated know-how of how to handle cultural transition. The main fact is: cultural integration is a must for those who want to succeed in a new country.

If you had to give advice to someone who just moved to a new country, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

First, focus on strategies rather than tools, or tactics, because first things should come first, right? After twenty years of living and working in the United States, I have some worthy advice to share—and my books’ subjects have even more. To put it in a nutshell:

  1. Get the best education you can, hopefully in the field that’s most desirable in the host country (high-tech is the best for the USA).
  2. Learn the language BEFORE you come as an immigrant—but remember that culture trumps language, e.g., cultural integration is more important.
  3. Learn to be outgoing, friendly, and helpful to others; participate in the work of your local community.
  4. Be entrepreneurial—as this is the best way to sustain yourself: immigrants experience difficulties in getting jobs, everywhere.
  5. Last but not the least, use whatever your cultural heritage equipped you with to your best advantage.
American Flag and immigrant women successes

Photo credits: Ivana Trump, by Lloyd Klein via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Firma de Isabel Allende, by Pedro Cambra via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Gloria Estefan, by Louise Palanker via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). American flag by Pixabay.

Finally, before my book comes out, you can pick up ideas and pieces of advice from my monthly blogs at the Huffington Post.

Thank you so much, Fiona, for taking the time to share your culture shock stories. Developing an outgoing personality—but also knowing when to smile and say nothing—sounds to me like the kind of gauge or caliper we could all use in our cultural transitions. And if you’re in it to win it, so to speak, then it’s time to throw the toolbox away and immerse yourself, hook, line and sinker!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Fiona’s advice? It would be particularly interesting to hear from those who meet her quadruple stress test (woman, mother, ambitious, foreign) but still have managed to achieve some success: do you have anything to add to Fiona’s prescriptions?

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She is currently working on her new Web site and her second book.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, don’t throw away your old coping tools—they may come in handy for your new life abroad

For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews displaced creative Jessica Lipowski about her culture shock memories and coping strategies.

June 2015 Jessica Libowksi Culture Shock Toolbox
Hello, Displaced Nationers! I’m excited to introduce you to road-less-traveled (#TRLT) buff and foodie Jessica Lipowski. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Jessica moved to Amsterdam in February 2011 to be with her Dutch boyfriend, Matthijs. She has worked in a variety of jobs related to travel and is currently writing a non-fiction book that documents the stories of 83 entrepreneurs from 50 different countries who live in Amsterdam. They all have in common that they own restaurants in the city.

Jessica, who appreciates Amsterdam’s wide range of cuisines, has developed a curiosity about how all of these people ended up in the same industry, in the same city and with similar passions. As she writes on her site:

Why Amsterdam and how did so many people from every corner of the world end up in this small capital city? What drew them to the land of tulips and windmills?

But our focus today is not these expat restauranteurs but Jessica herself. While sampling Amsterdam’s rich cultural stew, has she ever had to put down her spoon owing to culture shock? And what tools did she use to restore her appetite?

* * *

Hi, Jessica, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I am originally from the United States, born and raised in the metropolitan Detroit area. I spent the first 23 years of my life in Michigan, apart from the two summer internships I completed in Washington D.C. In February 2011, I moved to the Netherlands and have resided in Amsterdam for the past four years.

In the context of transitioning from the United States into Europe, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

While working in sales and marketing for an online group travel platform, I often had to attend business meetings and conferences in Europe. I was a regular at one of these events, which took place four to six times a year. I soon developed a friendship with another regular, a Dutch woman, whom I’d always look forward to seeing. On one occasion when we met, she complimented me on the dress I was wearing. I thanked her and then, as I leaned in to share with her where I purchased the dress (I wanted to tell her I’d paid a relatively cheap price), she cut me off and said: “Oh, Jessica, you should never tell someone details like that.” I honestly thought she would appreciate hearing my story, but it turned out to be the kind of information that is supposed to be shared only with close friends.

I got a bargain! Shhh... Photos via Pixabay.

I got a bargain! Shhh… Photo credits: “Street signs of the nine Straatjes” on Wikimedia by JSpijer via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); other two photos via Pixabay.

What lessons can you offer to the rest of us from this story?

Instead of being offended, I smiled and apologized. I told my Dutch business acquaintance how much I appreciated that she’d corrected me, and I meant it sincerely, as it would keep me from making the same mistake again in future. I think a smile and an apology can go a long way in such situations. Of course it might have helped if I’d done more research beforehand on social customs and norms in various European countries. But if you haven’t done your research, then don’t be too proud to rely on business colleagues or local friends for advice.

Looking back on your transition from the United States to Holland, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I surprised myself with my commitment to learning Dutch. My first exposure to the language occurred when I met Matthijs, who is now my partner. When we started dating, I used Rosetta Stone intermittently; but then, once I made the move to Holland, I started taking private lessons once a week. Expats can get by quite easily in Amsterdam speaking just English as the Dutch start learning English at a young age and many speak the language quite well. However, I felt it was important to learn Dutch so that I could speak it with my partner’s family. It’s not easy but can be done. It all comes down to practice, practice, practice.

If you had to give advice to someone who just moved to a new country, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

I guess it would be pack some of your old tools. Because one of the most important things to do when you first arrive is to establish a routine. A routine will help you settle into a new country and feel at home. For instance, if you used to work out or do yoga, search for a gym or studio. Or maybe you always looked forward to grabbing a cup of coffee on the way to work. So find a favorite coffee house en route. Did you used to have an active social circle? Then make a point of joining a local meet-up group, a sports team, classes or other activities where it’s relatively easy to make friends and develop a support system. It will make the transition that much easier.

Thank you so much, Jessica, for taking the time to share your culture shock stories with us. Leaning on local friends for advice and re-establishing small personal rituals or routines: those are two nifty tools that can ease the initial stress of changing countries.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Jessica’s advice? Have you ever found yourself in a situation in your life abroad where you thought, “I should have done more research”? Do tell!

If you like what you heard from Jessica, be sure to check out her writer’s site and/or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She is currently working on her new Web site and her second book.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: How to pry open your mind to new cultures—and keep them all sorted

Yelena Parker for CST Displaced Nation Columnist H.E. Rybol never saw a culture clash she didn’t want to fix. A “transitions enthusiast,” she credits her Third Culture Kid upbringing with giving her a head start in this department. That said, H.E. is always on the lookout for shiny new tools, and toward that end has been interviewing other displaced creatives about their culture shock memories and coping strategies. Today she speaks to Yelena Parker, a Ukrainian expat, executive coach, and writer who, through her many international moves, claims to have mastered the art of “moving without shaking.”

—ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers! I’d like you to meet today’s guest, businesswoman and author Yelena Parker. Yelena is Ukrainian but has lived in the United States, Switzerland, Tanzania and now the United Kingdom, and has conducted business in many more countries. Last year she published a book titled Moving without Shaking, which made the Displaced Nation’s “Best of 2014 in Expat Books” list. Described as a “guidebook-meets-memoir,” it aims to help women “who are interested in building their new global life styles whether through working, studying, volunteering or simply living abroad.”

One of Yelena’s contentions is:

Once you are on a serial expat path, new relocations get easier.

Can we take this to mean it’s possible to get better at handling culture shock?

Let’s find out by asking Yelena to describe a few of her own culture shock experiences. She may advocate for moving without shaking; but how does that line up with her own adventures? Has she never shaken like a leaf at some point during her various international moves?

* * *

Hi, Yelena! First can you please tell us which countries you’ve lived in and for how long?

I came to California from Ukraine in my 20s to get an MBA and ended up living there for more than nine years. I didn’t make it till the very end of year 10 as an opportunity came along to relocate to Switzerland for work. After two years in Geneva I moved to London to continue working in tech. I’ve now lived in the UK for four years, only interrupted by a four-month volunteering stint in Tanzania, with a Kilimanjaro climbing break in between.

You’ve certainly made your fair share of cultural transitions. Did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Any memorable stories?

I travel to Moscow frequently for work. During the last trip the taxi driver asked me where I was from. This question is always complicated since, like many here at the Displaced Nation, I now feel as though I’m from everywhere and nowhere in particular. I tend to focus on the most recent location when giving an answer. To be polite, I share where I am coming from literally (versus where I am from). On this occasion, the last port of call was St. Petersburg, which in Soviet times was known as Leningrad. Some wires in my brain must have crossed as I blurted out: “From Leningrad.” The driver said “Really???” We ended up engaging in a much longer conversation, about my Soviet childhood in Ukraine and so on. I think I had a reverse culture shock reaction after being away from where I grew up for so long.

What lessons can you offer to the rest of us from this story?

It’s a bit of a strange example, but what I am trying to get across is that keeping your life truly connected to multiple worlds is very difficult. You are bound to lose some of your identity, forget the basics, replace them with new realities and then, perhaps, come full circle as you find yourself back in your good old comfort zone. You and your memories have many layers now. It can be challenging to keep them sorted. That toolbox of yours needs to have quite a few compartments!

Looking back on your many cultural transitions, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

Moving to Tanzania, I was surprised at how quickly I embraced the pole pole (slowly-slowly) way of life. Until I went on this amazing adventure, I had always been a workaholic. But then I found myself living enjoying the most beautiful sunsets and spending a lot of time talking to people in front of me instead of using various digital ways to connect with people remotely. I didn’t complain about the lack of speedy or efficient services anywhere as I no longer expected that kind of thing. I was not rushed or overwhelmed so wasn’t concerned about being late or other people being late or not showing up to meetings. I just enjoyed every moment of this new experience: no deadlines, no crazy work hours, only things I truly wanted to do. You could say I felt burnt out after working non-stop (or being in school) for 23 years. I do believe, however, that something in that culture was appealing to my natural preferences, which had been suppressed by years of working in the corporate world. I also realized that I wanted to teach again. My first career was in teaching English at a university level in Ukraine—work I’d chosen to abandon when I took a degree in business. That said, I am back on the corporate path again.

If you had to give advice to new expats, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first
and why?

I guess it would be some kind of crowbar to pry open your mind to new experiences, no matter how many times you relocate. Learn everything you can about your new home country. Explore it thoroughly. If you end up moving back home, you will regret that you didn’t do enough. If you stay, the more you learn, the easier your assimilation into your new life is going to be.

Thank you so much, Yelena, for taking the time to share your experiences and reminding us that keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn about other cultures can be effective tools, sometimes in unexpected ways! I love your example of becoming immersed in an East African culture and learning more about your own (suppressed) natural preferences as a result. And I of course love the idea of moving without shaking! That’s what this toolbox is for…

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Yelena’s advice? Have you ever found yourself having a Rip-Van-Winkle moment like hers? How about discovering your “true self” in a vastly different culture? Do tell!

If you like what you heard from Yelena, be sure to check out her author site and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She is currently working on her new Web site and her second book.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

%d bloggers like this: