Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Leeds, UK
An American expat in Leeds appreciates the NHS and good public transportation, but has had difficulty finding a job of a similar level to what she had in the US and adjusting to the expensive housing with limited storage.
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?
I was lucky to have worked here for a year before making the final move. So I had a good idea what to expect.
Moving to UK soon?
If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?
The language is supposedly the same but the local accent is sometimes difficult to understand!
Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?
How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?
There is always something you weren't expecting. A lot of Americans find they miss the food (especially Mexican-type) but that wasn't such an issue for me. When I first arrived the culture reminded me of what the US was like when I was a child. But now it all seems much more Americanized with a lot more cars, American TV shows and so on.
Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?
Yes, at first I was just happy to observe the differences, then I suppose I made more of an effort to blend in and resented other Americans. Then I reached a stage where I stopped thinking of being "foreign". Having recently made a second move after an interim back in the US, I find I still have some culture shock -- and part of that is shock at how the UK has changed since I've been away.
What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.
I think there is depression when you realize this is for keeps. There is a sense of loss -- that you are no longer the person you once were. There are some things you don't even think about until you go back to the US and realize you missed them. For example, we would go back usually in the cooler months but the first time I went back in summer I realized I missed seeing all the wild flowers (even weeds!) and birds that are not found in the UK.
What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?
The main plus for me is the NHS. I was lucky to have good health insurance in the US and was close to top-notch hospitals and doctors. But many Americans have had to live with poor health care or none. The Affordable Care Act is in the throes of changing that, whereas the UK has provided full coverage for everyone for a long time at no point-of-service cost. The other thing I appreciate is good public transportation.
What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?
The greatest difficulty I had was in finding a job at the level I had had in the US. Another challenge is getting used to housing. Space is at a premium and very few houses provide the storage that Americans are used to.
Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!
I once stayed with an English couple and offered to wash the dishes after the meal. They were totally amazed that I scrubbed out the tea pot!
Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?
Be open to new experiences. You can't expect everything to be just like home -- nor would you want to.
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