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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Visaginas, Lithuania

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?

No, no preparation whatsoever

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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?

They speak mainly Russian in this part of Lithuania, and although I had learned a few phrases in Lithuanian, I've had to start learning Russian as well, which was a huge shock for me.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

I didn't have much time to be worried, I had less than a week between hearing about this posting and actually starting work.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Not so bad for me because I had travelled to Soviet Russia in the 1980's, so I was prepared for some of it - the concrete landscape, the shortages, the 'closed-in' atmosphere of this part of the country. But it is so different to Vilnius that if I had researched the country, I would have been disappointed by what I found out here.

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, I did - and I would also add that there is a sort of 'climate shock'. I arrived in late March with still a metre of snow on the ground, and I wasn't prepared for the sudden onset of the summer (there was almost no spring) which was a lot hotter than I had imagined, or the short autumn, which seems now to be over. I'm apprehensive about the forthcoming five months of extreme weather in the winter.

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've become more timid, I think - I'm aware that whole days can go by without my speaking to anyone other than my partner when he gets back from work. He's part of a small group of expats, and I'm the only wife. So it can be weeks before I get the chance to talk to another woman face-to-face, which can be very isolating. And our lives seem to have shrunk with the onset of winter - even at weekends we don't get about very much unless we take the decision to drive 2.5 hours to Vilnius.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

It's cleaner, more peaceful than in the UK. There seems to be less friction in the air, and it's almost like going back in time to a simpler life. The countryside can be quite beautiful in a truly unspoilt manner, and the children are delightful. I'm also very grateful for the high-speed reliable internet connection, which keeps me sane and allows me to manage our lives back in the UK.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Without doubt, the language. I can get most of the things I need, although good quality clothing and bedding are in short supply here. I also miss the opportunity to meet new people, there is a lack of 'cultural opportunity' in this town.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

I've become paranoid about gender and toilet facilities - I assumed that most washrooms would be unisex as they are throughout mainland Europe, so I blithely sailed into more than one 'gents' by mistake, which embarrassed the occupants more than it did me.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Don't rely on country-wide guides, be aware that in many countries there is a significant variation in culture, language, history, expectations .... between areas. I read what some expats have written about their life in Vilnius, the advice they give, and it may be fine for that city, but it's very very different outside the capital.

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