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Adjusting to Expat Life

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Adjusting to life abroad can be a challenge. We recently asked members to share their experiences with settling in and culture shock.

Moving Overseas - Adjusting to Expat Life

Last week we posted a note on all of our country forums, entitled "Adjusting to Expat Life in...". Here are a few replies to date. To share your own experiences adjusting to expat life in your country, go to your country forum and find the topic "Adjusting to Expat Life in..."

"I could go on for DAYS about this topic!" -- Fsutrill in France

When you moved to France, what was the most difficult part of settling in there?
All the paperwork to get an apartment and a bank account and the things concerning the carte de sejour and the lack of information about what is needed document wise.

How much difficulty did you have with culture shock in France?
It came and went. I will say that for our first 6 months or so, at 6pm every evening, my husband and I became EXTREMELY cranky, like that was all the French we had in us and everyone could just bite us! The hardest parts of culture shock were actually on the days when I decided I liked France, because I would start feeling guilty and disloyal and un-patriotic.

What would be the best, single piece of advice you'd give to an expat (or soon to be expat) in France?
"If you have any way at all to hook up with an expat in the area where you will be living, DO IT. It really depends on how long you plan to be in France. If you are short term (~2-3 yrs or less), you probably won't invest as much in language-learning and 'integration', so you'd probably be very grateful to get involved in your city's American Club. If you are here for the long haul and have kids, putting them in the local village school is the quickest way to make friends in the what's seen as an impenetrable network, the French village! Before you leave, read "French or Foe" by Polly Platt first, and if you like that kind of book, "Culture Shock: France" is good. If you are coming to work here, "Au Contraire" is an EXCELLENT resource for figuring out how the French office works (it's like French or Foe, but targeted more towards the work side of France).

I guess how to best handle culture shock and how it manifests itself depends mostly on why you are here. Someone who is transferred here for work isn't going to necessarily feel the same sorts of things that someone who chose to move here would feel. That isn't to say one is better or worse, more valid or not than the other, just different. Laugh a lot, get used to feeling stupid, throw yourself on the mercy of the French people around you and you will have a much better time! -- Fsutrill in France

"I became the "dependent spouse" at the health centre" -- Gilliankew in Hong Kong

When you moved to Hong Kong, what was the most difficult part of settling in there?
Suddenly being considered only in relation to my husband - I became the "member's lady" at the Jockey Club, the "dependent spouse" at the health centre and I was addressed by my marred name only, despite keeping my maiden name. It was very frustrating and humiliating.

How much difficulty did you have with culture shock in Hong Kong?
Not much, but I take a broad view - where other people see difference I search for connection. I married into a very traditional Chinese family so there was much to learn.

What would be the best, single piece of advice you'd give to an expat (or soon to be expat) in Hong Kong?
If you are considering a move, do your research - SCMP online for Hong Kong news and issues is a good start, along with questions posted here. If you are already here, embrace the diferences and look for the connections - it I hear one more comment about Chinese "face" I'll scream; we all have "face", pride, whatever; we al want to be treated with respect and a little kindness. Remember that in all your dealings and you won't go far wrong! -- Gilliankew in Hong Kong

"My most difficult experience thus far has been adjusting to certain prejudices" -- Salgrad in Jordan

When you moved to Jordan, what was the most difficult part of settling in there?
My most difficult experience thus far has been adjusting to certain prejudices - being treated a certain way. Being of Chinese heritage, certain individuals that I have come in contact with, automatically assumed that I am a 'maid' or should be treated as such, & have tried to take advantage of me.

How much difficulty did you have with culture shock in Jordan.
Other than the first point, not really too much culture shock, my husband & I have lived in other diverse countries & Amman overall is a very livable city.

What would be the best, single piece of advice you'd give to an expat (or soon to be expat) in Jordan?
Be aware of your situation & surroundings. Jordan in general is a safe & friendly country, however be respectful of the religious aspects of the country. Have an open mind & be ready to adapt (accept) the diverse customs that are here. If one is unwilling to do this, it will be a hard stay for you. Hope this helps. -- Salgrad in Jordan

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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First Published: May 21, 2009

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