The Expat life: How to deal with culture shock

Article by Karen Arango


Arriving in China is rife with expectations and emotions: the sadness of leaving our country, family, work and friends, and the happiness that is produced by new life opportunities, travel and experiencing a new place. All expats experience culture shock. These are some recommendations to deal with it and adapt to our new lives.

1 Recognize and measure up all that you have to be happy about.

It’s a new day; you are alive; you can walk; you have something to eat; and the possibility to call or write to your family or friends. You have a roof over your head. You can feel completely fortunate and grateful because most people do not have your privileges.

2 Open your mind to the experience, respect and learns from the differences

Not judging or identifying everything as “bad” or “negative” facilitates the cultural understanding process. Learn and be part of the customs and events in your new environment, ask questions respectfully, read about their history and behaviour, study the language, all these things will help you to integrate.

3 It’s your decision

In China, in your country and anywhere in the world you can find communication difficulties, as well as differing points of view and behaviours. This can generate frustration, ire and sadness. It’s your decision to allow the challenges of human coexistence help you be more patient, tolerant and respectful and grow as a person to contribute something positive to your environment, or otherwise to let these convert you into a sad, disillusioned person.

4 Take part in activities for foreigners

The expat community in China is always getting bigger. Magazines, WeChat groups, and the Internet can help you find a lot of sport and cultural activities, trips, dinners, and parties, which allow you to extend your support network. When you meet new friends they share their own experience and they become your company in special days. In that way, you will not feel alone. In these meetings people share information about jobs, studies, important addresses, residence processes, shops which sell imported products and more.

5 Identify your emotions

You have two options: you are happy in your new environment and with your daily routine; you have a group of friends, know the culture, and participate in the city activities. You identify living in China as positive or otherwise you feel sad all the time. You are just in contact with your friends and relatives in your country; you aren’t motivated to go out to explore the city, meet new friends or study the language. The culture and customs are very annoying, your activities are only drinking alcohol, using drugs, watching TV and sleeping.

6 Get help

When the cultural shock is persistent and you can´t adapt to the new country it is time to do something: take new decisions, express your feelings, get help in a support group and start seeing a psychologist.

Karen Arango

Karen is a psychology graduate from the Javeriana University, Cali Colombia. She studied her post graduate degree at Barcelona Autonomous University, Spain. She has eight years of experience teaching classes of human development and atmosphere management in businesses, and giving therapies for families, children and couples in Colombia, Spain, England and China. She’s lived in Xi’an for two year with her husband. If you are interested in a consultancy or would like to contact Karen for any other reason you can reach her at or WeChat: karenito1.