Culture shock for expats abroad
Culture shock! Photo: iStockPhoto

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Expats’ biggest culture shocks revealed

What’s been the biggest culture shock for you in moving abroad (if you have)…

Culture shock for expats abroad
Culture shock! Photo: iStockPhoto

When moving abroad, one factor that often isn’t anticipated is the differences in culture around the world. For instance, South Africans who relocate to LA are shocked to discover that a casual ‘pop in’ is NOT appreciated! And in South Korea, SA expats are quite taken aback at first by what seems like extremely personal questions.

Other nations have totally different traditions and customs to ours, and it takes a while to acclimatise!

A recent study of expats from around the world, revealed that 60% of overseas employees need at least a year to adapt to a new working environment. The research also found that one in six expats from various countries that move to the USA struggle with the difference in culture.

A former Hong Kong resident, who moved to Pittsburgh, USA, at 18 to attend University, told researchers she was shocked that people addressed their friends’ parents by their first name. “I remember addressing my friend’s mum as “Mrs. Fairman” and her response was “call me Jan, Mrs. Fairman is my mother.”” Said Viveca Chow. “This was a HUGE shock because addressing someone’s parents by their first name seems extremely disrespectful to me. In Hong Kong (similar to South Africa), we would call our friend’s parents “Auntie” or “Uncle.” If we wanted to use their first name, we would always have to say “Auntie Anna.” I’ve been in the US for 11 years and this still makes me uncomfortable.”

For Viveca, it was also a shock to see people wearing shoes in the house. Meanwhile for a Texan who moved to Denmark with her family in 2016, the biggest culture shock she experienced was “the openness to nudity” – where adult magazines were not covered in plastic and on the top shelf like in the US. She also found more TV shows in Denmark showing women topless or completely naked. Karalee said: “There are also advertisements on the side of buses with breasts for everyone walking around outside to see.” She is also struggling to adapt to shared changing rooms with other women who walk around naked, and even some beaches where “it is generally allowed to bathe naked”.

A travel expert at advises:

“One of the best ways of dealing with culture shock is for expats to fully immerse themselves in their new culture. This could be through learning the local language, engaging in cultural activities, or even meeting up with friends and fellow expatriates. Most importantly, give yourself time and keep an open mind and a positive attitude towards your new culture.”

If you’ve moved abroad, what’s been the biggest culture shock for you? Let us know (anonymously if you prefer):