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Livin’ Solo – Adjusting to Culture Shock

Updated: Oct 9, 2019

“Culture shock isn’t only when you move away from home – but when you return and find that home is not as how you remember it.” ~ Me

As in my last blog about living alone and incorporating cooking into your day-to-day life, I’ve understood that in moving away from your family, and moving to another part of the world can result in a culture shock. You don’t have to shift to a completely different part of the world to experience this though, you can simple move from one state to the next, in which the practices and norms expected out of there are so vastly different from the ones you are used to.

When I first came to Dubai after having lived and grown up in Malawi for 18 years, I knew I would experience some culture shock – it was natural and to be expected. However the degree of which I faced it came as a surprise to me. I’m sure you can imagine the contrast – the high-rise buildings and fast-paced life of Dubai, to the serene small-town-like country nestled as the Warm Heart of Africa; naturally the differences are all too vivid.

You see, being far away from home isn’t the only factor that makes it challenging. The concept of the term “culture shock” is being familiar to one’s own ethnicity or way of living, and then seeing and learning to adapt to a different perspective. Similarly, I was foolish enough to believe that I would be able to minimise the culture shock when I moved to New Zealand; yet it took me a good 4 months to settle in and make some friends. Hence you could question, do you really ever overcome it? If you keep moving from place to place, does that help? I personally don’t know; I’m not yet in that position to say anything, but I’m welcoming thoughts on this. 🙂

Are you planning to make changes on a permanent basis? Or even just for college? Do take a look at my tips below that I believe will be able to help you in overcoming culture shock. 🙂

1. Be patient with yourself

Adjusting to a new place takes time, it takes consistent effort as well as a combination of lonely days and happier days in order to be able to adapt to your unknown environment. Be patient with yourself, and understand that even through the bitter days of solitude, you will get through it too. It’s challenging to defeat culture shock overnight, and hence time, as with several things in life, is important.

2. Find new hobbies

Having said my above point, I do believe that it’s important to keep yourself occupied in activities that will allow you to not dwell in your loneliness, as that can lead to a downward spiral of negative thoughts. So find new hobbies – you never know what you might find yourself interested in! Relish in this newfound independence and take it to another level by building on another skill or pastime. And who knows! – You may actually make new friends and discover something completely unexpected of yourself in the unfamiliarity of something different.

My snippet: I discovered from being unable to travel alone in fear of things going wrong, I ended up loving the solitude and the opportunity to go on a solo trip. 

2. Stay true to yourself

When you move to a new place, the excitement of the novelty of your surroundings can sometimes be overwhelming and cause you to make decisions that you would have not otherwise. Although it’s important to adjust to culture shock, it’s also significant to note that you stay true to yourself and your values – whatever those may be. In your attempts to make new friends and try and speed up the process of overcoming culture shock, don’t succumb to peer pressure just because you would like to ‘fit in’.

3. Keep communicating

Whether it’s with your family, or your International support system (if you’re in college),  – keep yourself occupied and busy. Don’t allow yourself to enter into a shell because you’re afraid that you won’t make friends or you don’t want to put yourself out there. Although I did say in point 2 to not lose your values, it’s important that you really push yourself to go out there. The scary feeling of this cultural change won’t automatically go away; and the more you make friends or talk about how this is affecting you either to your family or friends – gain the support that you do need! – is important so that you don’t close in on yourself.

4. Racism sucks

In this world, we’ve moved far along in our communication and education about racism. But it’s a constant movement, and one that we still have to make progress with. You may or may not see the adjustment of other’s in your workplace/college place making friends easier or having gotten everything right, and assume that, ‘Oh, it’s because they have a certain skin colour.’ Perhaps, although not always – yet that is the part that is pitiful. The part that is not though?

You can make a difference.

Just because one individual didn’t treat you right doesn’t mean you do the same back to their ethnicity or their culture; remember, when you move to a new place there’s the possibility of seeing a community of diverse ethnicities. Be open to talking to them, learn about their background, what they’ve faced in their upbringing – imagine how fascinating of a conversation it would be where you can learn about another culture altogether! And also, don’t assume that because someone looks like they come from the same culture you do that they have the same upbringing; every individual is different and each have their own background. You might be surprised as to what you learn when you talk to someone.

Allow your cheeks to smile when you meet someone new; that smile could be the difference you make and maybe that will turn into a friendship that could last for a long time.


My little snippet: In my experience, having a girl come and sit next to me on the first day of college and looking like she was about to fall asleep (although she claims I was looking depressed) – and lending a pen to a guy 6 months into college who I’d never interacted with (let alone seen!) have provided me with the two best friends who stand by me today. So here’s a small dedication for the two of you – you know who you are; thanks for making my college life and post-college life all the more better. ❤  

Did I miss out on anything? Share some of your things that helped you move past culture shock if you’ve experienced it!

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