Moving Abroad: 5 Tips for Overcoming Your Initial Culture Shock

May 28, 2015
Moving Abroad: 5 Tips for Overcoming Your Initial Culture Shock

I recently graduated from graduate school at the University of Florida (Go Gators!) and figuring out my next step seemed to be such daunting task. I had been in school for about six years, and the idea of not being a student anymore was horrifying. I was not ready for a big girl job and was figuring out the best direction to take next. Queue my quarter-life crisis.

Roads lead to many places and the last place I thought I'd end up would be Mexico. Streetview in Tehuacan, Mexico.
Roads lead to many places and the last place I thought I’d end up would be Mexico. Street view in Tehuacan, Mexico.

I had always wanted to move abroad but I was not sure how to even start the process. I started reading travel blogs and a friend suggested that I look into teaching English. I started to apply to any country that interested me and sure enough, I got responses back.

I chose a position teaching English in Tehuacan, Mexico, which is about 4.5 hours south of Mexico City. Not only am I changing, but so is my everyday life. Running to the grocery store is different, as is grabbing dinner with friends. These changes have impacted me in ways that I never expected. Below are the top five things you should keep in mind before moving abroad:

Moving Abroad: 5 Tips for Overcoming Your Initial Culture Shock

1. Cultural awareness is key.

When you move to another country, so many aspects of life are different. This may seem like a given but it took me a solid week to realize that I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. You are no longer is Kansas anymore, and understanding basics about your new culture’s food, language and customs can be very helpful.

Learning where to get your food, how to use local mass transportation, and learning basic greetings can all put you and the locals more at ease. Ask your host family or locals who speak your native language, or observe interactions when you’re out.

Eating authentic food and coffee at a local eatery.
Eating authentic food and coffee at a local eatery.

2. Language barriers can be broken down.

After a 10-hour day of traveling, I encountered someone who did not speak a lick of English. I was trying to purchase a connecting bus ticket, and I was tired, hungry and ready to be at my final destination. After many hand gestures and pointing to the bus schedule, I successfully purchased my bus ticket and was on my way.

There will be a point where you may not speak the same language as the person you are talking to. Do not fret. Be patient and show something in writing or a map if you can. Speak slowly and whatever you may need you will get.

3. Don’t worry, you will meet people who have similar interests.

Depending on whether you have a job, volunteer position or are working for a non-profit or local school, you will find people who have similar interests as you. I was worried that I would not find a weekend travel buddy or people to grab dinner with while in Mexico, but I just got back from a weekend trip with fellow teachers.

People who are living abroad have at least a few similar interests as you because they are in the same position as you: living and/or working abroad. Strike up conversation and see where it goes.

4. Make yourself comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Being a white female in a place with few white people has made me realize that women are not treated the same as they are back in the United States. Even though Mexico is our southern neighbor, I have never felt so uncomfortable as I have walking down the street with everyone’s eyes on me or hearing catcalls from passing cars.

As long as you are with a group or walk like you are on a mission, you’ll be fine. I realized that I have to be confident as a strong female traveler and be extra aware of surroundings. Being comfortable in an uncomfortable situation will make you exuded confidence, which can ultimately be your greatest asset.

5. Don’t have expectations.

Just take things for what they are. I am a first-time English teacher, I’m living abroad, I’m not used to seeing massive pig heads at the market, and my Spanish is a bit rusty at the moment. It will take time to adjust in multiple areas of your life. Adjusting takes time and patience. Don’t be hard on yourself. Make time for yourself to calm down and feel comfortable again. Read a book, drink a cup of tea, find a local gym to sweat it out; whatever you need, do it.

Transitions to new cultures can take time but think about all of the positive future experiences you will have after this potential rough patch. Everything will work out in the end.


Photos for Moving Abroad: 5 Tips for Overcoming Your Initial Culture Shock by Pixabay and Angela C.

About Angela Colonna

Angela Colonna is a Minnesota native and a Florida Gators fan. Her hobbies include traveling, eating cheese, having fabulous conversations over a glass of red wine, hiking and being outdoors as much as possible. She enjoys the Latin culture and exploring countries south of the United States. Her next steps are to explore Asia and Europe.

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