How to Deal with Culture Shock

 17 Sep 2018 | Veronica

You’ve been in Hong Kong a few days, weeks, or months, you post online about this amazing adventure you’re on, and in so many ways it’s all the excitement you imagined. And then there are moments that you (perhaps inexplicably) feel disoriented, detached, depressed, isolated.

It may be the way your colleagues and managers communicate at work.

It may be going to the grocery store and products are arranged in different aisles.

It may be not knowing where or how to run an errand that should be so simple.

Maybe it’s hearing Cantonese all day, and your brain is exhausted from straining to understand something, anything.

Despite how many places you’ve travelled or lived in, or even how long you’ve been there, culture shock can hit unexpectedly and inexplicably. It’s okay.

So how to deal with culture shock?

1. Make friends with locals and learn/read as much as you can about Hong Kong.

The more familiar your surroundings are the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel walking around. Keeping up with the news and local issues is a great place to start.

2. Learn Cantonese (even basics)

Communicating with non-English speakers may exacerbate feelings of being a stranger in a strange place. Making the effort to learn the basics will help build friendly relationships with staff and employees in your neighbourhood.

3. Don’t be afraid to indulge in comforts from home.

Sometimes, you just don’t have the energy to take part in the local culture and experience. It’s okay to indulge on familiarity without getting stuck in a bubble. Eat at a Western restaurant in SoHo (or McDonalds!), buy groceries from Marks & Spencer (or USelect which sells Tesco products!), and attend a meetup group for people from your nationality. Find what works for you, and use it.

4. Explore a new area.

It’s hard to feel out of place in the neighbourhood you live in. Counter it by seeking out a new area of the city, one that is meant to feel out of place. Wander around, get lost, and enjoy the adventure of travelling to remind yourself why you moved abroad in the first place!

5. Learn a new skill.

Signing up for a class will build routine into your after-work life, expose you to new communities, and help adjust to your life in the city before you know it.

6. When possible, take a vacation out.

Similar to exploring a new area, when you’ve left and gone to an entirely new country (and a whole other culture shock!) you’ll be surprised by how familiar Hong Kong feels when you come home.


As a Canadian, my go-to culture shock buster is to get a (not like home, but close enough) poutine from Triple O's. What do you do?


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