TN4: How to manage culture shock. With Clara Wiggins.

In this episode, I brought to you a special guest to share with you some great tips on how to deal with culture shock. Her name is Clara Wiggins.


Clara is born in Cuba to British diplomats and traveled her whole life, she lived in 11 countries and 5 continents! She has been living abroad as a child, as a single adult and as an expat partner. Clara and her husband have two daughters and they just moved very recently to South Africa. After a career in journalism and diplomacy, Clara manages today a journal called the International Journal of Birth and Parent Education, she is also the author of a great book that I highly recommend to you: the Expat Partner Survival Guide.

clara wiggins

Experiencing culture shock as an expat in a host country can be a huge challenge. If we don’t learn how to manage it and to overcome this culture shock it can have quite a negative impact on our experience abroad. We definitely don’t want to end up leaving with a feeling of frustration, disappointment and sometimes hate towards the host country. That is why it was important for me to bring to you some guidance if you are going through a culture shock, some insights on how to detect that you are going through it and how to adapt to a new country and a new culture.

In this episode, Clara shares her definition of culture shock and the 4 stages that she found out most people go through. Some go through all of them, some go through only few of them and others go through these stages in different orders:

  • The wonder and honey moon phase.
  • The negotiation phase.
  • The adjustment phase.
  • The acceptance phase.

Clara also shares some great tips to deal with these different phases and with culture shock in general:

  • Be aware of the culture shock and in particular on the "cycle" that you are likely to experience before you arrive in your new location. It is a lot easier to deal with if you recognize it for what it is and what the symptoms are.
  • Realize that things very likely will be difficult (possibly very difficult) at the start, but that they will almost certainly get better, usually between 3-6 months of arrival
  • It is very normal to get angry with your host nation and their way of doing things, especially in the early days. You will find fault with even the most easy-going of nationalities because they don't do things the same way as you are used to back home. Gradually this will lessen as you start to get used to the way things are done.
  • Find a way to let off steam. For some, the best way of doing this is with other expats who understand what you are going through. For others, they prefer to stay away from negativity, so would prefer to let off steam in other ways (perhaps by talking to family back home).
  • If you can't find real life people to talk to, don't forget there are plenty of online places to meet others.
  • Look after yourself. Try to stay healthy, eat regularly and exercise regularly. If you are working long hours try and do something totally different at the weekend. If you are the stay-at-home or non-working partner, look for ways to meet other people. For example at the gym, in book groups, through voluntary work, photography or cookery classes... etc. If you can find a hobby where you "do" something with the locals you may find it easier to bond.
  • Recognize that children can also be affected by culture shock, although it may manifest itself in different ways than in adults. In particular their behavior may deteriorate or they may start going backwards again. For example: wetting the bed, getting up in the night... etc. Teenagers in particular can be very badly affected as this is a difficult time in their lives anyway. Keep a close eye on how they are taking things and if necessary seek professional help.
  • If you fear that you might be experiencing something more than culture shock and sliding into depression, speak to someone. If necessary seek professional help. There are more and more counselors who work online and have particular experience of working with expats, don't be afraid to use them.

All these tips are designed to help you find patience and gradually get accustomed to new habits in the host country.

Also, I would insist on one major point that came up from the conversation in this episode, it is the importance to take the time to learn about the local culture, to understand the history of the country, ask questions and not judge the local customs even when you don’t agree with those customs. It is one thing to not share the same beliefs and discuss them, but it is another thing to be judgmental about it. As Clara pointed out, let’s make sure to not forget that we are guests in these countries. There would certainly be customs in your own country that others wouldn’t be able to understand.

Tolerance and patience are the key qualities to develop in order to make the best of the time we spend in the host country and leave it with positive memories. 

More info on Clara Wiggins:

Expat partner survival guide

Help your expat friends who might need inspiration to turn the challenges of relocation into great opportunities for them.

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