How to Deal with Culture Shock

Life as an expat - made easy with these tips


Whether it’s because of the bad economy back home or because of a desire to live an expat lifestyle, teaching English in Asia has become more popular in recent years. Some treat it as a brief diversion from their regular career, and others increasingly are treating it as their actual career path. No matter what your motivations are, teaching ESL in Asia presents its own unique set of challenges. For some this will be finding the proper qualifications - such as the right degree or TEFL certification - in order to find a good job or qualify for a working visa. But for all who try ESL teaching abroad, no doubt the biggest challenge comes from trying to adapt to the local culture. This article provides a few common sense tips for learning to adjust to a new lifestyle in your host country as an ESL teacher.

esl in asia

Make Friends With Locals Who Are Familiar With The West

The best piece of advice I think I can give to someone starting out living abroad is to make friends with locals in your host country whenever possible. They can be a great source of support and knowledge about the local culture and other things. By far the best people to try to make friends with, however, are natives who have spent some time in a Western, English speaking country. This can be your own country or another one in the same cultural sphere.

Not only will they be more likely to speak good English - making communication easier - but more importantly, they’ll also be familiar with cultural differences, and will be better able to understand the perspective of a foreigner trying to adjust in a new country. Their point of view will be invaluable when trying to understand the quirks of the country you’re living in. A local who’s not familiar with the outside world, while still potentially a really good friend, simply will not be able to explain differences in culture, outlook, and lifestyle as effectively as a former expat will be able to.

Great examples of places to meet English speaking locals include - the bar scene, Toastmasters, and, among other online venues. If you’re an ESL teacher, depending on your workplace you can also rely on your coworkers for help and introductions to new friends and to build your support network.

Lan Kwai Fong

Have a Good Support Network of Expat Friends

As wonderful as it is to have friends who are natives to your host country, there’s something to be said for having a group of fellow expat friends - from your own country and others. While locals who have been abroad are great for companionship and understanding cultural differences, only fellow expats would know specifically what it’s like to adapt to your host country as a foreigner.

Having expat friends does wonders for being able to endure some of the hardships of living abroad. Even foreigners and expats from other parts of the world can be an excellent source of support and memorable experiences. Some of my favorite conversations about life in Korea came not from my Western friends, but my Japanese friends in the country, many of whom were students or married to locals. I also had expat friends who were non-ESL professionals working in local companies instead of teaching English in Asia, and it's good to get perspective from different fields as well as cultural backgrounds. 

asian languages

Learn the Language - and do Other Things to Give you a Sense of Independence

One of the most common pieces of advice in articles like this is to learn the local language. And no doubt that’s true. Spending a lot of time learning Korean made my time as an expat in South Korea that much easier. Most people will say you should learn the language in order to better understand the culture, and that’s true. But more than anything I feel that knowing the local tongue gives you a greater sense of independence and autonomy during your stay. As great as a support network can be, it’s not always practical to rely on your friends for things like translations, shopping, and opening accounts. Being able to even speak enough to accomplish basic life tasks like that makes a big difference, and makes your experience much more stress free overall.

There’s a lot to learn and adjust to when making the move to another country. Regardless of your reasons for teaching English in Asia, having a good support network, and learning skills such as the local language, makes life so much easier and frees you to focus on experiences that will make your time overseas more worthwhile.


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