Adapting to a New Culture

Adapting to a new culture is not easy. When you move abroad, especially when the culture is very different from your own, you will be frustrated. The best thing about living abroad and adapting to a new culture is what you make of it! It can be the best experience of your lifetime, or it can be unbearable and all you want to do  is go home. Living abroad and experiencing a different culture is an adventure and a challenge, and most likely the most exiting time of your life. You have to become independent and adjust to this new culture and all this without the support and help of your friends and family. This is quite a big change.

Do not assume anything and jump to conclusions!

When you move abroad, whether it is for an internship abroad, study abroad or because you found a great job abroad, it will be a big change in your life, and you should be prepared for this change and accept it. When I moved to China, I thought: Well, I have a lot of experience living abroad, living in China will be a piece of cake! I can tell you that: It wasn’t like that.

Every country and culture is different and just because you lived abroad before and liked it, does not guarantee that you will like it this time. You have to learn a lot of things from scratch, understand the culture and most importantly: stop making assumptions. This was my biggest mistake, when I moved to China. I just assumed, things would work out, because similar things had worked out in Germany and the US. But people have a different perspective and do things differently in other cultures.

The biggest lesson I learned while I lived in China was: There is not better way of doing things, it is just a different way.

Of course I was frustrated, when I tried to travel in China, but then, a few days before my departure, I found out that I could not buy a return ticket right away, but had to hope that there would be return tickets available at my destination. But to be honest, who am I to judge the efficiency of this? I only lived in China for 6 months, I barely scratched the top of understanding their culture. So I am definitely  not in a position to criticize their way of doing things, because I simply might not know the whole background of why they are doing it that way. Are you?

Adapting to a new culture is not always easy!Adapting to a new culture requires a new level of open mindedness

Yes, of course you are open minded, otherwise you would hardly consider living abroad, right? But living abroad requires a whole new level of open mindedness. Especially, when you move to a country that has a very different culture, it will be hard to get the idea out of your head: “How can they be so stupid? If we do it my way, it just makes so much more sense and is easier, quicker and more efficient.” To overcome these thoughts, you have to be more open minded than ever before. I struggled with this quite a lot, when I lived in China. It is also very normal and I do not believe any person that has lived abroad and says he or she has not had that thought in their heads. The only way you can overcome this, is to remind yourself constantly. When you have a frustrating experience, like I had with my train tickets, calm down and remind yourself, that you should be open to other ways of doing things. After all, you are a guest and, you are the foreigner.

How would you like it, if somebody walks into your home, and tells you that everything you do just doesn’t make sense and is stupid?

Learn to work with the culture not against it!

Instead of working against the culture, you are much better off, when you try to find its strengths and how to get the best results, even if the method of achieving these results are different. Try out different ways of asking your colleagues or friends and see, which approach brings you your desired results. When you know, that your friends will always be at least 45 minutes late, tell them to be there half an hour before you get there. The same is true for working abroad and dealing with your colleagues. If you have a deadline, give them a deadline that is 3 days before, so you have enough buffer time, in case something goes wrong. Instead of just criticizing the way people do things, try to find solutions, how you can get them to achieve the results that you want.

When you are adapting to a new culture, always keep in mind that you can also learn a thing or two from the other cultures. Every culture does something better than your own, so who not use this to your advantage and learn from it?

Have you lived in another country and experienced different cultures? Share your experience here. Or if you have any questions or problems adapting, let me know, and I will be happy to give you more advice!

16 thoughts on “Adapting to a New Culture

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  4. Regina

    Hi Maria,

    Regina here, for

    I would like to personally invite you to list your blog on our Expat Women Blog Directory ( so that other women can read about and learn from your expat experiences.

    Many thanks in advance for your contribution and keep up your great blog!


  5. sara

    I live in Ecuador and it is a wondeful country. Its people are so nice and find, they will give the most charming welcome.I have put together a helpful fact sheet, and also an article on Ecuadorian manners and customs

  6. Tina

    Great article! I wish I had read it before I moved to Serbia. Great job on writing such great articles. I enjoyed reading this and others you have written.

  7. JoAnne Stein

    Excellent article! I think you are 100% right that you should assume that living abroad is the same in all countries and just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The most important thing you can do is keep an open mind and realize that people are doing something a certain way for a reason, not just to frustrate you! Try to see things from their point of view and study their culture a bit before you leave so you won’t be so shocked.

    Did you befriend a lot of Chinese people while you were living abroad? I found that friendships with native people helps you understand the culture a lot better.

  8. MariaAbroad Post author

    Hello JoAnne,

    Thank you very much for your comment! Yes, I agree, keeping an open mind helps tremendously when dealing with a different culture. I tried to befriend some locals when I was living in China, but it was hard and sometimes not very successful. I was lucky though, as I was working in a 100% Chinese company, so I had no choice but dealing with locals and find a way to work with them. Did I sometimes want to kill them? Yes, very much so sometimes, but I am also so very grateful to them for taking such great care of me, showing me their incredibly interesting culture and their way of thinking.

    Thanks again for your comment! It is always great when I feel my blog posts stirred something up and provoked a comment :)

  9. Randall

    Culture shock is something you have to handle really when going abroad… I have the same experience when I went abroad for my Masters. I was my first time to be away from home and it is such a difficult trial. But thanks to all my new friends that I met during my Masters that helped me feel at home.

  10. Ali

    I really like this article. New generation like me should know about difficulties about adapting. Actually I thought living abroad is not difficult but I’ve never been abroad so I don’t know… my meanings is changed.

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    adapting to a new culture, does’t mean that you could leave behind all of your cultural traditions,you keep them somewhere inside you when being outside ,but as you return home you can be your own culture.thank you miss Maria,you are so openminded:)

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  13. Arthur

    informative article! this really helped me for my english exam i had about “challenges”

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