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There’s nothing worse than experiencing culture shock – that alien feeling of the unfamiliar, so much so that a new environment becomes stressful and completely disorientating. And it happens a lot when we travel – forced into new environments where the culture and behaviors are polar opposite to that of our own, and stripped of the comforts of home.

Luckily, there are a plethora of articles online with tips for dealing with culture shock, with advice for how to settle in abroad, all with helpful suggestions for adapting to constantly changing environments. Though while these articles are all incredibly useful for surviving outside our comfort zone, there is definitely something they all lack – the depth in understanding what culture shock actually is.

The concept of culture shock is analysed in depth in Helene Rybol’s new ebook, Culture Shock – A Practical Guide, as it is only when we can truly strip a concept down to it’s core and understand why it affects us and why we react in the way that we do, that we can be truly prepared to fight it.

Book Review: Culture Shock – A Practical Guide

culture shockRybol’s e-book is a fantastic, practical guide to dealing with and overcoming culture shock, perfect for the first time traveler or the expectant expat alike.

Though even as an experienced traveler who has never had a difficult time dealing with culture shock, I found it to be an incredibly useful read having the concept of culture shock broken down to where is was easy to understand exactly what makes an environment overwhelming, and different strategies to deal with those scenarios if and when they do arise.

The ebook makes two assumptions;

1. That you have a guide book with emergency contact numbers and safety considerations or have otherwise researched that information; read the news, check government and embassy websites for travel safety recommendations, browse through travel and expat websites and forums;


2. You have researched health issues, spoken to a doctor and taken necessary precautions (vaccinations, malaria pills and so on).

Rybol’s e-book is incredibly in-depth, and examines culture shock thoroughly. It begins by outlining the different feelings travelers may experience when living through culture shock, and points out how these emotions usually only exist on the surface. But what lie’s beneath this emotional roller-coaster, Rybol asks?

The answer? The opportunity for growth.

Culture shock – the opportunity for growth.

Culture shock often occurs when reality doesn’t match with our expectations. “There is a dissonance on multiple levels that can feel threatening because some of our basic assumptions and abilities might be challenged.”

Though to get through culture shock, Rybol explains how to reconcile the information you’re getting with your reactions, thoughts (in the shape of preconceived notions, expectations, hopes, cultural background) and personal needs, and adapt your thoughts and reactions to that information as well.

She describes culture shock as a raw but exhilarating experience, one which brings us back to basics and reminds us of what is essential, and this positive perspective on culture shock is refreshing; a concept which is so often thought of and written about with negativity and contempt.

Rybol views culture shock as an opportunity for growth, and through her book she successfully teaches the reader how to harness their feelings to truly make the most out of this learning experience.

“Culture shock strips us from our comforts straight down to our core, puts us eye to eye with our basic needs and propels us into a moment of growth. We slowly begin to make sense of all the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. We learn about this place we didn’t know before, about people’s lives and we attempt to understand our relation to both”.

Burmese Village Women; through culture shock we learn about people’s lives. Photo CC by dany13

She breaks down the concept of culture shock even further by pointing out that the essential is often clouded by our own perception of everything surrounding it, and suggests that when you suddenly feel like you don’t control anything, and everything around you simply happens and you’re not quite sure how to manage, that it is important to realize what you can control; your behavior and attitude.

This simple realization is often clouded by the overwhelming emotions of anxiety when thrust into a situation which is stressful and new, though this is the surest way to meet material and emotional needs at a time when meeting those needs is not a given and you don’t necessarily have many resources to do so.

And it is in these simple realizations which are so often overlooked which makes this book so helpful and profound.

African School Child

What you can control: your behavior and attitude.

Culture Shock – A Practical Guide truly is that; a practical guide which identifies the issues surrounding culture shock, and strips down the concept to understand exactly what it is, then providing the reader with small steps they can take to handle their transitions in new and foreign environments.

The book teaches you how to shift your thinking and perspective, to harness things you may have previously taken for granted and now think of those things as skills, and to see your actions in a new light. Rybol tells us that the purpose with which you do something matters because it shifts the focus, and therefore affects the experience of whatever it is you’re doing.

The tips in the book are practical, and are aimed at helping the reader tap into their core, connect, trust themselves, and handle change. The book covers how to deal with craving comfort, how to process new information, how to cope without autopilot, how to deal with difficult situations, how to deal with alienation, and how to unite both worlds within yourself.

Unite both world’s within yourself.

It sets you up with the necessary tools and knowledge to turn these tips into practice by using a simple strategy: acknowledge discomforts related to culture shock: emotional, physical, psychological, then ask yourself (and/or others) questions to develop an awareness around whatever it is that is making you feel “off”. This will help you understand the situation a little better and decide what steps to take to make you feel better.

And here-in lies the brilliance of this guide; simple, yet very practical, and incredibly thorough. Articles with tips on dealing with culture shock plague the web – it’s a popular topic on and offline, though few resources really dive into understanding the concept and providing an answer for the “why”.

Rybol’s book addresses this “why” – why does culture shock affect us? Why do we crave the comforts of home?, and then dives into defining exactly what it takes to battle these scenarios head on.

Why do we crave the comforts of home?

She covers culture shock for when you’re traveling, when you’re relocating, addresses how to create new comforts, how to let go of preconceived notions, and how to process your reactions to an overload of new information. She covers how to relax in a situation which is inherently foreign, and presents the reader with everyday problems travelers face when arriving in a new, exotic land, proceeding to then provide us with the answer to “so what do you do?”

She also points out how humor and kindness can provide an incredibly valuable tool to overcoming situations of culture shock, and provides a detailed analysis of how to use these tools to benefit you in any situation.

After having read this book you will know how to reconsider your definition of home. You know how to broaden your sense of self to be able to connect with and understand your own motivations, goals and perceptions. You will be in a better position to understand others, and will know which qualities will put you in the best position to deal with culture shock most.

Remember, a foreign land isn’t designed to make you feel comfortable – it’s designed to make it’s own people feel comfortable.

Culture shock has many ups and downs, and when experiencing the lows, small reminders about what you can do to help yourself feel better come in incredibly handy.

For this reason, I highly recommend everyone download this guide.

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H.E. Rybol is a writer, translator and cultural transitions enthusiast. She is a TCK and has spent her life living, working, studying and traveling around the world.

Her writing has appeared on The Displaced Nation, We Said Go Travel, Multilingual Living, diaries of Magazine and Clew. Her blog Culture Shock Toolbox provides a plethora of resources, interviews and posts to help readers handle culture shock.

She is currently developing a new blog and working on a fictional story that includes elements of cultural transition, TCK life and more.

Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram also.


  1. I enjoyed reading this post. For me ‘culture shock’ sounds as though something’s hit you in the face but for me it creeps up on you. I experienced something in India but after a while a different country/culture can become the norm. It’s really good that you’ve put something together. Thanks

    • So glad you enjoyed the review Nigel :) It definitely has that effect of implying something which just hits you from out of nowhere – I think for the first time traveler this can definitely be the case, though can totally understand start to feel the effects slowly creeping up on you as well.

      So glad your experience has been that new environments become the norm though – sounds like you’ve successful slapped culture shock in the face!

  2. I have to agree with Nigel above. I have traveled extensively and also lived in 4 different countries. Naturally some are easier than others when it comes to culture shock – but overall, I find it sneaks up on me as well.

    In the end, I think that making a list of all the great things I’ve experienced in a particular location and also keeping in mind that I chose this for myself- and wouldn’t have it any other way (too many what ifs) helps me to cope. I also have many friends over the years who I’ve learned to contact and chat with – all of whom are travelers too.

    Thanks for sharing – and I look forward to reading the book!

    Kind Regards,

    • I think what often sneaks up on me when I’m away for long periods of time is homesickness – missing my family and friends, though I guess, thinking about it, this is culture shock too, because you’re craving the comforts of home. So very good point, I guess it sneaks up on us all sooner or later!

      Great tips about focusing on the positives – a positive attitude and remembering that you did choose this life or this vacation really is one of the best ways to help cope. We’re all going to have down days, though just have to take them all in our stride along with the good :)

      So glad you enjoyed the review Rose – enjoy the book – it really is a great read :)

  3. For me “cultural shock” usually has positive connotations – it usually happens in a nice museum with dozens of splendid works of art, or in a historic district of a city like Mumbai, or in the old cathedral…

    • So glad to hear! All too often people talk about culture shock as something they can’t stand, so I’m so glad to realize that there are people with different perspectives who can view the experience in a positive light :)

  4. I don’t tend to suffer from culture shock (yet), but tend to do it in reverse. Arriving back in the UK is always incredibly difficult for me. From rushing and pushing through Gatwick airport to get my train, to announcements about everything and anything, and millions of signs! Yellow number plates tend to surprise me time and again, too!

    • Absolutely agree with you on that one – I think reverse culture shock is actually often worse than culture shock itself – the realization that home is no longer home.

      Funny how home can become foreign after a prolonged period of time abroad.

  5. I need to congratulate you for this great review. It is thorough and honest and really informs the reader on what to expect. I with with expat spouses and I will definitely read it and surely recommend it to my clients.

    • Thanks Cecilia – so glad you enjoyed the review; I try to be a thorough as possible without giving too much away :D!

  6. I have only experienced mild culture shock so far (mainly because I travel to Europe mostly) but the worst, for me, is reverse culture shock. I always have a harder time coming home.

    • Absolutely – like Sammi mentioned above, I think the realization that your home is now foreign is one of the worst kinds of culture shock – that what you thought was your comfort zone is no longer there. Totally feel you on that one – I think it’s something every long term traveler must face.

  7. Haven’t heard of this book! It seems like a good read though!

    • It is indeed – happy reading!

  8. This sounds like a book I need to read before travelling more extensively. To date, other than a few trips, we have predominately travelled around Europe and therefore many cultures have significance similarities to make it easier however, we are considering a trip to India later in the year and if we are going to be affected by changes anywhere it is mostly likely to be there.

    • Definitely consider downloading the book if you’ll be making a big change to your travel style – I’ve heard mixed reviews about India, some say it’s amazing, some say it’s not (though i can’t wait to experience it and decide for myself), though the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that it’s definitely an initial culture shock!

      Wishing you a wonderful trip!

  9. Although I’ve never really experienced culture shock, I am sure that one day I will. This book may definitely come in handy before that so I’ll definitely check it out and read it before I’m setting off on my next journey. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Glad you enjoyed the review – and definitely download the book as a resource – it’s a great guide to have in your back pocket for when that shock does sneak up on you :)

  10. Hi

    Id really like to get this book in any form for my Son who is moving overseas…It looks excellent…

    BUT…I cant source it anywhere :(

    Can you help please?

    Warm regards.

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