How to Deal with Culture Shock while Studying Abroad

Special thanks to Mandi Schmitt (Go Overseas) for the below insights.

The minute you land in your new study abroad country, you’re busy taking in the newness around you. You’re smiling at the street vendors selling fruit on every corner. You’re captivated by the sudden openness of the people around you. Or perhaps you’re noticing a discreet segregation of genders, ages, or confused by why your host mother shies away from some of your questions. This, brave study abroad student, is called culture shock.

Many people who have traveled more extensively than a brief vacation have heard the term. Whether you’ve just long ago been bitten by the travel bug, or are heading off on your first time abroad, you’ll need to understand culture shock and how to cope with it on your study abroad trip.

What is Culture Shock?

Photo credit: Rod Waddington via Flickr.

When you study abroad, your daily routine, culture, and the attitudes of people around you are no longer familiar. The process of recognizing, understanding, and adapting to these changes is called culture shock.

In our normal environment much of our behavior, like gestures, tone of voice, how we wait in lines (or don’t wait), and interact, rely on collectively understood cultural cues. However, we don’t actively pay attention to these — they’re our unspoken norm.

In a new country, we become more aware of these cultural subtleties because they are different from our norm.

You may not literally be shocked, but this act of feeling disoriented and processing new ways of life, attitudes, and cultural norms is by definition culture shock. There are four stages of culture shock:

  • Initial Euphoria / The Honeymoon Stage – After first arriving to a new place, you’ll likely be caught up in all the wonderful things your new chosen home has to offer. During this stage, you are more likely to recognize cultural similarities and be charmed by the differences.
  • Irritation and Hostility / The Negotiation Stage – Gradually, the euphoria will diminish. You’ll get lost. You’ll get mad at the apparent “disorganization” of things. You’ll become overwhelmed with all the things you have to adjust to and either feel irritated or compelled to make things go “your way”.
  • Gradual Understanding / The Adjustment Stage – You’re finally able to relax. You’ve come to terms with your new home and have achieved a balance of emotions. Instead of feeling irritated, you’re understanding of differences. You’ll start to have a more positive outlook, interest in learning more about your host country, and make more effort to fit in.
  • Adaptation or Bi-culturalism / The Mastery Stage – Reaching a high level of comfort in your new home is the final stage of culture shock. The order of things makes sense, you can talk to strangers with ease, and you understand cultural nuances. Your routine is more natural. Sure, you still miss your friends and family, but your new friends and activities have become part of your daily life.

Culture Shock and Depression

In some cases, culture shock can resemble or trigger study abroad depression. If you fear you are on the verge of or already in this state, don’t try to get through it alone. Talk to your study abroad directors or volunteer coordinators. Don’t isolate yourself.

Tips for Dealing with Culture Shock

Photo credit: Nicolas Vollmer via Flickr.

So you understand what culture shock is and how to recognize it. Lets get down to real strategies and tips for dealing with culture shock.

1. Learn as much about your host country as possible
Read through travel forums, guidebooks, news reports, or novels. Talk to people who have been there or — better yet — are from there.

Get to know as much as you can about what’s considered polite or rude (for example, did you know it’s rude to step over someone’s bag in Madagascar?) and prepare yourself for some of the differences before you go.

2. Ask study abroad coordinators for advice
Specifically, ask them what other students have had a hard time adapting to and what they’ve done to cope. Each country has it’s own nuances, so you’re going to face a different situation in France as you would in Thailand. Ask those who know best!

3. Set learning goals for your study abroad trip
This may be obvious, but make sure you have goals for your study abroad trip, and make sure they include learning about your host culture. Do you love food? Make it a goal to learn how to cook a local dish.

4. Write down what you love when you first arrive, and look back later
During the honeymoon phase, write down all the things you love about your new host country (maybe even in your new study abroad blog?). Later, when you’re feeling frustrated or irritated, use this list to remind yourself of all the good things about your host country, instead of the things that annoy you.

5. Find a healthy distraction
Especially in stage two, when you may have negative feelings towards your host culture, find a healthy distraction. Take some time to yourself, watch an episode of your favorite TV show, cook a meal from home, or have a solo dance party in your house.

It’s OK to feel overwhelmed and need a break from your host country – just make sure it’s a healthy distraction.

Photo credit: The Visionary Agency via Flickr.

6. Talk to other students about how you feel
You’ll likely know other students who are studying abroad with you. Talk to them about how they feel about your host culture. Ask them about how they feel, strategies they’ve used to cope with cultural differences.

Also, learn from them. They may have figured out something you’re still confused about — like why everyone keeps saying a particular phrase or how to politely say “no” when your host mom insists you finish everything on your plate.

7. Push yourself to make local friends
Of course, you’ll learn even more if you make local friends. They’re experts in their own culture and will be able to explain all the crazy little questions you have. And if they’re a truly good friend, they’ll pull you aside and tell you if you’re unwittingly doing something offensive or weird. *Phew*!

8. Try to see things through your host culture’s eyes
Put on your anthropology hat, kiddos. After all, your anthro class is likely where you first heard about culture shock, right?

Throughout every stage of culture shock, try to put your own worldview in your pocket and try to understand the world the way your host culture does.

Maybe you don’t agree with some philosophies, and maybe it doesn’t make sense within your own cultural context, and it doesn’t have to. Just try to understand where they’re coming from. Ask questions, be non-judgemental, be an anthropologist!

9. Get involved with the local community
Part of your feelings of culture shock may be because you feel like too much of an outsider, so get involved in your local community as much as possible. If you went to church at home, go to church there. If you volunteered at home, find a volunteer project in your host city. Join a sports team, go to major festivals, and make this new home a home!

10. Make an effort to learn the local language
Even if your program is in English, make an effort to learn a few basic phrases (or more!) in the local language. It’s not just a way to understand more of the culture (language and culture are linked), but also to make friends, feel more included, and hey — it’s just fun!

So How Exactly Will It Affect Me?

Photo credit: Johnny Silvercloud via Flickr.

Culture shock affects everyone differently, and can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Largely, this depends on:

  • The countries you’ve previously traveled to … if any. Have you experienced new cultures before?
  • The country you’re now traveling in. How different is it from your own culture?
  • The purpose and structure of your current trip. Do you have someone to help you understand the new culture? Are you willing to learn and adapt?
  • How well you adjust to new situations. How do you generally react to being outside your comfort zone?

If you visit multiple countries that have similar cultural practices, over time, you may get more used to these, and your past experiences could help you adapt to the new cultures quicker.

Don’t Let Culture Shock Stop You from Studying Abroad

Study abroad isn’t all weekend getaways and late night parties. It’s a challenge, an introduction to a new culture, and an emotional roller coaster at times. However, it’s one worth taking. It’s an opportunity to come home with treasured memories, new friends, and a better understanding of who you are.


For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: Mandi Schmitt (via Go Overseas) [1], [2]. Image sources: Vitaliy Lyubezhanin (via Unsplash) [1], [2].

Why You Should Use a Move Management Provider and What to Look For

To put it simply, move management is managing the process of moving one or more employees’ belongings from one location to another, but the process is far more complex than that. There are various different kinds of move management, different needs depending on the employee, and different considerations depending on the locations involved. There are also many unintended consequences that can arise when not paying close attention to your move management processes. Below, we share some insights to some important questions about the matter.

What, in essence, does move management encompass?

The control of an employee’s move from door to door. Component parts are controlled and broken down to save costs. Efficiencies are the key through the process. The communication with the assignee is retained by the controlling move management company, not the moving suppliers. Communication is directly from the move management company. Insurance is covered and control by the move management company.

Forwarders and carriers who demonstrate the highest degree of proficiency with the respect to country-specific import and export customs laws are selected. It is ensured that the selected network providers are fully credited and aligned with the corporate values.

Stress and time is removed from assignee and HR due to having one point of contact.

What are some of the downsides to a company deciding to orchestrate move management in-house, instead of using a provider?

The downside is your need for a moving expert to control the costs of the supplier. Also, there is a need for software to regulate the move experience and the corporate compliance.

In most cases the companies who carry do this in-house, could be biased to a certain vendor – ‘personal kickbacks”. The internal employee carrying out the function could be senior or junior to the assignee which can cause internal challenges.

Experience and day to day immersion in the industry is crucial, whether it is picking the right partners, understanding changes in protocol or simply knowing who is doing a good job and where – it is very hard for in-house teams to keep on top of this and remain independent. They also do not have the purchasing power that a move management company has, through the volumes of business that they provide partners they are able to provide significant cost savings to clients.

What are some advantages of using a move management provider?

Cost control and improved communication, and an improved assignee experience are amongst the advantages.

A move management company will aim to provide Independent, competitive, transparent service, and may be geographically positioned to understand the laws and custom requirements of the country being moved to.

A single point of contact is another advantage. Expertise and experience on each and every case, and reduced costs on the move itself along with insurance rates are also provided.

What should one look for when choosing a provider?

One should look for an experienced team with a good reputation and culture, combined with great communication skills.

The company should have a very good reputation in the specific country or countries involved in the move, and demonstrate this proficiency with service and quality evaluations, and price competitiveness. The provider should also understand the specific needs of the employee being relocated and possess the relevant accreditations.

What should I do if I’m struggling to work with my current provider?

Have a small RFP, go out to the friends in the market to gain a recommended supplier. Put a number of questions together of the key service requirements. Also put a rate matrix together based on origin and destination locations, volume based on previous moves in the last year. Better still, get the Move Management companies to provide three quotes each for door to door move and compare – it will be insightful.

Meet with the supplier and advise where they are not meeting the expectations set.
Complete an RFQ to get other suppliers to provide information as to how they would provide the service.

If this does not work out, you may need to find a new provider who suits your needs better.

Is it best to go with a global company, or one that specializes in the area I’m interested in?

It is better to build up a supplier network in each location you require and dictate which companies carry out the origin, freight services and another for the destination services.

Most move management companies would be global.

Should the company be based in my current location, or the one I’m moving to?

It can help with on the ground response, but is not necessary if you have a good supplier with a great partner network. With a single point of contact, it is not necessary to have local representation.

Insights on move management industry trends happening right now:

The current situation is that a lot of corporations are using a service provider where there is one point of contact to meet all their relocation requirements. This service is been outsourced to one service provider, or to regional service providers based on the corporation’s requirements. Corporations are vetting their service providers thoroughly, and may shop around should they be dissatisfied. Move management providers are aware that it is important to keep the needs of their clients top of mind at all times, update their accreditations if need be, and provide the best possible service within their capabilities to retain and grow their client bases.

A special thanks Ben Carter from Icon Relocation, George Holmes from Clearview Relocation, and Kim Becker from Africa Mobility Services for their insights, which we have shared with you below.


If you are looking for a move management solution, feel free to contact Relocation Africa via
For information as to how else Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: [1], [2].

Relo Originals: Solar Sustainability

Now that we’ve entered springtime in South Africa, the weather is gradually getting warmer, and many of us are preparing for being back at the beach during summer at the end of the year. In a region like SA, we’re lucky enough to get lots of sunshine not only in summer, but year-round. This creates the perfect opportunity to be more sustainable, and make use of solar power. And that’s exactly what we’ve done at our head office in Cape Town.

Solar power

Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), indirectly using concentrated solar power, or a combination. Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltaic cells convert light into an electric current using the photovoltaic effect.

Photovoltaics were initially solely used as a source of electricity for small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to remote homes powered by an off-grid rooftop PV system. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s.

As the cost of solar electricity has fallen, the number of grid-connected solar PV systems has grown into the millions and utility-scale solar power stations with hundreds of megawatts are being built. Solar PV is rapidly becoming an inexpensive, low-carbon technology to harness renewable energy from the Sun.

The International Energy Agency projected in 2014 that under its “high renewables” scenario, by 2050, solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power would contribute about 16 and 11 percent, respectively, of the worldwide electricity consumption, and solar would be the world’s largest source of electricity.

Our office

Our head office in Cape Town has, since early 2014, featured 25 photovoltaic panels on its roof, positioned to harness the most sunlight possible during daylight hours. These panels are connected to a smart charge controller, and the power is distributed throughout our building. Electricity usage can be monitored via a mobile app, which provides us with usage history, so that we can track our conservation efforts.

In addition to this, we also have battery units that keep the solar system running. In the event of a power outage, the batteries will keep our essential systems running. To date, we have converted 40.7 MWh of solar energy into usable electricity. All of this is made possible by a SolarEdge system. To read more about them, click here.

Aerial view of Relocation Africa’s head office in Cape Town, South Africa.

The importance of renewable energy

Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Renewable energy often provides energy in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services.

Rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency is resulting in significant energy security, climate change mitigation, and economic benefits.

In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that “the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries’ energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating climate change, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global.

We encourage other businesses to implement sustainable solutions to their power systems, over time saving both money and the environment.


For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: [1], [2], [3]. Image sources: Andreas Gücklhorn [1], [2].

The Benefits of Using an Immigration Provider, and How to Choose the Right One

In the second part of our Choosing a Service Provider series, we’re looking at Immigration. As with temporary relocation, immigration can be a stressful and time-consuming endeavor. And however rewarding it may be in the end, it can also cost a lot, especially if you don’t do research leading up to your move.

Fortunately, you are able to get help if need be. Making use of an Immigration Service Provider can alleviate these issues, potentially saving you time, energy, and money. We asked our Director, Tracy, who heads up our Immigration Division, for an overview of the reasons you should use an Immigration Service Provider, and what to consider when looking for the best one for your needs.

What types of services is an Immigration Service Provider able to assist with?

Immigration Service Providers are able to offer a variety of related services, including facilitation, assistance, advice, and guidance relating to Visas, Permits, Authentications, Translations, Evaluation of Foreign Qualifications, Board/Body/Council Registrations, and Citizenship matters. The scope of these services may vary between providers.

Are there any limitations with regards to what a Service Provider can assist with?

Generally, such a provider is:

  • Unable to submit applications on behalf of clients.
  • Unable to influence processing times at the relevant departments (for example, VFS in South Africa).
  • Unable to predetermine whether the missions outside the country will request documentation which is not prescribed in the respective Immigration Act.

What are the major benefits of using an Immigration Service Provider?

Benefits include ensuring that:

  • Applications are correctly completed. Errors can delay processing significantly.
  • The correct visa category is chosen, based on the intentions of the client.
  • Letters are correctly worded, decreasing the chance that amendments need to be made at a later stage.
  • All correspondence is in sync.
  • All supporting documentation is as prescribed in the Immigration Act.
  • Red flags are raised prior to the submission of applications, saving time and money.
  • Expert and up-to-date knowledge of the Immigration Act and Regulations is provided throughout the application process.

What are the downsides of doing everything oneself?

Choosing to apply on your own may result in the application forms not being completed, or filled out correctly; choosing the incorrect visa category; nor wording letters correctly; and general uncertainties and misinterpretations of requirements, which leads to submission of incorrect support documentation, which further leads to application rejections.

What should one look for when choosing a Service Provider?

When choosing your Immigration Service Provider, it is important to ensure that they have references from past work provided, and that they are registered with a local professional body. In South Africa, this is the Forum of Immigration Practitioners of SA (FIPSA). It is also important to ensure that the Provider has been in business for several years, and that they have a comprehensive business set up (physical office address, reachable contact numbers and emails, websites with information about their services, etc). Checking all of these things before conducting business will give you peace of mind that your chosen Provider is trustworthy and well-established.

What should one do if one is experiencing difficulty working with one’s current Service Provider?

If you have tried unsuccessfully to resolve the issue with your chosen Provider, and the provider is a member of a local professional body, such as FIPSA, one may reach out to the body to request guidance. It may also be advisable to reach out to a second Provider for advice.

Is it best to work with a Service Provider located in one’s current country, or the country which one is planning to relocate to?

With current technology, it is almost irrelevant which country the service provider is located in. Make your decision based on whichever method will be easier for your communication. Bear in mind that a provider may have more knowledge about the country (and its Immigration Acts) that they are established in than a provider located elsewhere in the world.

Any insights with regards to what is happening in the South African Immigration space right now?

The Department of Home Affairs is doing random inspections at companies (without prior notice), to check if their foreign employees have the necessary legal documentation. These random checks may increase with time. Changes to the SA Immigration Act will more than likely be implemented during 2019. If so, we will be sure to let our readers know about them.


Using an established Immigration Service Provider can help you save both time and money, and allow you to enjoy more of the process of moving to your new country. With over 25 years of experience across the African continent, Relocation Africa would be happy to assist you with your immigration needs, and help you embrace the unknown. For more information about our Immigration services, feel free to reach out to Tracy du Plessis, via, or on +27 21 763 4240.


Sources: [1]. Image sources: Nils Nedel on Unsplash [1].

For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, and Remuneration needs, email, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

How to Choose a Telecom Provider Abroad

Whether you are about to establish your business abroad or settle in your new home, you will have to choose a telecom service provider from the many available companies targeting the market. Our professional and personal lives are heavily dependent on online, instant communication and wireless telephones, and our home entertainment has incorporated streaming media. In a free market, with more options than ever, it can be difficult to conclude on a telecommunication service provider, especially when you are overseas, and you are not familiar with the brands and expectations. However, there are several things that you need to consider to select a provider which matches your needs.

Customer service
Efficient and considerate customer service is a big plus when looking into different telecom providers. Even the most reputable provider will, at some point, have to resolve some sort of a problem with their service, whether it is poor internet speed, billing inquiries, or service upgrading. However, before committing to a telecom service provider, you should feel confident that when an issue occurs, their customer service will apply good communication skills, and will treat you with patience and respect to solve the problem quickly. You can contact other expats, and ask them to share their customer service experiences with you, or ask the company directly to give you examples of their customer service methods.

How important are the phone and internet services for your business or other tasks? Do you run an online business, which with every minute offline loses money? Or are you a freelancer whose work is conducted online? In any case, it is vital for your peace of mind to know that you have chosen a reliable telecom provider. Check with the different providers whether they own the fiber optic network or lease it from others, as this may affect the speed with which they resolve potential problems. Of course, no one is perfect, and especially if you live in a location with extreme weather conditions or developing infrastructure, issues may come more often than normally expected. However, the difference lies in the provider’s ability to fix the problem with the least possible impact on your work and day-to-day tasks.

Cutting-edge technology
With technology progressing exponentially, you would like to be assured that your telecom service provider is offering the latest technology available, and is conducting regular maintenance and upgrades. However, keep in mind that upgrades can often result in interruption of services or other failures. Thus, your service provider should be able to guarantee in advance that improvements are generally smooth and hassle-free. Also, you should be given the option to select or deselect products, depending on your company’s or personal needs, without any inconvenience.

With the fast pace of technological development, comes a series of challenges to the security of telecommunications data. Risks may have an impact on the availability and confidentiality of telecom services and can result from hardware damage, misconfiguration, or hacking. For example, it is not uncommon that a third party may steal your service. However, you rely on your telecom provider to store and transmit data safely, and it is therefore essential to ensure that the provider you have chosen has taken proactive measures and has implemented regulatory frameworks to manage security risks and challenges.

Last but not least comes the cost of your telecom service. Before you get carried away by marketing campaigns, check the quotes of as many companies as possible. In the past telecom service providers were mainly owned and operated by the government, but that is no longer the case, as many have been privatized. Thus, the competition is high, which is beneficial for clients, as prices can vary significantly from one provider to another. Also, make sure it is clearly stated in your contract what does the overall price cover — are cloud, broadcasting, voice, data, and internet products included? Are there other services you wish to add, and does the company offer tailor-made packages?


For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: Donald Giannatti via Unsplash [1], [2].