Culture Shock: A Book Review

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Culture Shock Book Cover

A review of the book offering practical tips and considerations to prepare for living and travelling abroad

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 accelerated growth.

The above sentence is taken from the first chapter of H.E. Rybol’s book Culture Shock: A Practical Guide, the chapter in which she explains what culture shock is. The remaining chapters provide tips for dealing with culture shock: how to deal with craving comfort, processing new information, coping without autopilot, difficult situations and alienation, and, finally, how to unite both worlds within yourself.

The goal, in her own words, “is to use simple everyday actions in a purposeful way to ease the stress that comes with everything new.” She highlights small steps we can take to handle the transition. But the book is about more than merely managing the stress. It is about dealing with the discomfort of change in a way that allows us to embrace the new and to grow.

I’d always thought about culture shock in terms of relocating to a faraway, vastly different land. But, while reading this book, it dawned on me that we may experience culture shock in less obvious situations: a move to a different part of our own country or on vacation. Many of the tips in this book could be used to aid in dealing with the change associated with moving into a new neighbourhood in one’s own city.

H.R. Rybol’s advice starts with acknowledging and understanding our own feelings. She describes the roller coaster of emotions we may go through and asks us to develop an awareness around whatever is making us feel “off”.

She talks about expanding our notions of comfort. We need to understand what intangible things are most important for our own comfort, be it connection with family and friends, music, sports, food, meditation or something else. Finding a way to incorporate these into our new lives and seeking these things out in our new location helps us cope with the change. Packing tangible items, such as a favourite sweater, a blanket or small item of sentimental value, can help ease our discomfort.

At home, we’ve developed routines which allow us to function on autopilot for a portion of our day. We know the streets around our home. We use a particular bank and have a grocery store we regularly shop at. Her advice on coping with the overload of everything being new includes building those autopilot moments as soon as possible. Walk the same streets. Find a bank. Pick a grocery store. If we are travelling from place to place, our autopilot routine can centre around how we organize our backpack or suitcase and pack and unpack.

H.E. Rybol’s tips stem from her own experience. Although she has shared a small part of that in her packing tips and identifying what her own tangible and intangible comfort needs are, there are no other specific examples of her experiences. I’d hoped to read about those and think they would have helped solidify the advice. But, even without the added emphasis these stories might have given, the common-sense, practical tips are readily grasped and easily executed.

The book is short and written in a conversational style that is easy to read. But it is full of information and one may want to slow down and absorb it, think about how to use the advice in one’s own situation. I know that I will be referring back to the tips from time to time. Beautiful photos from H.E. Rybol’s travels are found throughout the book.

H.E. Rybol is an adult TCK (third culture kid, a term used to describe children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ for a significant period of their development years). She’s been a backpacker and a solo traveller and has moved to work in other countries.

Culture Shock: A Practical Guide is available as an ebook through Smashwords, Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd, Kobo, Txtr and Overdrive. A paperback edition will be available soon.

I will end the review with a couple more quotes from the book.

Experiencing culture shock is a gift that helps us find our story within a world of stories and understand how all are connected.

Underneath all of our apparent cultural differences, there are stories we share, regardless of country or continent.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book. Opinions and observations are my own.

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  1. Great book review! I agree that culture shock often occurs when moving from place to place in our own country, or even vacationing there! Interesting idea to pack something from our routine…kind of that my old blankee when I was a kid!

    1. Jacquie, the book has a number of easy, practical tips to help one cope with culture shock but I particularly liked the one about packing something familiar and comforting. Just like the old blankee!

  2. Thanks for your timely review, Donna. As soon as I read your review I thought “This book is for me” and downloaded it on to my Kindle. Having just been back for a week’s visit to the US I recognized that I was experiencing reverse culture shock – shopping at Target was totally overwhelming.. And now, I also realize that I am experiencing culture shock as we try to navigate our way, once again, in a new country as well as a new continent. Hoping for a few coping strategies so that I can continue on with embracing travel’s challenges and changes … ! Anita

  3. An interesting review for what must be an interesting book. Personally, I’ve always found the culture shock in coming home more pronounced for me – maybe I just get all excited about being somewhere else…

    1. Yasha, I think the reverse culture shock hits us harder because we don’t always expect it. We expect a sense of coming home to the familiar and it is disconcerting to discover it feels a little strange.

  4. What a lovely review Donna. I have just moved to a new area after living in one city for 25 years. I am experiencing a great deal of culture shock. When I travel I expect to feel this way, but not in every day life! I will be downloading as soon as I finish typing! Thank you!

    1. Suzanne, I hope you find useful tips in the book. As I read the book and its tips, it occurred to me that we experience culture shock in situations such as yours with moves within our own countries and provinces or states.

    1. I think I’ve broadened my definition of culture shock after reading the book. Looking back, I think I have experienced it at times when I didn’t identify it as such. This book really encourages one to think our own feelings and try to understand the root of the reactions.

  5. Donna it’s kind of weird how I think of culture shock. My husband and I move to Virginia almost 40 years – from the northeast US. Sometimes I still find myself in shock! hahahaha Maybe that is another reason why I visit my family on Long Island so often! Great book review.

  6. After travelling for the last eighteen months, I have found that the experience of reverse culture shock the hardest to take. I was stimulated by embracing new cultures and places but have found it hard to return to the day by day life that doesn’t seem to have changed since I left. Off to plan the next trip!

    1. Jenny, I agree that reverse culture shock can sometimes be harder. We often don’t expect it and do not have the exhilaration of the new to compensate. Enjoy your next trip.

  7. What a refreshing look at culture shock. I think even if we don’t transfer homes, in a country so culturally diverse as America is, I experience it every day! This book is truly a practical guide. Thanks, Donna!

    1. Carol, America certainly is diverse and culture shock can occur going from place to place. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Sounds like a great book for any kind of move. Having moved back and forth to the UK, I know a little bit abou the subject, and I think it’s right to focus on the small things – they are the things that we miss the most in a way, so it’s a great suggestion to bring along little things that are part of “home” to help the transition.

    1. A lot of the suggestions in the book focused on the small things – very down-to-earth and easy to do, but can make a world of difference.

  9. This really does sound like a very practical and useful guide. Big or little changes can cause some a lot of anxiety and knowing that they can take “simple steps” can help put things in perspective. I love the quote, “Experiencing culture shock is a gift that helps us find our story within a world of stories and understand how all are connected.” To me, experiencing culture shock can also be what makes the experience exciting.

    1. Cathy, I found a number of quotable sentences in the book. The book focused on things to deal with the discomfort of culture shock so we could benefit from the exciting and good things about it.

  10. A great review of what sounds like a very helpful guide. Culture shock can be an exhilarating thing but also overwhelming. The book sounds like it would be a great tool to deal with the challenges.

    1. Thanks Sue. The book certainly had useful tips to help one deal with the overwhelming parts of culture shock.

  11. Sounds like a wonderful book. I crave culture shock quite a lot. I can be happy in my home routines, but it’s that feeling of getting out of one’s comfort zone that keeps life interesting and that’s when the best personal growth happens as well. I’m adding Culture Shock to my TBR list.

    1. Jeri, it’s true we need to get out of comfort zone from time to time to grow. I like your attitude.

  12. My worst case of culture shock was when I went home to suburban Connecticut after two years in the Peace Corps in Malawi and went to a grocery store for the first time. I was so overwhelmed that I had to leave the store. I think it was a panic attack. That book would have really helped!

    1. Rachel, I’m hearing from a few people that they’ve found reverse culture shock the hardest to deal with. I can certainly understand being overwhelmed at the grocery store.

  13. Sounds like an interesting book for those considering a major move or for someone just trying to adjust after being away. I’ll have to check it out since we’re always talking about the possibility of moving somewhere else.

    1. Sue, the book contains good, practical tips that can help one deal with the strangeness of a new place. Good luck with the move, if you do wind up moving.

  14. Is this part of the culture shock series? I have read a couple of those, and they were very good (Thailand and Korea). This does sound like an interesting and useful read!

    1. Nancie, this is not part of the Culture Shock series. It is an independent book with general and practical tips that could apply to any destination. I haven’t read any of the Culture Shock series books, but they look very good.

    1. Nat, I expect that even with the book it might have taken some time to adjust, but the tips in it might have made some things easier and feel comfortable sooner.

  15. Sounds like a good book for people who are not used to different cultures. Have personally lived and worked in different cultures all my life and never felt it was a shock. On the contrary. Love adapting and integrating in cultures alien to my own. Saudi Arabia is really a different and for that reason I’m of the opinion that it’s the most interesting country I have ever lived, worked and integrated in. Almost every day something happens that you have never experienced before. Positive or negative and you really learn and deveop a lot.

    1. Catarina, you have a great attitude to the new and different. And it’s amazing you’ve never experienced culture shock, even in small ways. I think many people, even those who embrace new cultures, have times of discomfort. The tips in this book are good to help acknowledge and understand those feelings and then do small things to get beyond the discomfort and experience the joy and excitement of learning and growing from the new.

  16. Donna, I enjoyed reading this post but must tell you that I have never experienced culture shock. We are such homebodies that we really don’t travel far from home – and when we do it’s usually just a day trip that we consider a treat.
    But I can well imagine for people who move a lot or travel would find her tips very helpful.

    1. Lenie, some people are homebodies and others like to travel – we all have to find what satisfies us. I think the tips in this book could also be of use to those who may not travel often but have to deal with a move to a new area.

  17. Well done review Donna. We certainly experienced culture shock when we first moved to Hawaii! Back then caucasians were the (unpopular) minority and regularly discriminated against by the locals. Contrary to the vision of paradise, the reality of trying to settle in here was pretty brutal which is why so few mainland transplants lasted longer than a couple of months. The one thing we had going for us was the few jobs available here happened to be in the tourist industry and with even basic business experience you could be assured of getting a foot in the door. We stuck it out though and once we were accepted we experienced an entirely different reality. I can certainly appreciate the notion of having something familiar to cling to, but I don’t think it would have helped us all that much in that first year here.

    1. Marquita, it sounds as if that first year in Hawaii was a rough year, but you made it through! You might have a few tips of your own for others.

  18. Experiencing other cultures is wonderful – the food, music, customs, attire. I want to see how the ordinary people live when I travel not be stuck in a resort!

    It is true that moving abroad is not for everyone. It may seem like a good idea at the time but then reality kicks in and people yearn for their home comforts.

    1. Phoenicia, I too think it is wonderful to experience other cultures, While moving abroad is not for everyone, I think that even those who embrace the experience may encounter a few tough times that can best be described as culture shock. I also think we sometimes experience in moving to new areas within our own countries, although we may not identify it as such.

  19. I’ve read this book. I agree with you when you say culture shock can occur in many facets of live; in moves, relationship changes, on vacations and even in job relocation or changes. Having something around in any of these challenges helps to ease the way to adjustment. 🙂

    1. Susan, I hadn’t really considered the feelings and sometimes discomfort we feel in moves, relocations and relationship changes as culture shock until reading about culture shock in this book and realizing it was a form of culture shock.

  20. Great book review, definately important to experience different cultures and understand them better.

  21. Thank you for the book review. I think I experienced culture shock when moving from NYC to Los Angeles. Sounds so silly to think of it that way, but everything was so different. I was used to walking everywhere and now I had to drive. I was used to just bumping into people on the streets and everything in L.A. was so isolated. NYC people are so outspoken and in L.A., you are supposed to smile and be polite. I’ve adjusted now. However, it is funny to think of having culture shock when moving between two major cities in the same country.

    1. Erica, it is funny to think of moving from one city to another within your own country as culture shock, but after reading this book I’m convinced that it is indeed that which many people experience. Glad you’ve now adjusted.

  22. You think of people who are backpackers or solo travelers are being adventurous and embracing new things. Within that context I’m a little surprised at the advice to find ways to go on autopilot. I guess I need to read the whole book.

    1. Ken, I agree that we tend to think well-travelled backpackers never experience what we consider culture shock or need to cling something familiar. But I suppose there are times when everything is new and different can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned traveller. The moments likely occurred more frequently before they became seasoned and they developed mechanisms for dealing with them. The book contains tips for finding new routines and new comforts (food, activities, music, etc) in the new culture – things that are likely easier for the adventurous to embrace.

  23. I really could have used this book a few times in the past! I like the quotes you shared with us, and think it sounds like a fascinating, and helpful, book.

    1. Meredith, I’m glad you enjoyed the quotes I selected. These were words that particularly resonated with me.

  24. I love this review Donna and agree whole heartedly with the description of culture shock. Like you I had always just assigned the meaning to be that kind of shock you get in a far-away land also. But now that I think of it, why could it not be the result of a displaced comfort zone. I do like these quotes and thanks for bringing it to my attention and sharing it with the group.

    1. Thanks Tim. Displaced comfort zone is certainly a good description of the culture shock addressed in this book. And what causes that displacement will vary from person to person – it is important for each of us to understand what our own triggers are.

  25. Sound like a really good book. I’m experienced culture shock a few times here in the states. I can’t imagine the differences in another country, but I’m ready to find out.

  26. Good book review! I agree that culture shock often occurs when moving from place to place in our own country, or even vacationing there! Interesting idea to pack something from our routine…thanks

    1. Manisha, thanks for stopping by. I agree it is good to pack something from our routine. The book also made me realize culture shock can occur to some degree in moves within our own country