How to adapt to a new culture?

I’ve travelled a lot during my past five years. I have lived in Australia, Hong Kong and China, not forgetting I immigrated to Finland from Estonia. During my living experience in all these different countries I have learned how to master the skill of acceptance: the essence of culture adaptation.

People keep telling me how great it must be to travel and experience different cultures and all that. And yes it is pretty awesome, but there’s a side to it all that no one really know about or ever thinks about. That side is the difficulty of culture adaptation, it’s not all fun all the time and can be mentally very challenging.

During my travels I have also met a lot of different people and unfortunately some of them just couldn’t handle the differences and the adaptation process. To prevent this and help people who are heading abroad for travels or longer stay, I have created a list of phases one will, and in most cases has to, face in culture adaptation. All phases in the list (except number 5) have to be passed to truly adapt to a culture.

The purpose of this list is to raise awareness of culture adaptation and it can work as a checklist when needed to help and recognize one’s situation.
This list is made based on my own experience, the duration of each phase is only a generalisation.

1. The Honeymoon –phase
First weeks, duration around 1-3 weeks; after the first day of exhaustion of travelling; suitable for holiday trips

  • Everything is new and exciting
  • The sun is shining and the birds are singing
  • Ready to explore
  • Trying to learn the language
  • “So different, so cool, my home country sucks!”
  • “Why don’t we have this back home?”

2. The fake adaptation –phase
Right after honeymoon phase; duration around 1-3 months

  • Living your life like anywhere else
  • Creating everyday routines
  • Working days, weekends
  • No time to learn the language
  • “I live here now.”

(3. The Boredom –phase
Stepping phase moving from phase 2 to phase 4; lasts around 1-2 weeks depending on personal tolerance abilities; can be bypassed by some individuals

  • Been there done that
  • This place is really small
  • Home sickness
  • “There’s nothing to see or do!”)

4. The I Hate You All – depression aka The Reality slaps you in the face –phase
Comes unexpectedly out of nowhere; duration depends on the individual;
Warning: can last for long time periods and cannot be passed by some individuals

Note: most people deal with this phase by sticking to expat communities to reinforce their feelings -> enhances the possibility to get stuck to this phase

  • Everything and everyone is getting on your nerves
  • Everything is so different
  • Nothing seems to work
  • Only noticing the negatives
  • Loneliness or extreme loyalty to expat communities
  • Major communication problems with locals arise
  • Trying to understand why everything is the way it is
  • A lot of swearing and anger
  • Any questions beginning with Why?
  • “Argh!”, “This place sucks!” and “I wish I was home.”

5. The acceptance
Can only be achieved if an individual is willing and not fighting against it

  • Culture adaptation
  • Accepting the culture and the environment as it is
  • Appreciating the culture the way it is
  • Not looking for shortcomings or faults
  • Realizing that fighting and blaming won’t get you nowhere
  • Noticing the positive little things
  • Being as local as possible
  • Slowly learning the language
  • Becoming friends with the locals
  • No more “Why?” questions or any questioning of the culture
  • “In a weird way I belong here.” and/or “What a wonderful place, but I don’t think I can live here for too long.”

I have seen many people get stuck in the phase 4 and it’s nasty. It really ruins the whole travel experience when all one has left in their mind is negative memories. The problem seems to be that most, especially us Westerns, are used to question everything and for us it is hard to accept something we don’t understand. This quality gets us stuck in to a phase, where in a way we are fighting against the culture.

Questions like “Why does he do it like that, when it’s more efficient to do it like this” don’t really get you anywhere. The most important thing is to realize that it’s a completely different culture, I repeat, A CULTURE. Things are done and are the way there are because they are all part of the culture and sometimes cannot be rationalized, explained, it just is. When a person realizes this fact, he or she can get much more out of another culture than ever before.

While in living in Shanghai one day when I was crossing a road I got hit by a motorbike, fortunately nothing too serious, few bruises and a fracture finger. In a city like Shanghai road accident happen all the time and instead of putting up a show and fighting with the driver, who had just ran me over. He looked me in the eyes I looked at him and we both left the scene. The acceptance of Chinese culture.

Dressed bunnies are sold in China and Thailand

Dressed bunnies are sold in China and Thailand

People in China like to queue

People in China like to queue

Bugs are a delicacy in most Asian countires

Bugs are a delicacy in most Asian countires

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I wish I were a programmer/developer/hacker

Maths. Who cares, right?
Well I used to be good in maths. I actually enjoyed adding up numbers in pre-elementary school, I loved the logic behind it all.  Then my family and me moved to Finland, where the education system was a bit behind the good old soviet system, and so I was forced to sit through the math classes revising everything I already knew, not that mentally challenging really. Of course it was great to know all the answers and feel smart, as I was only a child. But then again I was also the weirdo girl from somewhere far, who spoke a weird language and had amazing skill in maths. That’s also known as an easy target.

So being a bit “different” child I had to try to fit the normal mould. A had to act as a normal girl who plays with dolls and all that other stuff. While at the same time I was playing computer games, doing weird puzzles, resolving those extra credit assignments for math because I just found them entertaining, and playing around with ms-dos. In school I tried not to be too smart and not to answer all the questions as I was picked on enough as it was already.

However in the transmission to middle school, they, the teachers, somehow got me convinced to go to the math oriented group to provide myself better talents for the future. I do have to say I did enjoy challenging my mind with all those math problems, all until it just got boring. All the revising and revising, how much revising can one person go through. Instead of advancing to the next level and improving my logical thinking, I had to wait for everyone to keep up and for god’s sake if I tried to figure out how to solve something more complicated, I was only a pretty blond girl from that “far away” country.

That was also the time we all have suffered from, teenage. So then even more than before I had to be a girl: not smart, but pretty, make-upped bimbo who couldn’t have good grades in the boyish subjects as maths, physics and chemistry. This combined with all the unchallenging and discouraging education, started to slowly kill my interest in math. And so the nerd inside of me got lost, buried and forgotten. All the alcohol, partying, teen aging and time wasting definitely took care of that.

I remember some people telling me to keep on studying maths, because it’s good for my future; you’re good in it and all those other random statements that never really made much sense to me. No one really expected much of me either, as I was only a blond girl who couldn’t possibly have any logical thinking cells in her brain. Why is it good for me, why do I need to study more maths even if I am good in it? There were no certain goal to strive for, it was just all-round statement of better future, “Hmm.. “ I said.
And here I am with my mediocre math skills, well maybe slightly above average math skills.

Blaming others for my misery well isn’t that just classic, you may say. It’s all up to you and the choices you make in your life.  Well of course it is, I’m not blaming anyone; I’m quite happy how things turned out in the end, I just sometimes wonder.

Imagine yourself as this blond girl, foreign girl, that freaky girl, who stands out from the crowd. Add all the pressure from your peers, teachers, parents, society to fit in all these different moulds: the girl, the weirdo, the nerd, the daughter, the normal, the list goes on. And then add all the discouraging support from all those same parties every time you tried to show what you could actually do and advance your skills. It doesn’t sound that bad now, but being just a kid and treated as the dumb blond girl does really eat you inside.

Now imagine, well I like to sometimes imagine, what if I got those challenging math problems to solve, got to improve my skills, got the encouraging feedback, would be informed the things one can do with all the math and logic. If someone would have told me that hey if you keep on studying maths one day you can create these awesome things online, the endless possibilities (and not adding if you were a boy at the end of it all). The motivation, the interest, the desire, it would all still be there.

I really do hope that more and more girls, both blondes and brunettes and maybe few red haired ones, will get more encouragement to strive in all the male-dominated industries.
In the growing digital industry/world there is a big need for women, women and women.

Let us girls be nerds too, even though we are pretty.

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Even crush goes online

I ran into a new website
What a wonderful example of how everything is going online!

Forget the old school letters, postcards, notes, flowers, phone calls.
That’s all been replaced by Facebook, e-cards, virtual to-do-list, e-flowers, Skype.
And this is just to mention a few.

Now you can also forget about telling your crush you fancy them face-to-face and save yourself from the embarrassment of them not liking you back. allows you to post anonymous flirting messages to guys and gals on your campus.

Screen caption of

A site most likely developed by guys who spend too much time with their computer (in American culture a.k.a geeks) now have a good channel to contact with the school girls and show them their inner beauty. I’m assuming here that we’ve all seen some quality American school romance movies and tv-shows.

Of course the site is not just about that! It’s also about saving time by doing it all quickly through Internet, instead of opening your mouth or running after someone in the real moment. And Internet is where everyone is these days. So it’s about connecting time management and being hip at the same time. Not even mentioning about the public declaration of love or sharing crushes with others.
This all is the direction of the digital development.

I have to say as a digital marketer that this is plain awesomeness!
But as a human being, I really hope that in the future people can still connect to each other in real life and that the only way to connect with my husband in the future won’t be through the damn Internet.

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