Telling stories about living abroad, student struggles and cultural encounters

I’m immune to culture shocks-so I thought

Call me smarty pants but when I moved to Japan exactly 6 months ago, I knew that I was going be overwhelmed, challenged, confused and wowed on the daily basis. I soon found out that I was going to struggle with finding my way through the day to day life because I couldn’t remember peoples’ names, figure out how to buy the right train ticket for the first time or was holding a bottle in my hand not knowing whether I was about to buy shampoo or conditioner. I knew I was going to have to learn anew to communicate with people in different ways than with language.

But I also knew that I really love throwing myself into these situations. To feel like Wonder Woman, literally conquering the world. I’d see life abroad as a game, trying to learn as much as possible on my journey through cultural slip-ups or unexpected encounters with locals who invite you into their lives and open a whole new world to you.

Living abroad is exciting!

I find it thrilling to explore new cultures and keep on developing and growing simply because I am constantly stimulated by new impressions, facing and overcoming one challenge after another.


Miyu and I eating tofu ice cream in Kyoto

In Japan, I was always open-minded, curious and accepted people and systems the way they were. So when my best friend recently asked me “what was the biggest culture shock you had in Japan?” I really couldn’t come up with anything that I would call a “shock” despite the fact that Japan is not only different but absolutely, crazily and fundamentally different from anything I knew until then.

Little did I know that I was about to lose my culture-shock-virginity (which, frankly, I was very proud of) soon after I returned to The Hague. To be honest, I was really enthused by the idea to be “back home” again. I had traveled to Bali and Vietnam after leaving Japan and hadn’t spent more than 3 nights in a row in the same place. So I was full of new impressions but at the same time, I also had enough of constantly moving around. I wanted to settle, be in a familiar and comforting environment that would be easy for my brain to digest.

No constant wondering what kind of food I was eating, no dependency on my phone when finding my way through another city and no guessing game every time I ask someone for help. I wanted to feel like I knew “how to master life” so I could focus on learning during my studies and from my books because I wanted to, rather than on the street because I had to. Sounds nerdy, I know, but that’s exactly what made me walk down the gate at Schiphol airport with joyful anticipation the night before uni started again-towards a bright future.

One week later, I’m sitting on the floor of my new flat in a mess of empty boxes, not only feeling like I lost control over my countless books, piles of red jumpers and favourite tea mugs, but even more so over my whole life. I was absolutely overwhelmed by being back in The Hague. My friends all know that I usually have things under control because I love organising and planning. But this was a whole new level of feeling lost. Seeing all my friends again, moving into a really awesome flat and working on cool projects for ICM did not change the fact that I felt like I suddenly saw the world, my old world, through completely different eyes. Little had I known that I would adopt so much to life in Japan that, suddenly, the public transport in the Netherlands seemed absolutely unorganised and made me feel uneasy. People everywhere were shouting, laughing or crying loudly. Telling you their opinion whether you wanted to hear it or not. To me, people seemed rude, like they were constantly complaining and neither respectful towards each other nor themselves. I felt like I was in the wrong movie. This weren’t the Netherlands I remembered!

I’m immune to culture shocks-so I thought

It took me a while to understand that not the Netherlands had changed but my sensitivity for my surroundings. And after about a month of slight depression, severe confusion, long and wine-inspired talks with friends, two self-help books and 6 gym sessions per week, I started to see that I had made the beautiful experience of seeing “my own culture” from a different perspective. Some friends tease me and say that even my eyes have become a little Japanese. I developed a whole new feeling for the European culture and, despite the fact that I was so confused in the beginning, I fell in love with it again with a now deeper understanding for both, the culture I grew up with and the one I was lucky to dive into for a short but intensely beautiful time. Until now, I’ve never suffered from culture shocks but instead, the reverse culture shock hit me even harder and taught me even more.

This blog post was originally posted on the internal blog of my university. I wasn’t active on @phyllosophia at that time so I didn’t publish it here. However, as this blog post reflects upon such an important topic for me and, looking back now, describes an important turning point in my life, I decided to share it with you here too.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post! I invite you to share your thoughts with me as I’m curious to have engaging conversations about your experiences and theories regarding culture shocks. Has this ever happened to you?

Lots of love! Xxxx


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1 Comment

  1. L

    Loved your post! Completely understanded how you felt! I guess everyone feels lost at some point in life. Looking forward to read more of your insights.

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