Expat Life

“Culture Shock: A Practical Guide” by Helene Rybol (a review and an interview)


We all experience culture shock to some extent and at some point of our lives. No matter if we spend only some weeks in a foreign place or if we stay for longer. Even when we repatriate after living some years abroad, we will get through this phase.

Helene Rybol compares culture shock, which once was described as “anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment”, to a roller coaster. In fact, culture shock is part of the transition process and it usually comes after the so called honeymoon phase. We experience culture shock when we realize the differences, when we compare habits, languages, tastes, smells to what we experienced before. Culture shock will eventually lead to adjustment and adaptation if we deal with it in a healthy way.

The name culture shock suggests negative thoughts and feelings. Helene Rybol specifies that experiencing it is actually a chance to learn to broaden our horizons, to become more compassionate and open-minded. It is a chance to put our life into perspective.

“When it feels like we suddenly don’t control anything, everything around us simply happens and we’re not quite sure how to manage, it’s important to realize what we can control: our own behavior and attitude”

Since the first pages, Helene Rybol captures the readers’ attention by focussing on the person and by pointing out the positive effects this phase can have on our lives if we deal with it in a positive way.

In a very friendly and sensitive way, the author explains the symptoms of culture shock in terms of the feelings travelers experience while going through this phase (in the first chapter “A matter of perception”). These feeling are “only the surface” of the “emotional roller coaster” and one needs to find ways to digest them in order to adapt (p.15).

Helene Rybol’s tips are a precious toolbox that helps to “tap into our core, connect, trust ourselves, handle change”. By exploring our very personal comfort zones, we’ll be able to discover the new environment and embrace the new experience: “your own behavior can be a source of comfort”. Instead of clinging to preconceived notions, she advises and guides us to examine, relax, trust ourselves and consciously observe.

Helene Rybol gently leads us through the different stages of culture shock: when we “crave for comfort”, “process new information”, “cope without autopilot”, “deal with difficult situations” or alienation.

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

By using humor and kindness as an antidote to culture shock and by focussing on our inner dialogue, by being proactive, curious and not afraid to ask we’ll successfully master this stage.

This book is a very precious guide that helps everyone who is going through culture shock to regain perspective, reassess and understand this process and boast self confidence.

What sets this book apart from others on the same topic is that instead of concentrating on the differences culture shock shows us, Helen Rybol turns the focus on what we have in common with the new culture.

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

“Go for it! Jump right in! Enjoy the journey!”

This book is a must read for everyone considering to spend some time abroad!


H.E.Rybol (Spain)


Helene Rybol was so kind to answer a few more questions about her book:

What made you decide to write a book about culture shock?

I’ve lived abroad all my life and I’m really interested in cultural transitions. I find the process invigorating and love those moments when you feel something shift or your perspective broaden. Writing about those moments and transitions seemed like a natural next step.

Culture shock often has negative connotations. I see culture shock as a good thing and I’m hoping this book will help people realize why while providing solutions to its challenges as well. I’m hoping this book is a comforting companion to anyone dealing with cultural transitions. Hopefully it’ll be inspiring, motivating and also something to fall back on when you’re feeling a little disoriented.

Would you recommend people who consider living abroad to follow a training where the kind of skills you mention in your book are taught?

Anything that helps ease that initial stress is a great idea!

What will you write next about? 

I’m working on my new website (www.herybol.com) where I write about those moments when something shifted and publish interviews as well. I’m also working on a fictional story that includes some elements of cultural transitions, TCK life and more.

How can dealing with culture shock help us become better persons?

Culture shock pushes us to experience a different world view and see our own culture with different eyes. We expand our thinking and behavior. It helps us become kinder and more compassionate.

Thank you very much, Helene!



Please visit Helene Rybol’s website: http://cultureshocktoolbox.com/. Her book Culture Shock: A Practical Guide is available on her website and here.

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