People travel and relocate for various reasons, and even though immigration can be a positive challenge, it can result in a number of potential psychological problems. When you decide to move abroad, everything changes – personal ties, social environment, socio-economic status, culture, climate and many more. It can be a depleting experience.

Things that you didn’t think about before like buying your groceries or booking a visit with a doctor may cause some difficulties or even anxiety.

Quite often one of the most challenging things is the lack of social support and a language barrier. The new faces on the streets and a different body language may seem unfamiliar and unclear.

It certainly takes time to settle down and to feel more like at “home”.


Cultural Shock

Born to Finnish parents, a Canadian anthropologist, Kalervo Oberg coined in the fifties the term of “culture shock”. It is a phenomenon when a person from a different cultural background must face a new culture. Oberg distinguished four stages of this process, which are:

  • Honeymoon (Initial excitement).
  • Culture shock (One experiences dissatisfaction with the host culture. It is a period of psychological transition from back-home values to host-home values when failure to succeed can lead to confusion and worry).
  • Adjustment (People begin to understand the host culture and feel more in touch with themselves).
  • Adaptation (The host culture is viewed as offering both positive and negative alternatives).


Everyone can experience it in their own way and develop their own strategies to deal with it.

Common symptoms of culture shock:

  • Extreme homesickness
  • Feelings of helplessness/dependency
  • Disorientation and isolation
  • Depression and sadness
  • Hyper-irritability. Which may include inappropriate anger and hostility
  • Sleep and eating disturbances (too little or too much)
    Excessive critical reactions to host culture/stereotyping
  • Hypochondria
  • Excessive drinking
  • Recreational drug dependency
  • Extreme concerns over sanitation, safety (even paranoia), and being taken advantage of.
  • Loss of focus and ability to complete tasks

Some people may also experience reverse culture shock when they return home. Sure, this can happen too! It can be a bit like seeing through wrong corrective lenses – everything is familiar but seems unreal. Fortunately, the gradual adjustment to feeling comfortable again will happen. Overall, experiencing culture shock and reverse culture shock may be enriching experiences that help to get to know oneself at a deeper level.

Expat’ satisfaction in Warsaw

According to the National Statistics, there were around 307,837 foreigners in Poland in 2017 and most of them chose to live in the Mazovian district. Warsaw is often seen as a dynamic city that offers career opportunities and a good quality of living. Morizon blog did a survey on how expats feel in Warsaw and it turned out that even though Warsaw is seen as a multicultural city, it still has a lot to do to make the expats feel more like at home.

The biggest disadvantages were intolerance, pollution, and language barrier.

Photo Credits:

What needs to be done?

Fortunately, there are also positive aspects of living in the Polish capital such as job opportunities, reasonable prices, and broad cultural life.

Of course, there is always room to make you expats feel more welcome and settled.

One way is to understand that the emotional overload caused by culture shock is normal and can be dealt with.

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

The Author

Agnieszka Kulczycka-Dopiera is a psychologist and psychotherapist who gained her work experience mainly in Ireland and recently moved to Warsaw. Contact details: [email protected]

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