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5 books for expats who need to adjust

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Struggling to adjust to a new climate and culture? This international career and expat coach feels your pain.

The dilemma is well-documented by others, who have published their perspectives for the benefit of readers walking in their shoes.

Here are Dorota Klop-Sowinska’s top five favorite books for expats, internationals, immigrants, world travelers and third-culture kids:

1. Psychology of Culture Shock – Colleen Ward, Stephen Bochner and Adrian Furnham

The first time I experienced culture shock, I was not even living or traveling abroad. I was in my home country, and my boss and I had one of many painful collisions. In this case literally, when we were both trying to enter the elevator at the same time.

Being a Polish girl, I was convinced that I was the one who should enter first. He, being Dutch, thought we had equal rights to enter first. No preferential treatment was to be expected just because I was a woman. I was shocked. Little did I know about the importance of equality and directness in Dutch culture back then.

I have had many culture shocks in my life. I even started to experience reverse culture shock when traveling back home after having lived abroad for so many years. Due to my perspective having changed over the years, I found many things strange in my own home country. I felt like a fish jumping out of its bowl. For some time, none of the bowls felt right.

I started to understand this process much better once I read the above-mentioned book. I could finally understand myself better, my own cultural blueprint and how it was different from the Dutch, Brazilian or Mexican one. I understood how and why culture shock appears and how to deal with it.

The book also talks about cultural differences, cross-cultural communication and culture shock from the perspective of different groups, such as refugees, expats, immigrants, tourists and repats.

2. A Portable Identity – Charise Hoge and Debra Bryson

Another book that helped me tremendously was A Portable Identity. I came across it when I had already been living in the Netherlands for a couple of years. But then me and my husband moved together to Mexico. This was the first time that I followed him abroad.

From an independent businesswoman who was traveling around the world, to a stay-at-home mum. I fell into a black hole! Not literally, of course, Mexico is a beautiful country, but emotionally. I did not fully understand what was going on with me until I read this book. The authors explain really well what happens to our identity when we move abroad.

We all have various roles and responsibilities that we tightly link to who we believe we are. This is the source of our strength and pride. When we move, we lose many of these roles and this shakes us up. As a result, we might start to question who we really are.

The book is a great guide and companion on how to thrive when living abroad, no matter where you are. It talks about how to rebuild your identity and shares many great personal stories from the lives of the authors.

3. The Emotionally Resilient Expat – Linda A. Janssen

I met Linda when she lived in Amsterdam and I think she wrote an amazing book. This is an expat bible. It talks about all of the possible challenges of expat life, such as the ones I mentioned above, but also about things like feeling guilty, fear of missing out, and the need for emotional support, and how to overcome these challenges by using and developing your emotional resilience in order to adapt, adjust or simply live an expat life.

Full of proven theories, hands-on advice and lots of fun and inspiring stories from many expats.

4. Third Culture Kids – David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

Although my kids were only third-culture kids for less than two years, I was able to experience their challenges. Third-culture kids live or have lived a substantial part of their developmental years in one or more countries outside of their parents’ home countries.

The book was a true eye-opener on multiple aspects of TCKs lives and helped me to relate much better to the joys and sorrows my older daughter was experiencing. Being “thrown” into a foreign country and school where almost no one could understand her, she managed to grow her confidence, as well as her foreign language and communication skills. Skills that I believe she wouldn’t have, had she been living in her home country.

However, she was also confronted with constant hellos and goodbyes, and forced to grieve over lost girlfriends.

This book is a great tool for parents to understand these different sides and help their child navigate through the challenges and benefits of living abroad.

5. The Expats – Chris Pavone

To finish my list on a lighter note, I decided to reject other heavyweight books and included this one. Ok, I will be honest with you. This book is most probably not a must-read. But it is FUN!

It is a smartly written thriller about an expat couple living in Luxembourg. I laughed so much when reading the part where the husband tells his wife they are moving to Luxembourg, as I could relate to her reaction so much.

At the end of the book, you will also find many thought-provoking questions about the challenges of expat couples that could be eye-opening for your own expat life and relationship.

This article first appeared in I Am Expat

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