Culture Shock & the Expat Adjustment Curve in Berlin

Expat adjustment

Culture Shock

The Oxford Dictionary defines culture shock as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”.

The expat adjustment curve can be described by different phases of adaptation, frustration, anger, resentment, and even depression.  Regardless of the expat’s disposition, previous experience abroad, or familiarity with the country in which they will be living, everyone experiences some degree of culture shock. The different stages of expat adjustment to culture shock can be broken down, much like grieving, into phases that are experienced individually.

The expat adjustment curve and culture shock applies to all individuals leaving their home country and starting a new chapter in a foreign country.  As our experience is based on working with expats in Berlin, we write about these phases below and how they might affect you in the German capital.

Expat Adjustment

Honeymoon Phase

Berlin is beautiful (while sometimes ugly), exciting, hip, fun and very intriguing. In the beginning, like with anything new, the differences from home seem minor or even interesting. It is likely that you will feel euphoric, stimulated, enriched and excited, yet still close to everything familiar back home.

Initial Culture Shock

When the honeymoon is over, the differences start to have an impact. The experience is no longer new and exciting, and those little differences might become irritating. The unfriendly Berliner and the dirty streets may get on your nerves. You might feel confused, isolated, disoriented and experience a loss of energy. Family support systems and friends back home will certainly seem farther away.

Superficial Expat Adjustment

A superficial expat adjustment will take place.  You will find ways of coping and functioning, usually within a limited and familiar space between home, work, the supermarket on the corner and the one cafe across the road. The do’s and don’ts of Berlin will become familiar to you, and you start to understand the values and norms of life in the German capital.  You may find some comfort within your limited safety zone, but you are unlikely to venture farther.

Culture Shock

When the real culture shock sets in, you will have lost touch with your home culture and expat adjustment may feel unattainable.  You will have an awareness of the deep cultural differences between Berlin and your home country, and you may start to actually develop prejudices towards Berlin and its people. You might feel angry and frustrated and start to question the decision to relocate to Berlin. All of these feelings might result in lowered self-esteem.  On the positive side, you will probably begin to learn more about the German and Berlin culture, start to study a bit of the German language and engage more with the locals.  At this point, you will make some friends and start to grow your network.  Now is the time in the adjustment period that you will start making plans for your personal and professional life and get more involved in your commitment to expat adjustment and life in Berlin.


The last phase on the expat adjustment curve is Integration.  During this stage you will practice acceptance of your new life in Berlin. You will develop coping behaviour and become less defensive toward life in Berlin. Adjustment in this phase allows you to adopt what you like and adapt to systems that still seem unfamiliar. You now know “how it works” and start to have a feeling of belonging. You will be more open-minded and will learn to value the cultural differences. You will find a new self-confidence and, hopefully, start to feel like yourself again.  Congratulations are in order, as you are accepting and appreciating your life in Berlin.

Culture shock and the expat adjustment curve is entirely normal and, in many cases, an unavoidable process. Everyone will experience different degrees of severity during the various phases.  To avoid a challenging integration in Berlin, Archer Relocation accompanies you and your family through the expat adjustment period in Berlin with our Spouse Support Program. We observe how you are coping and provide support, guidance and advice. We guide you through the process to make the expat adjustment easier on you and your families.  Our support enhances your learning experience so that you reach the ultimate goal of a successful integration.

Here is an informative video about the ups and downs of the expat curve:

Contribution by Emily Archer.

Emily is Managing Director of Archer Relocation.  As your Relocation Consultant she is your first new friend in Berlin. Originally from Australia, Emily lived in Melbourne, Sydney and Barcelona before moving to Munich in 1999.  Emily founded Archer Relocation early 2015 desiring to use her first hand experience and professional skills to assist fellow expats moving to Berlin. Archer Relocation offers the services you need to make your arrival in Berlin a smooth one, including home search, bureaucracy, immigration, and family assistance.

We offer a Spouse Support Program designed to recognise both the practical and emotional needs of our clients as we expedite their relocation, help them build a professional and personal network, learn the German language and integrate successfully into Berlin culture.

Archer Relocation