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Inexpensive Guides to Avoiding Culture Shock

I’ve navigated quite a few countries in my time, but a few of them felt like different planets from a cultural standpoint, especially Korea, Japan, and India. There are just so many baffling customs and social rules that if you don’t get schooled a bit in the local ways, you’re going to offend, annoy, and alienate people on a regular basis.

I’ve always liked the various culture shock books that help you navigate all this, but there’s a new series out there for the Kindle with an unbeatable price: $1.95. Don’t be fooled by the price tag though: the information within will save you lots of embarrassment and make your time abroad run more smoothly, especially if you’re moving to one of the 20 countries covered.

The author, Bill Drake, ran a cross-cultural consultancy and he’s an avid traveler. His guides dive much deeper than any source I’ve seen for free on the web, so this is a case where two bucks is a hundred times better than nothing.

Cultural Dimensions of Expatriate Life in Korea is quite a mouthful, but it’s definitely $1.95 well spent. I checked this one out first because I spent 14 months there as an English teacher in the late 1990s. To say it was a struggle sometimes from a cultural standpoint is putting it mildly. Some expats couldn’t deal at all and they bailed out. Others coped by doing nothing but working and hanging out in expat bars, avoiding contact with most locals. Others just got bitter and were a royal pain to be around. The easiest course is to go with the flow, and this guide has plenty of advice on how to do that. Some examples:

Koreans often find it difficult to trust a business partner until they have gotten drunk together. Drinking together is seen as the only way to resolve a sensitive issue or to close a complex business deal. Although it is become more accepted to refuse to over-indulge, the attitude that the person who drinks less than his counterparts is hiding something or is afraid to let down his defenses is still quite prevalent.

It should be noted that it is customary among friends that one individual picks up the tab. Koreans consider the American custom of dividing the check somewhat barbaric.

The “seamless” integration of the individual into the group is considered a principal goal of the society. All forms of social training,indoctrination, education and conditioning have such integration as their core assumption and ultimate objective. In such societies, any evidence that a person is “individualistic” is treated as a social pathology.

I found the information throughout to be spot-on and consistent with my experiences there. I wish I’d had this in hand before I moved there and started working.

Less engaging but still useful is another one I read through called Educating Children in Expatriate Environments. It requires more hunting for the right nuggets in this one since the subject matter is so broad. Figuring out what to do with a pre-schooler in England is very different than trying to navigate high school in such different environments as Mexico, India, and Japan. Again though, it’s not hard to justify your $1.95 investment with the nuggets that matter.

Guides are available for a wide but oddball assortment of countries, from expat hotbeds like the Czech Republic and the U.K. to ones with far fewer travelers and foreign business workers, such as Nicaragua.

There are plenty of e-books out there with information like this selling for 10 or 20 times the price. If you’re heading to one of the countries profiled in these guides and you’ve got a Kindle, round up some change and go make a purchase.

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Bill Drake

Saturday 12th of June 2010

Hi Tim - just ran across this very supportive review you did of my work and since I can't find a 'contact me' button on your site I'm leaving this comment in the hope that you'll see it and know how much I appreciate your kind words.

Best wishes - bill


Sunday 13th of June 2010

Hi Bill. You contacted me before through the Perceptive Travel site. For future reference (and for anyone else who needs it), under "Links" on this page there's one that says "Contact Tim." It takes you here:

G. Michael Schneider

Thursday 20th of May 2010

Lots of time people think that living and working overseas means one of two things: 1) Living on the cheap by waiting tables, being an au pair, or teaching English, or 2) Quiting your job here in the US and moving overseas for years. However, there is a third possibility if you are a skilled professional with a useful and marketable skill (say a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, scientist, architect, pharmacist, etc.) and that is to go on a short-term "working vacation" where the host country pays you to work and/or consult with them. I have done this 14 separate times in my life and it is a great way to live and travel "On The Other Guys Dime" Can't get any cheaper than that. Check out my blog.