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  • Writer's pictureMargot Ling

Thriving in an Unfamiliar Culture: Fun Tips for New Expats

The past few years with the pandemic have brought about significant changes in work preferences worldwide. From serious lockdown measures to people seeking new environments to be closer to family or simply explore something different, the global landscape has seen a reshuffling of talents across borders. In this context, places like Hong Kong have introduced new policies to attract talents from around the world, including many from Mainland China. 


However, integrating into a new work culture can be challenging for these new expats, especially when they find themselves gravitating towards people from their own culture. In this article, we explore fun tips to help new expats thrive in unfamiliar cultures.


One valuable tip comes from cross-cultural coach and speaker Lashley Pulsipher, who suggests immersing oneself in the local culture through various means in her Vodcast, Global Mindset. For example, reading local fiction, following social media discussions, and even exploring news about local celebrities or gossip magazines can provide insights and conversation starters with colleagues.


Another speaker, the expat coach Sheila Cancino, emphasizes the importance of the "3Cs" in adapting to a new workplace or country: Connect, Commune, and Contribute. In her video, "Working in a New Culture," she suggests that new expats should consider focusing on building relationships and winning the hearts of colleagues before engaging their minds. Expats can foster a sense of connection and rapport in their new work environment.





Drawing from my personal story, I can relate to the challenges of adapting to a new work culture during my first expat experience when I relocated to the city of Shanghai. Initially, I struggled to integrate into the culture, unaware of the significance of understanding local values and work practices. However, I also developed my very own way to immerse myself in the culture and the community


I strongly believe that having fun and immersing yourself in the new culture is the fastest way to learn and adapt.

When I first moved to Shanghai and couldn't speak Putonghua fluently, I faced some initial challenges. However, I discovered that spending time with colleagues outside of work, such as having after-work drinks, strengthened our bond. Not only did it create a more welcoming and supportive work environment, but it also helped me improve my language skills. Additionally, tuning into the local TV news allowed me to quickly become familiar with the local language and accent.


Based on the ideas gathered from our community of expat consultants, below are a list of fun tips for you:



  • Read local fiction: Gain insights into local culture and perspectives.

  • Follow local celebrities: Stay updated on trends and pop culture.

  • Visit supermarkets & malls: Observe local behaviors and preferences.

  • Join colleagues for local food: Experience authentic cuisine and customs.

  • Attend cultural events: Immerse yourself in traditions and celebrations.

  • Engage in language exchange: Improve communication and show cultural commitment.

  • Volunteer in the community: Contribute and gain deeper cultural understanding.

  • Join interest groups or clubs: Connect with like-minded individuals.

  • Document your experiences: Reflect on your growth and share insights.


In a work or  business environment, seeking insights from Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is often recommended as a valuable guide to deepen our understanding and strategize effectively when communicating in an unfamiliar culture.


Cultural Intelligence encompasses four key competencies:

  1. CQ Drive: Embrace curiosity and motivation to adapt effectively. Cultivate a genuine interest in learning about the local culture and customs, as well as a willingness to step out of your comfort zone.

  2. CQ Knowledge: Actively seek knowledge about the local culture, customs, and practices in order to avoid stereotypes and foster a genuine understanding of the differences. Engage in research, conversations, and cultural experiences to expand your knowledge base, such as those fun tips suggested above.

  3. CQ Strategy: Build bridges with a diverse network by seeking out cultural mentors and connecting with individuals from different backgrounds. This will provide valuable insights and perspectives, enabling you to navigate the cultural landscape more effectively. Additionally, plan and approach interactions with cultural sensitivity and foresight.

  4. CQ Action: Adapt your behavior by learning the local language, respecting social norms, and embracing flexibility. Show respect for cultural practices, customs, and traditions, and be open to adjusting your own behavior when necessary to build positive relationships.


By embracing cultural intelligence, new expats can successfully integrate into new work cultures and create meaningful connections.





I invite you to reflect on these four important questions:


  1. How can you build genuine connections with colleagues in a new culture?

  2. How will you learn about local customs to appreciate the culture better?

  3. How can you adapt your behavior to engage effectively in the new culture while being true to yourself?

  4. What are the most enjoyable aspects of your expat journey so far, and how can you incorporate more of those into your experience?


Thriving in a new work culture as a new expat is an exciting journey with chances to grow personally and professionally. With a friendly  attitude and a willingness to adapt, you can navigate through any challenges and embark on an incredible adventure of self-discovery in their new environment.

Most importantly, don't stress yourself out. Instead, look for something that suits you and is enjoyable to start with. Take your time to learn about the new culture and the people around you with an open mind.


Enjoy your journey!




More about Margot Ling, Founder of The Cultural Programs - TCP Growth Ltd.

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