What does it take to build a new life in a new country and the cultural adjustment as an expat woman? What does it take to go from finding your feet to thriving?

I’m a love pat.

I met my husband in Chile while he was travelling around the world. We stayed together for four months in Chile. And then he continued travelling while I stayed in Chile. Until two years later when we reunited in Vienna.

What was the thought process when deciding to become an Expat?

When you decide your going to be an expat is there a lot of back and forth between you and your family? Or was is it very much just a decision between the two of you?

For me it was a decision between the two of us because I’ve always been an explorer and adventurer. So actually, my family wasn’t surprised when I said to them, okay, I’m moving. I’m leaving for Vienna. I’d already spent a year traveling, they knew that sooner or later I was going to move anyway.

My husband was the excuse, if you may to move abroad. BUT if I hadn’t met him, maybe two years later, would have moved anyway, somewhere here in Europe.

So the thought process was actually really simple. I was more concerned about the relationship per se not about moving and the cultural adjustment.

woman on the beach with her suitcase. Making the step to becoming an expat - Gabriela Encina - Expat Psychologist

Becoming an Expat

My husband arranged everything, I mean, almost everything.

We got married and five or six days later the police were at our place in Austria because they wanted to check if we were really married or we were a fake marriage.

So they entered the house, started to see every room, like the bathroom, the kitchen, the main room, the living room, everything and started to ask questions like, “so you sleep together?”, “how long have you been here?”, “Does your family want to come here?” – of course, in German!

My German was really, really basic. It was one week after I came to Austria, so I was really nervous. But they were eventually happy that this was real.

This was just part of the cultural adjustment, and the start, or those four stages of cultura shock.

  • You’ve got the honeymoon, you’re in love with everything.
  • Then you move to frustration
  • Then you move to adjustment and
  • Then acceptance.

Expat woman in a new city - Gabriela Encina - Expat Psychologist

So how do you cope with this cultural adjustment as an expat woman?

It’s important to note that everyone is different. There may be ones you miss, you might not go through them in any order, you may even go back through some of them before you reach acceptance.

I experienced all of them back and forth, and back and forth. It was a really organic process. The honeymoon was really short. We went to Venice and had the typical honeymoon dream. And then it was back to reality and into the frustration stage.

Because, of course, it wasn’t how I might how I imagined it was going to be.

German is really, really difficult language especially if you make the transition from Spanish.

Luckily, I knew English before, but it was still a really, really it was a slap in the face.

Because I was sure that after six months, I would surely master the language. It would be perfect for me to start a master’s degree in German, but after six months, it was still difficult.

I couldn’t find a job because I wasn’t speaking the language. It was difficult for me to find to make new friends.

Even the weather affected me. I always tell my clients to bear in mind the weather in this cultural adjustment because it was a major issue for me. The weather in Austria is really different from where I come from and Chile. The winters are really long, really cold, really grey. The sun was maybe sometimes for 10 days. We had nothing like remotely similar to sun so that was a really great shock for me. I didn’t contemplate that.

It’s small things that weigh on you that you don’t realise that you were sensitive to until you’re in that environment.

It’s all those little things.

My experience as an expat with culture shock - Pinterest Image

Tips for coping with culture shock

1. Learn about the new culture.

2. Keep an open mind.

3. Be patient with yourself and others.

4. Don’t forget about the past.

5. Keep in touch with loved ones back home.

6. Talk to an expat psychologist.

After I experienced the frustration, with time came the acceptance. I was happier than ever before.

You can achieve that acceptance too.

If you’re an expat woman struggling with cultural adjustment and the cultural shock of becoming an Expat or any of the effects of moving and living abroad, you’re not alone and the good news is I can help you. Find out more about how an Expat psychologist like me can support you here.

Find out more about my methods and approach here.

Do you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad? Check my Workshop here

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By your side,


If you are an expat woman who wants to live a joyful, successful and fulfilled international​ life, Gabriela is the Licensed Psychologist and Mentor you need. She helps you reclaim your self-confidence back and design your expat life in your own terms. Gabriela has more than 20 years of professional experience, speaks 3 languages (sometimes in one sentence, like you!) and has supported more than 350 expats overcome anxiety and burnout, build meaningful relationships and enjoy their international lives, wherever they are, wherever they are heading. Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.