Culture Burnout

Most of us living here have faced the burnt of living in foreign land. During such hard times, it is difficult to feel grateful for all the rich experiences we have enjoyed, and all too easy to feel obsessed with negativity. Here are some simple guidelines to help negate those unhealthy feelings. By Rachel Middagh and Carrie Jones, LCSW




You’ve been in Shanghai for a while now, and the culture shock has passed. You don’t have to psyche yourself up for a trip to the grocery store, and you can just zone out like everyone else on the metro. But lately, something else has crept into that space where culture shock used to roost: something like irritation and exhaustion all rolled up together. Everything about this place is just getting your goat.You might have a case of ‘culture burnout’.

Mother and son bonding while doing his homework. All text in notebooks and cards create for this photoshoot and copyrighted Willie B. Thomas
Here’s how to cool things off:

  1. Remember what brought you here Was it an adventure, an opportunity, a mission? Some expats come just for jobs, but many have deeper, more personal reasons that lead them abroad or at least contribute to the decision to come.
  2. Change your routine. Maybe you are just sick of the same old, same old and not Shanghai in particular. Try a new hobby or activity; visit a place you’ve never been; enroll in a class or a program.
  3. Remember the good times! Pull out the photo album or your journal and see how you have enjoyed it here and grown. Remind yourself that there is more to come.
  4. See the sunny side. When you find yourself having a “Bad China Day”, think about what a great post it would make on your favorite social network site. Or, start mentally composing an e-mail home with all the unbelievable details. Take a step back and see the humor in your cross-cultural stumbles and bumbles.
  5. Seek supportive, positive friends. It’s important to have friends with whom you can openly and honestly share your feelings. But if you find yourself a part of a group who regularly complain about life in Shanghai, it won’t improve your mindset and will only serve to feed your frustrations.
  6. Get away. Maybe your irritation with Shanghai is a symptom of your own exhaustion. It takes a certain energy and focus to live life in a foreign country, whether you are working or managing the household. A vacation may be what you need to get away and rest from the daily demands of a busy life abroad.
  7. Consider seeing a counselor. Counselors who specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy can help identify and change any unhealthy or distorted thought patterns. They can also help address other issues that may be affecting you and contributing to your discontent.
  8. Time to go. Finally, it may be appropriate (but only as a last resort) to consider whether it is time to end the China chapter in your life and begin a new one elsewhere. A counselor can help you work through this decision in a safe, reasonable environment.


This article first appeared in the CARE magazine published by Community Center Shanghai, and permission was given to ShanghaiMamas to reprint.

Community Center Shanghai (CCS) is a non-profit organization, with Centers strategically situated within Shanghai’s international communities in Hongqiao, Minhang and Pudong.CCS responds to the ever-changing needs of the community by providing relevant programming that equips individuals and families to maximize their potential while in China. CCS bridges the cultural gap by offering opportunities to give and serve through our charitable programs, providing useful and enriching classes, practical and educational tours, essential orientations, professional counseling, and volunteer opportunities

People may need to deal with major adjustments and difficulties during their time in Shanghai. Many times a combination of several issues seem to surface simultaneously and create temporary, intense stresses and/or crises. Most clients are high functioning, well-organized individuals and families who find our services useful in coping with a difficult period in their lives.If you find yourself, or someone you care for, in a position of need, you can call the counseling phone at: 136-3631-7474, Monday – Friday9 a.m. – 5 p.m., or send us an e-mail at