British Culture Shock

How professionals can avoid British culture shock during an international assignment in the UK

Working abroad can lead to unexpected culture shock. In this article, Marina Ibrahim looks at ways professionals can reduce and avoid UK culture shock to make the most of their international assignment.

Written by Marina Ibrahim on 24 July 2020

Any international assignment presents great opportunities to see the world through a different lens, form amazing memories and life experiences as well as achieve career and personal growth.

If you are an experienced senior executive there are many opportunities for international career progression by taking up a position in the UK.

But working abroad means venturing out of your comfort zone which can be extremely challenging. International assignments are expensive for the employer and a high number - 40% of them fail for a variety of reasons including unconscious bias and underestimating culture shock and cultural differences.

What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock can be described as a clash between our own and another culture - feeling distanced from your familiar environment, social networks, norms and the inability to communicate. Even well-travelled professionals can experience culture shock with feelings of depression, fatigue, loss of self-confidence, anxiety, frustration and isolation.

It is a normal reaction but with time and cross-cultural training you will look back on your international experience as a very positive one that has enhanced your professional and personal life.

How to Avoid Assignment Failures Caused by Culture Shock

The difference between surviving and thriving is understanding cultural and intercultural relations. But how can you to integrate into a new culture and make a success of your assignment?

Cultural Differences in the UK

Culture is complex! It can be compared with an iceberg - the smaller, visible part is what you notice with your senses: the food, sounds, how people dress or speak - their way of life. And then there is the hidden part. You don’t know what you don’t know – you don’t understand the local politics and networks, who is really in charge or the nuances of the language or humour.

With English the predominate language in many areas of business or academia, expats moving to the UK from Europe or North America might think they will not experience excessive culture shock.

But let’s look at some of the visible differences and how they might impact on your understanding of British culture.

How can you build Cultural Competence?

International relocations bring many risks and rewards and those with a global mindset are more likely to avoid the cultural pitfalls. Businesses that successfully leverage their employees’ cultural competency into diverse assignments, projects and operations will gain a competitive advantage.

Cultural competence is based on a growth mindset, a complex combination of skills, talents, experiences and attitudes. This can be enhanced with training and coaching to ensure that expats can:

Why take the risk? Fully preparing and supporting global talent with cross cultural training and executive coaching could be the difference between success and failure.

Are you navigating cultural challenges within your organisation? 

Whether you're an expert seeking to enhance your cross-cultural competencies, an expat adjusting to a new professional environment, or an executive leader or team aiming to foster inclusivity and leverage diversity, I'm here to support you.


My expertise in Global Diversity, Inclusive Mindset, and Cultural Agility, coupled with my personal experience and professional background, equips me to offer tailored coaching and training solutions. I can help you and your team develop the skills necessary to thrive in today's global market, enhancing performance, and driving innovation through inclusion. Contact me to discuss how we can work together to address your cultural challenges and achieve your diversity and inclusion goals.