Feeling like a fish out of water


Let’s talk about culture shock…

Merriam Webster defines it as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation,” while Collins Dictionary says it is “the alienation, confusion, surprise, etc. that may be experienced by someone encountering unfamiliar surroundings, a strange city or community, a different culture, etc.” I am familiar with culture shock since I went through it in Tanzania two years ago, but I did not expect to experience it again in Senegal…

Based on this article on the stages of culture shock, I am at the Frustration Stage. If I were to categorize my shock level using the scale in this article instead, I’d say that I’m depressed. Aside from frequent reminders of my status as an outsider and foreigner, my sleep pattern is the worst it has ever been (I suffer from insomnia since my teenage years) and I skillfully transform small problems into large issues that are stressful and overwhelming emotionally and mentally. I also miss the familiarity of Nigerian food and society, am overly critical of Dakar, alternate between frustration and sadness regularly, and feel alone and lonely despite the fact that I know a few people. Add to these the fact that I have been sick three times, cannot adjust to the weather for the life of everything good on Earth, spent part of my 25th birthday crying to loved ones, had unpleasant experiences when I looked for an apartment, and lost my first friend here when she left Senegal abruptly two weeks ago.

Basically: operation #LoriTakesDakar is not going very well right now and I have questioned my decision to move here barely two months into my fellowship year.

Although I understand that culture shock is normal, I would prefer to get through it quickly to fully enjoy my time in Senegal. So, instead of ruminating, complaining, and focusing on what is not going well right now, I decided to do the following things regularly.

fish-out-of-water-culture-shock-lorikemi-post-photo6 ways to address culture shock

Practice gratitude and positive thinking

Whether it is quotes, prayer, sermons, motivational videos, or conversations with generally positive people, I will spend more time practicing gratitude for being at a satisfactory stage in my life and career, and welcoming positive thoughts into my mind.

Be more open-minded and receptive

This is the time to ask questions, read, meet people, step out of my comfort zone and open more to people as they open up to me – I have to make the most of this time.

Talk to people, especially the people I trust and/or are dearest to me

In general, I do not sincerely discuss my feelings on something or someone. I am becoming more introverted as I get older so it is hard for me to “open up” to people. What I have come to realize recently, however, is that talking to people I love and respect who love and respect me as well is necessary. Loved ones bring me comfort and peace, and remind me that I am not alone even when I feel lonely.


I started writing about my experiences, thoughts and feelings privately and publicly to acknowledge that they are real and connect with people who may share them so we can discuss and address them together.

Invest more time and energy into hobbies and passion projects

As a photography and travel enthusiast, I will push myself to meet and work with other photographers and explore. I also plan to join a social or sport club to spend more time with others/ less time alone.

Talk to a professional

The stigma associated with mental health and therapy in black communities combined with my faith often discourage me from seeking “professional help.” But I promised myself to do so if I start feeling overwhelmed and unable to deal with my feelings.

I may feel like a fish out of water right now, but “only dead fish go with the flow.” I cannot accept this current state of discomfort and unhappiness as my new status quo.


How would you describe culture shock? How do you deal with unpleasant or uneasy situations abroad?


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  1. 7 November 2017 / 4:31 pm

    I’ve only just discovered your blog (though I’ve been following you on Instagram for a while) but I’m so glad that I did. Please hang in there. I can’t say I can relate to your experience as an expat but I definitely recognise a lot if not all of the points/things you experienced from my own experience moving back to Nigeria. It does get better but it definitely requires a deliberate effort on your part to make it better and to move past the hurdles. Not everyday is a victory in doing so but in the end, you will find your feet, your comfort, your people, your zone. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway ha! Keep doing you and stay connected to a good support system as well as investing time in your hobbies and passions. They will bring you joy and also us because we love your work. Win win all round!

    Kisses from Lagos!


    • Oluwakemi Loriade
      13 November 2017 / 12:37 pm

      Thank you so much for reading this post, sharing words of encouragement, and feedback on my posts, Bids. Your comments mean a lot to me. I also thank you for sharing your experience and providing words of wisdom – I’ll keep those in mind as I work on changing a few things about my life in Dakar. Best wishes and kisses to you too!

  2. 1 November 2017 / 10:30 pm

    Hang in there, Loriade! And kudos on recognizing the state you’re in and creating action plans to move past it or at least deal with it. I have never lived abroad for longer than 2 months so it’s hard to say how I dealt with unpleasant situations, In my case, I simply found comfort in the fact that I would be home soon but that’s not going to be the same solution for someone spending way longer time than that, I guess. What I do know though, is that it gets better or easier…. and a having positive mindset is the first step towards that ‘better/easier’ life.. Hang in there!

    • Oluwakemi Loriade
      4 November 2017 / 7:11 am

      Thank you for reading the post, your feedback and kind words, Amarachi! Thank you especially for the reminder that “it gets better or easier” – you’re absolutely right and I’ll do my best to keep this in mind.

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