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Culture Shock, Depression, and the Not-So-Nice Side of Expat Life

Many months ago I shared an article on my Facebook page that was another blogger’s negative experience in Morocco. There was a variety of responses (you can jump over and read them all) but what I found the most was that opening up the conversation gave me a way to being to understand and more importantly put into words my own feelings.

We’ve lived in Morocco for 16 months.

It’s been great, challenging, happy, sad, frustrating, wonderful, and sometimes just downright hard. 

But, I haven’t always been honest about what I’m going through, partly because I don’t  want to seem like I’m complaining. So let me try to explain. For many, there’s a romanticism involved with “moving to Morocco” and especially moving to “Marrakech.” I get that. I’ve heard people say how lucky we are, and how they’d love to do it.

But, we’re not lucky – we chose to make this move and you could choose to make it too. We don’t spend everyday living in the lap of luxury. We work, take care of our kids, go to buy groceries, and do everything else people do no matter where in the world they live. By choosing to move here, we also gave up a lot. Everything has trade-offs. One of those trade-offs is the inevitable emotional rollercoaster.

I go through periods where I felt catatonic. One of those times looked like this. The kids had gone back to school for the afternoon, and even though I had plenty to do I couldn’t move. I laid in bed, curled up, and I cried. And cried. And cried. Over nothing specifically, really I couldn’t even put my finger on what was wrong.

I knew that I had hit the low point of culture shock. MarocBaba came into the room and held me, let me cry, and told me it was normal and that everything would be ok. (Remember,  he went through this in the US) I apologized to him so many times for how I had acted when he was going through this, and how if I had only known what it felt like I would have been better, have been more compassionate, and more understanding. But until you’re there, until you’re looking at it face-to-face you just can’t know.

Culture shock has four stages; the honeymoon stage, rejection/frustration, depression/isolation, and adjustment/adaptation. I can tell you when I went through each one because I see it now. In the beginning, everything is new and exciting, but then small frustrations start to creep in.

The “why can’t they do it this way?” and “they’re so backward,” comments become commonplace. It’s a very negative time. I was there.  Then the worst. The depression and isolation. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I went to sleep as soon as possible. I didn’t want to go out. If I did go out I had to have someone with me. In fact, there were times I was so paralyzed with anxiety I couldn’t even drive the car. How can I forget binging on Kit Kats for several weeks straight.

I’m slowly coming out of this. Together (MarocBaba and I) are learning what works and how to move past it. For me, getting away and having new experiences is a big help. Even if it’s just going for a car ride, or drinking coffee in a favorite cafe. Of course, trying new restaurants and taking longer trips is a great way to boost my spirits!

I know I can’t stay in the house for more than a day or two, I need to get out. I also know having regular interactions with people outside of my immediate family is important. The more language I learn and freedom I have the easier life becomes.

I don’t blame Morocco as a country for my feelings, I know that they’re natural parts of moving somewhere completely new. Sure there are things about living here that are enough to drive anyone up a wall and that test your patience but it’s a part of finding a rhythm and accepting some parts of a new life. If you’re considering an expat life know that these emotions are going to happen at some point. You might not realize it when you’re going through them but you will eventually.

Remember, there’s a light shining on the other end of that (sometimes very) long tunnel.

Sharing is caring!

Sheila Bourque

Sunday 23rd of January 2022

I could absolutely relate to this. In 1978 my husband and I moved from Canada to Venezuela. At the time it was a safe and democratic country. I was excited for the adventure of it, but once I got there, the romanticism died. It didn’t feel exotic and colourful. I felt trapped. My husband went to work and I was surrounded by bars, on the door, on the windows…and concrete walls around everything with broken bottles imbedded in the concrete all around the tops of the walls. The language was a barrier to fitting in and the men standing in groups on corners, catcalling and whistling at every female who walked by, seemed rude and adolescent. Yet, life went on, as you said. Groceries to buy, meals to prepare, Spanish to be studied. I went through such a terrible stage of homesickness, my husband suggested one day that we call my parents. We didn’t have our own phone. We went to a phone centre with booths, registered the name and number we wanted called and waited to be called once a booth was available and the number went through. I couldn’t get a word out once my father answered. I ran outside, sat on a curb and cried. Eventually it all went away, but it was a lot to deal with. It gave me a respect for all the people who had moved to Canada from all parts of the world and tried to carve a living while learning English and new ways of life. Many Canadians resent immigrants. They don’t realize the courage and determination it takes to start anew in a strange world. Thank you for your very honest post. It will help people to know what to expect.

Amanda Mouttaki

Tuesday 25th of January 2022

Kudos to you and your resilience! I feel so blessed that we have easy access so I can call home anytime I want. You're right it gives you a whole other perspective and while I never harbored bad feelings at immigrants you just don't realize how hard it is until you've done it yourself!

Shelly Anderson

Sunday 23rd of January 2022

I remember well when I went off to Saudi on my own. The recruiters tell you the basics, but nothing can prepare you for the terrific culture shock. For the first few days I cried alot in the bathroom at my workplace. I was so confused and jet-lagged I actually thought the sun was rising in the west! I never stopped being very wary of the religious police and the restrictions on females at the time was hard at first. Fortunately I had only myself to worry about and fairly quickly I truly recognized the incredible adventure I was on. I embraced it and had a wondrous time in spite of the hardships. To this day I remain fascinated and I love Saudi Arabia for it's people and breath-taking landscapes. Expat life is not for everybody, but hang in there and learn to enjoy the adventure!


Thursday 23rd of July 2020

I just recently moved to Morocco and I'm already struggling emotionally. I've only been here a week but I already feel the culture shock. I'm in my 2 week quarantine and little things have happened that remind me that I've lost all since of independence. Its frustrating. Thank you for this article.

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 24th of July 2020

I really hope it gets better for you and I'm sure the quarantine isn't making it any easier. <3


Wednesday 24th of April 2019

Hi Amanda,

I want to send you a big virtual hug and thank you for being so honest. Life is not always perfect anywhere. When I look at your body of work through your website I am very impressed. You have a strong and adventurous spirit! Please continue to keep your posts honest and objective as this is what people need to hear. Good luck and best wishes.

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 26th of April 2019

Thank you so much.

Your Top Questions about Moving to Morocco Answered - MarocMama

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

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