5 books every expat must read

5 books every expat must read

I am crazy about books. I love reading them, I love collecting them. Study books, biographies, self-help books, cookbooks, novels, old classics, documentary-like books, travel guides - I simply love them all. Often, I am even reading a couple of them at the same time.

For me, they are a great source of inspiration, wisdom and consolation. I read them to learn, to relax, to laugh and to get motivated.

A couple of them helped me a lot when I was moving country a few times. So, when I thought about what I wanted to write about next, I had a eureka moment – the books! Here are my top 5 favourite books for expats, internationals, immigrants, world travellers, and third culture kids:

1. Psychology of Culture Shock - Colleen Ward, Stephen Bochner and Adrian Furnham

The first time I experienced culture shock, I was not even living or travelling abroad. I was in my home country, and my boss and I had one of more painful collisions. In this case literally, when we were both trying to enter the elevator at the same time.

Being a Polish girl, I was convinced that I was the one who should enter first. He, being Dutch, thought we had equal rights to enter first. No preferential treatment was to be expected just because I was a woman. I was shocked. Little did I know about the importance of equality and directness in Dutch culture back then.

I have had many culture shocks in my life. I even started to experience reverse culture shock when travelling back home after having lived abroad for so many years. Due to my perspective having changed over the years, I found many things strange in my own home country. I felt like a fish jumping out of its bowl. For some time, none of the bowls felt right.

I started to understand this process much better once I read the above-mentioned book. I could finally understand myself better, my own cultural blueprint and how it was different from the Dutch, Brazilian or Mexican one. I understood how and why culture shock appears and how to deal with it.

The book also talks about cultural differences, cross-cultural communication and culture shock from the perspective of different groups, such as refugees, expats, immigrants, tourists and repats.

2. A Portable Identity - Charise Hoge and Debra Bryson

Another book that helped me tremendously was A Portable Identity. I came across it when I had already been living in the Netherlands for a couple of years. But then me and my husband moved together to Mexico. This was the first time that I followed him abroad.

From an independent businesswoman who was travelling around the world, to a stay-at-home mum. I fell into a black hole! Not literally, of course, Mexico is a beautiful country, but emotionally. I did not fully understand what was going on with me until I read this book. The authors explain what happens to our identity when we move abroad really well.

We all have various roles and responsibilities that we tightly link to who we believe we are. This is the source of our strength and pride. When we move, we lose many of these roles and this shakes us up. As a result, we might start to question who we really are.

The book is a great guide and companion on how to thrive when living abroad, no matter where you are. It talks about how to rebuild your identity and shares many great personal stories from the lives of the authors.

3. The Emotionally Resilient Expat - Linda A. Janssen

I met Linda when she lived in Amsterdam and I think she wrote an amazing book. This is an expat bible. It talks about all of the possible challenges of expat life, such as the ones I mentioned above, but also about things like feeling guilty, fear of missing out, and the need for emotional support, and how to overcome these challenges by using and developing your emotional resilience in order to adapt, adjust or simply live an expat life.

Full of proven theories, hands-on advice and lots of fun and inspiring stories from many expats.

4. Third Culture Kids - David C. Pollock, Michael V. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

Although my kids were only Third Culture Kids for less than two years, I was able to experience their challenges. Who are Third Culture Kids? Well, they are the kids who live / have lived a substantial part of their developmental years in a country (ies) outside of their parents’ home countries.

The book was a true eye-opener on multiple aspects of TCKs lives and helped me to relate much better to the joys and sorrows my older daughter was experiencing. Being “thrown” into a foreign country and school where almost no one could understand her, she managed to grow her confidence, as well as her foreign language and communication skills. Skills that I believe she wouldn’t have, had she been living in her home country.

However, she was also confronted with constant hellos and goodbyes, and forced to grieve over lost girlfriends.

This book is a great tool for parents to understand these different sides and help their child navigate through the challenges and benefits of living abroad.

5. The Expats - Chris Pavone

To finish my list on a lighter note, I decided to reject other heavyweight books and included this one. Ok, I will be honest with you. This book is most probably not a must-read. But it is FUN!

It is a smartly written thriller about an expat couple living in Luxembourg. I laughed so much when reading the part where the husband tells his wife they are moving to Luxembourg, as I could relate to her reaction so much.

At the end of the book, you will also find many thought-provoking questions about the challenges of expat couples that could be eye-opening for your own expat life and relationship.

Now back to you, have you read any of the above-mentioned books? I am very curious to hear what your favourite book on expat related topics is. Feel free to share below!

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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Alan Holden 10:40 | 29 January 2019

As a 35 year expat, I heartily recommend this series of anecdotal expat books from Stu Lloyd:

ewash80 11:15 | 31 January 2019

The Culture Map by Erin Meyer is a good one. It focuses on cross cultural communication in the workplace. I am an American working in a predominantly Dutch environment along with several other nationalities and this book has helped me with understanding my colleagues better.

DoSoCoach 17:14 | 31 January 2019

Great book! Thanks for sharing!

sanedevil 14:09 | 31 January 2019

Lovely list @Dorota! I've lived in France and read "Life in the Merde" a light take on life in Paris. Before moving to NL, I read "Dealing with the Dutch" - I'd say this is "THE" book for people moving to the Netherlands. Gives practical (aren't Dutch practical) tips and views of really dealing with the Dutch (mind you, you deal with the Dutch, you don't live with them ;-) ) Happy reading everyone!

DoSoCoach 17:17 | 31 January 2019

Thanks @sanedevil. On this topic I loved the Undutchables very funny!

Katarina Durisova 14:33 | 31 January 2019

When I moved to the Netherlands my Dutch boyfriend gave me the book "Why are the Dutch different" It was great and I loved to read it. highly recommend.

DoSoCoach 17:17 | 31 January 2019

Thanks for sharing Katarina!