Travel Can Be Hard On Your Emotions: An Interview with Marianna Pogosyan, PhD

Marianna Pogosyan, PhD, is an intercultural consultant and researcher, specializing in cross-cultural psychology.

I think we all want to travel more. We hear stories from our friends about how eye opening their fancy international trips were and how they feel they learned so much just by leaving their native country. We eventually get sick of them when they wistfully say “the architecture here just doesn’t compare to the cathedrals in France” for the seventeenth time or caption #wanderlust under their Instagram posts of random European alleyways, but we are secretly jealous. We think of traveling the world as this ultimate educational and enjoyable experience, but we do forget that there can be some downsides. It can be very expensive, yes, but travel, especially in the case of staying in another culture for an extended period of time, can also be emotionally taxing.

Marianna Pogosyan is an intercultural consultant and psychologist specializing in cross-cultural transitions. She helps clients ease their transition from one culture to another. Currently based in Amersterdam, she was born in Armenia and raised in Japan, so you could say she spent her whole life learning how to move between cultures. Clearly, she is an expert in this field and she eloquently discussed how travel can positively and negatively affect one’s emotions, especially their sense of belongingness.

Given your background, it is easy to see why you’re interested in the psychology of cross-cultural transitions. How has your upbringing been advantageous to your work?

Having been through multiple cross-cultural relocations has helped me to connect with others in similar circumstances. I can understand and empathize with their struggles and their joys, because I have experienced them myself, multiple times, as a child and as an adult. Oftentimes, this validation and acknowledgment of shared experiences becomes a catalyst for building trust with my clients.

What are some specific things your clients need consulting for when adapting to a new culture?

Moving across cultures can be rewarding and challenging for various reasons. While international relocations come with great opportunities, many people have worries about saying goodbye to friends and family at home and starting a new life in a new country. There are practical challenges like learning a new language, overcoming culture shock, making new friends, feeling settled and accepted at their new school or workplace. There are also psychological consequences of coping with change and transition. Adaptation takes time and effort, but ultimately, it can be very enriching. I think one of the most invaluable gifts of adapting to new cultures is the gain of experience, knowledge and insights: not only about the world, but also, importantly, about ourselves.

In your article, “On Belonging”, you talk about the I Am A Triangle group, the members of which frequently move between cultures and thus reappraise belongingness. Being born in Armenia and raised in Japan, it’s safe to say that you have done the same. How does being a part of many cultures make it easier or harder to feel belongingness? 

There are different ways you can look at “belonging” and what it means to you. Many expats report that after they have been abroad for a long period of time, they undergo a bit of a shift in their identity. They might feel like they don’t fully belong here or there, because when they are in Culture A, they feel like they belong to Culture B. And when they are in Culture B, they feel like they more belong to Culture A. It’s as if you are always missing the other culture and the other part of your identity. Alternatively, instead of a divisive outlook, you could try to adopt an inclusive approach and say, “I belong to both Culture A and Culture B.” When I was younger, I used to think that belonging was a very rigid concept – you either belonged or you didn’t. Sometimes, I even thought how much easier it would have been to identify with only one culture. But with experience, I have come to realize that belonging need not be so black-or- white: it can be fluid and flexible, and that there are different ways you can feel belonging. Everywhere in the world that I have called home has become a part of me, and thus, a considerable part of my sense of belonging. Besides, belonging to different cultures makes it more fun to watch the Olympic games, since there are more teams to cheer for.

I took a social psychology class with a professor who also specialized in cross-cultural psychology; she often discussed differences between interdependent and dependent cultures. Does the experience or importance of belonging differ between these types of cultures? If so, how?

Researchers have found that the way we construe the self can differ depending on our culture. In some cultures, like the United States and many Western European cultures, people have an independent self-construal. They are more likely to define themselves and their individuality through their internal traits and values. In other cultures, like many East Asian and Latin American cultures, the self is considered more interdependent. That is, people define themselves more based on their relationships. While a sense of belonging is an important aspect of well-being everywhere, in cultures where the self is more interdependent, belonging to communities and having harmonious relations with others is moreparamount.

In “How to Master Your Emotions”, you talk about maintaining a balanced body budget. Could you explain what a body budget is?

Psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett defines body budget as your body’s energy resources that you are constantly spending and replenishing with your actions, thoughts and emotions. One of the most important tasks of the brain is to predict and regulate your body’s energy needs, as this is essential for your well-being and for keeping you alive. Researchers, including Feldman Barrett, have therefore suggested that there are networks in the brain (e.g., limbic regions) that are dedicated to this task. It is best to keep our body budget in good shape (see tips on how to do this in “How to Master Your Emotions”), since an imbalance in our body budget can lead to negative physical and psychological outcomes.

Is there a certain culture you’ve lived in that has different ways of handling emotions or considers different things about emotion more or less appropriate to act on (for example, in Inuit culture it is completely inappropriate to act on anger) than in Western culture? If so, how?

One of the most interesting things about living in different cultures for me has been witnessing how people around the world experience and display their emotions. For example, in Armenia, people can get very enthusiastic with their emotions – be it positive emotions like happiness, or negative ones like sadness. People’s expressions of emotion are seasoned with a lot of gesticulations and vocalizations there. In Japan, on the other had, the display of emotions appears much more restrained. You wouldn’t usually find friends and relatives kissing each other on occasions of joy or flaying their arms in elation, or displaying pride and praise when toasting to someone’s accomplishments. Nor is it common to hear public wails of grief or outbursts of anger. Non-verbal communication can also strikingly differ in those 2 cultures. For example, after having lived in Japan for a decade, I became unaccustomed to keeping direct eye-contact during conversations. Friends have told me that this habit of excessive nodding and averting my eyes from their faces mid-conversation was quite amusing to them when I first moved to the United States. The good thing is that we can re-adapt quite easily and use our learned social habits based on our current cultural context. But I still find myself bowing to kind strangers in the middle of Amsterdam every now and then.

Finally, what is your favorite place you’ve ever lived?

Every place has been special. But if I had to pick one, I would say Tokyo, because it feels most like home.

Pogosyan illuminated how people might feel when they leave their own culture and immerse themselves in a new one. I think this is important to understand when we in the United States live with so many misconceptions and fears about immigrants and people in other countries. They are normal people who, like you and I, can be excited to be away from their own culture but also scared; travel puts a lot of stress on people and makes maintaining a healthy body budget more difficult. Being able to empathize with foreigners or new citizens fresh from other nations allows us to humanize and understand each other, and I think becoming educated on people like Pogosyan’s work and intercultural psychology is a great way to work toward that.


Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.

  1. I didn’t realize that there was an energy aspect to relocating, so that was interesting to learn. Overall, this was an interesting article. I wonder how much of this is the same in people who travel to foreign places for short periods of time.

  2. After reading more articles on psych2go than before, this article is perhaps the most relieving to read. I never dealt with cross-cultural differences- but my parents have. Seeing them struggle to accustom themselves to America even after living here so long is some times disheartening. It’s created a fear of relocating for me as well (college looms near for me). Reading about the interdependent culture was really insightful for me, as my parents are Latin American and have passed on to me that culture. I never before thought of it as me defining myself through my relationships (especially family) but that’s what it is, isn’t is?

    In conclusion, I seriously loved reading this article. Dr. Pogosyan (doctor, right?) brought up some really cool info! And the article itself was well written and the summation connecting to today’s events was raised awareness for the current immigration crisis. Thank you for writing this!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I appreciate how clear and simple the writing was and how relevant the questions asked to Dr. Pogosyan were. It was a good read, informative but not difficult. The topic was interesting, one I had not considered or thought about until now, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Based on personal experience, simply being in a new location within my own country and learning the small differences between that place and my home area is exhausting; I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to shift between whole cultures. It has to be incredibly hard and I agree with the author that recognizing this fact will help to lead to more acceptance across people of different cultures.

    The only criticism I have of this article is the title and the introduction. The grammar and writing style were perfectly fine and consistent with the rest of the interview; however, when reading the title and introduction, I was under the impression that the article was going to be about short-term travel and not longer-term relocation. I have no issue with the article focusing on long-term relocation (in fact, I find it more interesting and informative that way), there was just a disconnect for me as a reader. I would suggest to the author that writing less about friends taking vacations to another country will help express the true focus of the article in a clearer way.

  4. This was a great read. I’ve moved around quite a bit after high school. Though all of the places I’ve relocated to are on the East coast, they are all vastly different culturally; even within the same state!

    The emotional impact of moving is something that I’m aware of, but I tend to dismiss as being trivial. This article helps me to keep perspective.

    Dr. Pogoysyan’s richness of experience is incredible and I’m glad that she’s been able to use it to benefit those of us interested in travel and/or living abroad. I never would have thought to seek out a psychologist who specializes in assisting with cultural transistions. Something to make note of.


  5. This article was very enjoyable to read and very insightful for many reasons. The idea of exploring new cultures is very refreshing and exciting, but probably more when it is simply traveling such as vacation. When you actually move to a completely different place, the issues, such as the ones listed in the article, can be hard to cope with. If the person does not have any knowledge of the culture beforehand, it can be even harder and in the worst case can feel unwelcome or separate because of the lack of knowledge. It also depends on where the person is going. For example, I live in the United States and my parents are Indian. Dr . Pogosyan mentioned that she is Armenian who grew up in Japan. For me, it could have possibly been easier growing up because the United States does not necessarily have a singular culture and there are many other immigrants just like me. Japan is a more homogeneous country where you are more likely to find Japanese people than those of other races. If I were to move to a country such as England, I would probably have an easier time because it is a western culture with similar characteristics such as being an individualist society. Asia and other places have more of a collectivist society which would probably be harder to adjust to. I used to follow a couple on youtube who lived in Canada and moved to an Asian country. They lived there for almost 10 years yet did not seem to learn the language that much and did not fully immerse themselves in the culture. I feel like if they did, they would have had a more fulfilling experience. The world is so vast and there is so much to explore and I feel like knowledge is key. If you research and also immerse yourself in the culture once you get there, it is an extremely fulfilling experience.

  6. This is definitely a good read! It’s very informative and well-structured. The entire interview was perfect for the subject, and all of the questions were well thought out. The introduction was really good at hooking in the reader, the layout was wonderful, and discussion was brilliant. I loved this article and I’m glad you shared it, it’s certainly a helpful read for anyone who’s thought about traveling.

  7. This was a very engaging article to read. The questions were in depth, and the answers that Dr. Pogosyan gave were insightful, as well as simple enough to understand and follow. Regarding the topic of people struggling to find a sense of self due to the feeling of not belonging from one place or another, this is something that greatly interested me because I’ve struggled with those same feelings of displacement as well. It’s hard to tell people where you’re from because while one part of you feels at home in Place A, the other part feels at home in Place B.
    Coming home to my native country after having lived abroad for over eight years was difficult because I struggled with not feeling at home in the house I grew up in as a child, and being uncomfortable with the change in culture and norms. People were commenting on how I dressed, acted, and spoke different.
    The phenomenon of changing emotions or identities when traveling to other places can sometimes go unnoticed. When people simply visit other places, the shifts might not be so obvious. But it people live or work in a different country for a long time and come back home, the changes are much more noticeable because they have had time to develop new habits or characteristics while abroad that they did not have before.
    This article was able to shed some light on the experiences I went through (and am still going through), as well as gave me advice on how to better handle my emotions if ever traveling puts a strain on them. Overall, a very engaging piece that everyone should check out.

  8. This was an interesting and -considering the issues of present day- relevant article. I thought that the way the questions were asked made the interview a smooth read. I can actually relate to the multicultural identity aspect of this article, since I’ve lived in multiple countries for the majority of my life.

  9. I love the unique perspective, as not many experience such contrasting cultures in such immensity! I would like to know a little more about subtle changes, how may this experience differ for someone living in the UK moving to America (for example), as the cultural differences are more subtle but still exist?
    The layout was easy to read and follow, I would maybe recommend shortening the questions a little for the sake of reading flow; other than that, this was a pleasure to read!

  10. I find the individual that has been exposed to different cultures during their childhood to be very interesting, considering I am one myself. For years I struggled with identity because I never fully identified to both cultures that I grew up with, that being the U.S. and the Philippines. It wasn’t until college that and I took and intercultural communication class that I was introduced to the term “third culture kid,” which refers to an individual who has lived between two or more cultures during their developmental years but never fully integrates into one, thereby creating their own “third culture.” This kind of upbringing gives you a lot of advantages as these types of individuals tend to be more open-minded but then they also tend to not feel at home where their respective “home” is, they lose a sense of belonging because of the openness of their childhood. But I do agree with Dr. Pogosyan and that “belonging” does not have to be black and white. You can learn to belong in a variety of new places and that can enrich your self-identity as you have experienced a variety of new things. Although, travelling can cause a person to face some hard truths and be the instigator of some real anxiety. I think the best way to deal with that is to change the angle of perspective and instead of seeing the change as “scary” look at it as a learning experience and an opportunity to experience new things and people.

    I like how you acknowledged the difference of culture when it comes to independence. I grew up with one interdependent culture (The Philippines) and one independent culture (The U.S.). Creating a marriage between those two lifestyles is increasingly difficult for me, especially now that I am starting my adult life. Most of my family lives in the Philippines now but I am starting to lean favorably more towards American culture as I grow more independent and I have to deal with the culture clash that follows when it comes to my family. For example, I am starting to question my religion and my family members are not used to it, we are meant to follow and obey and not to debate whether or not Catholicism has any flaws. I on the other hand want to be critical of the institution and to make known my grievances with the religion so I can find out if it is something that can be integrated into my adult life. So far it hasn’t caused any major disagreements but only spirited debates, which I am all for.

    I think having a body budget can be extremely helpful to people because one of the reasons people have breakdowns is because they overestimate how much they can handle. When you acknowledge what is your limit then you can start to do things that are slightly out of your comfort zone because that way you won’t push the boundaries of your emotional range and cause some unnecessary issues. This was a very interesting interview and it asked amazing questions, maybe because it touched on all the things that I am interested in. This was very well done, imofrmative and stayed true to the topic at hand.

  11. I feel like cross cultural psychology really needs to be addressed more often, so thank you for this! Understanding the cultures and psychological views of others, and how they interact is definitely interesting and incredibly useful. I’m always fascinated with other cultures and the behaviors and ‘norms’ there, but I feel like when people travel they fail to remember sometimes that the place they’re going to may have an entirely different culture with entirely different ‘norms’. This almost reminds me of Paris Syndrome, which is a mental disorder induced by the shock that Paris is not like how the stereotypes and the media portray it. Traveling is very enriching, but you still have to remember that different countries have different cultures and different people. It’s best to learn about the culture thoroughly before traveling, it might help you understand it better and give the shock less impact,
    Aside from maybe one or two typos, this is honestly a great article about a subject that really deserves to be talked about more!

  12. I agree with Dr. Pogosyan that everyone is truly different. I personally experienced these struggles when I had to briefly live in my parent’s home country when I was about 12 years old. I may have looked like my classmates but our cultures were way too different, so it was difficult to get along with them. When I got to a big college in the city, it was actually pretty tough finding a group to navigate through my first year. However, strangely, when I studied abroad in London last semester, it all felt easy. I finally found friends to hang out and travel with. This definitely made my study abroad experience very positive.
    Therefore, this was a captivating article to read. I recommend writing more about this as it is not discussed as much. Great job!

  13. Oh wow, what a cool topic! People constantly rave about traveling so it’s really interesting to hear some drawbacks to it. I can actually really relate to this, having travelled myself. When I was younger, I lived in Japan for a while. What’s really interesting though, is the fact that there was preparation to be done before going. Every week for about a year we had a Japanese woman come to our home and teach us about Japanese culture. My family and I learned everything from origami to the basics of their language, to composure (such as keeping emotions quieter and slurping noodles as loudly as possible). So this was a really interesting connect for me! I never quite understood why we had done this until now, other than just to fit in better!

    The other thing I really enjoyed about this article is how it relates to today, especially in the section where she discusses being in culture a vs culture b. It really opened my eyes to a new view on immigrants and racism. People all the time are assuming that a person can only be part of one culture. According to said people, if people from a different culture, be it an immigrant or a person who simply celebrates their heritage, do not fit in with their own culture, the “other” person should leave to be with the people that suit their own culture better. This is small minded thinking, for, as the article says, a person can be of both cultures and it should be a GOOD thing.

    Thank you so much for writing!