Culture Shock in Kenya

As such a vibrant and diverse country, culture shock in Kenya can come in many different forms. Some expats find living in Kenya so difficult to adjust to that they tend to live entirely enclosed within an expat circle, rarely straying from their compounds. This tends to further intensify one's sense of isolation.

However, some expats may not find the culture differences intimidating. Instead, they are inspired by the generally friendly and open nature of locals as Kenyans generally adopt a welcoming and helpful attitude towards foreigners. There are also expat groups in the large cities like Nairobi and Mombasa which help facilitate the assimilation process. These organisations arrange social gatherings including lunch dates and sporting events. Expats should contact their embassy or consulate to find out more about local expat clubs.

Inequality in Kenya

Most expats living in Kenya find themselves within the upper middle class of Kenyan society. They're privy to nice houses, shopping at modern malls and driving comfortable cars. Therefore, most foreigners will find the expat experience to be relatively insulated, although the lives of ordinary Kenyans will be visible everywhere.

New arrivals are often shocked at the disparity between the haves and have-nots. Wealthy Kenyans drive luxury vehicles, own palatial homes and operate with an abundance of resources. There is also a growing middle class that enjoys a comfortable but modest lifestyle.

However, according to UNICEF, more than 40 percent of Kenyans live below the poverty line. Although this is largely in rural areas, the situation remains visible in big cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa. The poor live in densely populated communities in and around cities, lacking essential resources such as proper clean water, sanitation, electricity and educational facilities.

Language barrier in Kenya

English-speaking expats will be relieved to find that they won’t struggle with a language barrier in Kenya. English is one of the country's two official languages and while Swahili is the first language of many Kenyans, there's widespread English proficiency, particularly in cities. There is also the possibility of locals knowing three languages, as many speak an additional region-specific language.

Domestic help in Kenya

One of the biggest luxuries afforded to expats living in Kenya is being in a position to hire domestic help. For expats from North America or Western Europe in particular, having household help is a treat and most of them are used to doing basic household chores themselves. In Kenya, however, most middle- and upper-class families have some form of domestic help. 

Traffic and road conditions in Kenya

Expats in Kenya will soon get used to sitting in traffic and being surrounded by hawkers, who sell everything from newspapers and magazines to car accessories. Maps, phone chargers, toys, bananas, sunglasses and art are just a few of the things on offer. While the constant pressure to buy things can be annoying, expats will soon learn to tolerate these vendors and gently encourage them to move on.

Public transport options in Kenya are somewhat limited. Driving in Kenya isn't always easy, so expats are advised to hire a local driver, but those who opt to get behind the wheel should drive defensively at all times. 

Corruption and bureaucracy in Kenya

The economic disparities in Kenya are symptoms of a bigger problem. Corruption and mismanagement of public funds have long been a problem, and expats are likely to come across instances of solicited bribery even in their day-to-day lives.

When dealing with visas, work permits, paperwork and driving licences, expats are sure to find the inevitable delays extremely frustrating. It's often necessary to hire a qualified agent to deal with matters such as these. Achieving the desired results is sometimes impossible without their help.

Jerry Riley Our Expat Expert

Jerry Riley is a Canadian freelance photographer based in Nairobi, Kenya. He has worked in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe. While in East Africa, he has contributed to Adam, TN, the Nation Media Group, The Africa Report, Farafina (Nigeria), Kwani, Storymoja, Wajibu and Awaa. He regularly exhibits in North America and Europe and recently celebrated the launch of the first East African exhibition of his fine art photography in Nairobi.

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