Given the importance of novice teacher experiences and their long-term effects in the field, this cross cultural exploratory study investigates the challenges of 34 novice Turkish and Polish English teachers and how they develop their professional understanding in the early years of teaching. The participants were non-native novice English teachers working with K-12 learners in culturally, socially, economically and historically diverse regions of Turkey and Poland. The data collected simultaneously in both countries in the spring term of the 2016-17 academic year were generated from two sources: a) critical incidents of the novice teachers, and b) online and/or oral interviews with these teachers, followed by comprehensive cyclical data analysis. The challenges related to pedagogical and sociocultural factors influenced the way the teachers teach in their contexts. The findings suggest that creating interactive and reflective learning contexts for novice teachers will help them better adapt to their new school settings and develop professionally. (C) 2019 EJAL & the Authors. Published by Eurasian Journal of Applied Linguistics (EJAL).