Surviving transition (part 2)

This is part 2 of my thoughts on transitions. If you haven’t read the first part you can do. here:

This second set are more thoughts for once you get where you are going.

6. Consider reverse culture shock (for those re-entering their ‘home’ culture)

As I was preparing to move to Birmingham a friend of mine gave me loads of great advice. What has stuck with me the most was what she said about reverse culture shock.

“Culture shock is real. Reverse culture shock? Probably even harder. Google both shocks. Study them. Accept them. If you have anyone to talk to, do it. Leaving and being away is hard, but sometimes coming home is harder.”

This was definitely the case for me. I was expecting differences when I moved abroad, not when I moved home! The first summer I went back to the US it was like seeing my culture for the first time. The roads were big and the cars were bigger. There were painfully few eco/ethical alternatives. Many people did not have a clue what was going on in the rest of the world. I was so frustrated with my own culture. Aspects of British and European culture that I had embraced were absent. I felt misunderstood. I did not fit in. It didn’t bother me that I didn’t always fit in in England; that was to be expected. It did bother me when I went ‘home’ and didn’t fit in there! I had changed and sometimes it was a struggle to find common ground.

You judge your own country more harshly when you’ve seen alternatives that you prefer.

As far as constructive advice, I second what my friend suggested. Realize it might happen (particularly if you have embraced a new culture). Study up on it and talk about it. Vent a bit when you need to. But also try to remember that not that long ago you probably had a similar perspective to the ones you are now annoyed by. Just as you have been shaped by a new culture people back home have been shaped by theirs. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, but be patient and gracious.

7. Embrace your new environment (without always making comparisons)

So you get to your new environment and it is weird. They drive on the wrong side of the road, say things funny, spell things differently, don’t believe in talking to strangers, and never go more than about 20 minutes without a cuppa tea. You can fight it or you can embrace it. The more you embrace differences the less you will feel like an outsider and the easier the transition will be. So eat the funny things they eat (beans on toast? New favourite!) and honestly try to understand why they think taxes should be so high.

It is natural to compare things, I do it regularly on this blog. Because I find culture so interesting I do tend to notice even small differences. But if you are always comparing it can get in the way of accepting (as highlighted in number 6). When I am in England its pavement, in America sidewalk. There isn’t a right or wrong. (Except basil. It really is meant to be pronounced bay-zel).

It is important however to find a balance you are happy with. Do not feel you need to maintain all of your cultural identity but at the same time do not think you should completely lose it. Take the pieces you like from your ‘home’ culture but also embrace different ways of living and thinking.

8. Get involved quickly

I struggled in [read: hated] Minnesota until I found a gym (gymnastics gym) and a small-group (at church). Once I started making connections in those environments I felt included and as though I could be happy there. When I came to England finding a church was instrumental in beginning to feel at home. I forced myself to do things with people I didn’t know very well. At times it was awkward, at times I longed to speak to someone who actually knew me. But taking those steps to get involved were vital in beginning to form relationships and feel more at home. To do this you may need to break away from just hanging out with other internationals. Don’t think skype friendships will cut it.

I also tried to do things. I visited museums, walked in parks, had Sunday Roasts, spent my Saturdays at local markets. I threw myself in fully and do not regret a second of it. I soaked in a lot of information quickly because I put myself in situations where I was immersed in the culture. When you move to that new city find out what it has to offer. Even if it feels forced at first, get involved.

9. Be intentional about relationships you have left behind

Relationships naturally change over time. Some grow closer whilst others drift apart. These natural changes in relationships are exaggerated when you move to another country. A good place to start is to assume that the majority of your relationships will change significantly.

Friendships that you wish to keep strong will require a bit of effort. For some people this feels “forced” but I think of it as intentional. Your relationship won’t be as spontaneous as it was when you were in the same house, country, time zone, etc. When I left MN there were a few close friends I was determined to stay in touch with beyond “How are you? How’s work? Let’s catch up sometime!” Some have worked, some haven’t. Some friends have stayed in closer contact than I anticipated whilst others, who I fully expected to communicate with regularly, have not mastered the art that is long distance communication. You can only keep up a friendship with one-way communication for so long. It is frustrating and hurtful. I have found it helpful to identify the friends who are willing to make the effort to stay in closer than average contact and focus my long-distance-communication-energy on them.

Try to accept that some people you will remain in regular contact with but most you will not. Any relationships that you want to keep closer than “where are you living these days?” will take some work. So set up skype dates, send letters, make the effort to visit at some point, etc. Some people will find this harder than others, there is definitely a learning curve so give it time and effort.

10. Be willing to laugh at your mistakes

You’ve caught the wrong bus. Or you’ve caught the right bus, but you’ve caught it going the wrong way. Or you’ve caught the right bus going the correct way but you’ve missed the stop.  Or you’ve caught the right bus going the correct way, know your stop, but made the mistake of sitting in the back very awkwardly by the guy who is smoking.

None of these were particularly funny at the time, but they are now.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Risk getting lost on public transport, order in a second language, take chances! Lots of fun discoveries come out of mistakes.

Just a few of my thoughts. What helps you get through a move?

[Special thanks to Jessica S]


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