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An unsettling experience, and how to do it well

If you’re a parent, you’ll likely have experienced Baby Shock.   Culture Shock is very much the same.  You spend all your energy and focus on planning and preparing for the big day, and before you know it, it’s arrived.  And if you’re anything like I was with the birth of my first child, the first thing you think is, “Cripes. NOW what do I do???”

You’ve catapulted from one home to another, and usually you don’t know a thing about the new place except what you’ve Googled.  Which is a whole lot more up-to-date than the libraries I used to frequent when relocating prior to the 90’s.  

Usually, we do what we expats do best: we wing it.   But, now, to paraphrase what Paul once said prior to the penning of what became a popular Wedding reading…..let me show you 11 more excellent ways:

  1.  Read up.  Try to familiarise yourself with your new relocation.  The benefits are two-fold. One, it gives you some idea of where you’re heading and what more or less to expect.  Two, if you have kids, it gives them a sense of anticipation, creating excitement to make up for the anxiety they may be feeling about leaving their current familiar surroundings.  Google the country you’re relocating to; discuss the culture, the traditions, the language, the national dress, the food; make it an exciting adventure, how cool that we get to experience this!  
  2. Adapt quickly. Yes, Australia’s at the other end of the world and you’ve probably travelled a whole day to get here and it’s now morning but midnight at your last destination.  Don’t go to sleep, try to avoid even taking a nap.  Instead stretch the day out as much as you can…go out for some fresh air, take a walk in a nearby park, browse some shops, go for a run, but nothing too active or exciting.  Mellow your way into your first day and try to finish it as ‘normally’ as you can, with an early dinner and an early night. 
  3. Be prepared.  Don’t assume culture shock is limited to countries that don’t share your language or economics – You can have culture shock moving to a country whose language you’re familiar with, as well as a developing country as much as a first world country. This will be challenging, and forewarned is forearmed.
  4. Be open.  Be polite, smile, be interested in your new surroundings. And please don’t whinge!  Show you are making an effort, be the Pollyanna, spread your adventurous spirit, joy is contagious!
  5. Learn the Lingo. Try learning the local language, even if your vocabulary is equivalent to a 2 year old and your accent is all wrong.  It shows you’re trying and will be appreciated.  As Amy Chua once said, “Do you know what a foreign accent is?  It’s a sign of bravery.”  Be brave. Here in Australia we tend to shorten long words and lengthen short ones.  We like adding ‘o’ and ‘y’ to the shortened words so you may come across words like garbo and lippy and servo and footy and ….you get the picture. 
  6. Join up.  There are so many social groups to join – language, theatre, writing, music, arts, expat groups, mums and babies groups, book clubs; if you want something more active, join a gym, yoga class, walking group, park run, or hash run; and don’t forget the many Meet Up groups that abound.  Take classes in a new language, a new instrument, learn how to potter, to paint, to pirouette.  Although it is very very tempting, don’t just mix with other expats. Get to know the locals too.
  7. Get involved.  Talk to your co-workers, other parents at your children’s school, integrate into your community, don’t wait for people to invite you over, ask them first.  Visit your community centre and see what’s on offer; join your local church or other place of worship; Shop locally, get to know your neighbourhood suppliers and cafes, Give back. volunteer with soup kitchens, welfare organisations, animal rescue groups.  Begin belonging.
  8. Get anchored.  Whether you are here for 6 months or 6 years, focus on getting settled as soon and as strongly as you can.  Don’t treat this as a temporary posting, pretend you’re here for life. Invest in this relocation.  Make those relationships, create those connections, engage in community.  Act with a permanent mindset. Fake it till you make it….and you will.
  9. Explore.  Play the tourist.  Visit your tourist information centre, browse what’s on at the arts centres, the museums, the theatres. Explore the city’s parks and walkways, visit nearby tourists spots, find out the best place to take in a sunset.  And don’t forget to explore your neighbourhood too.  Introduce yourself to your neighbours, hang out at your local cafe, shop locally, get to know your grocer, your baker, your bank account maker. 
  10. Be the glue.  The life of an expat is both exciting and challenging.  Your family will cope if you do.  If parents are anxious, kids, like sponges will absorb and reflect it. Be the one that holds them together, after all things may change around them, but you are their constant.  Allow reminiscing about your last place but don’t wallow in it. Discuss how the new location is challenging, allowing everyone an opportunity to honestly air how they feel. Encourage a “Do what you can with what you have” attitude.  Yes, you miss your friends, but hey there’s FaceTime and WhatsApp, and think how many new friends you’re going to make here!  Be prepared, the first 3 months are always the hardest, not the least because everything is unfamiliar, but also because you’re dealing with grieving over what was left behind.  Acknowledge that things are different here.  Help them embrace the difference.
  11. Celebrate milestones. Create moments of connection by celebrating milestones – the first month anniversary, the first week, even.  Play games: what’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered this week; what new food have you eaten; what new word can you say in the local language. Set goals, making note of obstacles and celebrating when they are overcome. 

Above all, enjoy this new experience.  We rarely remember the mundane, but the exciting?  That is what memories are made of!  Create them, embrace them, enjoy them. Don’t look back one day and wish you had done more.  Do more now.

This article was written by Rosemary Gillan Griffith-Jones

 

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