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Anticipate a challenging adjustment period of at least SIX months. Do not decide if you like it until these six months have passed.
How important is this time frame when you first move to a new country, from the first month to the sixth? It is VERY important. Some international school teachers tend to experience different levels of culture shock and can pass through the stages quite quickly, but I still think for those people that you need to give yourself six full months to decide whether you like your new country or not. Also, it is important to give your new school six months as well before you decide whether or not you think you are a good fit for the position and school.
I have international school teacher friends that seem to be able to just move anywhere and be in any culture and be just fine. They don’t get stressed out too much about how things are different from their previous placement. According to LaRay Barna – “There are no fixed symptoms ascribed to culture shock as each person is affected differently.” And I would have to agree to that. Unfortunately, there are other international school teachers that are very sensitive to basically all the stages of culture shock. Let’s go through some of the stages of culture shock that are on Wikipedia.
1. Honeymoon phase:
Everyone’s favorite stage. It is definitely the most fun one. I love just getting to a new country. Your new apartment, your new school, your new friends, the new culture, the new stores, your new favorite restaurants, etc… You post on Facebook how cool things are going so far to all of your friends and family. It is truly a great time to really enjoy why you got into the field of international school teaching in the first place; exploring the world and experiencing different cultures firsthand.
2. Negotiation phase:
The anxiety sets in about your new school and host country and how it is different from the one in which you were previously. “How could they do things this way?” I hear some international school teachers say many times. You must be careful during this phase to not offend your coworkers, bosses, and the people of the host country either directly or inadvertently. The anxiety you are feeling can become stronger too if you don’t know the host country’s language (e.g. the language barriers start to become very apparent). It is important to note that some schools employ many people from the host country to work in the administration offices, the cleaning staff, and even in teaching and teaching assistant positions. Their level of English is most likely not 100% native-like, so there are bound to be times when they are just not getting what you are trying to communicate to them; and sometimes you might be trying to communicate some really important matters (e.g. getting your work visa all situated, etc.)
3. Adjustment phase:
Wikipedia says that this stage starts around after six months. So, it is in agreement with Nexus’s 10 commandments of relocating overseas. Finally, things start getting back to “normal”. You have now found how you fit in at your current school (hopefully). By this time you will have made the necessary changes and adjustments so that now it does seem like you are indeed a better fit for your position at your new school. Also, the host country most likely feels more like “home” and when you arrive back at the host country/city airport, you indeed feel like you are back home. Sometimes that might surprise you, having these new positive feelings after having gone through the anxiety phase!
4. Mastery phase:
Well, I’m not for sure I have gotten to this phase ever. I would guess that most teachers never fully master being considered an equal member to the locals of a community in another culture/country. I have worked at schools where there have been expat teachers working at the school for over 25 years, and I got the impression that they still experience a sense of not fully belonging, even if they are fluent in the host country’s language and have a spouse who is a local. I would love to hear what other international school teachers think about this mastery phase. It is probably an achievable one, but many factors would come into play and the stars would have to be aligned for it to happen I would imagine.
Go ahead and check out our current members and send them a private message. According to some member profiles, we have some very experienced international school educators on International School Community. Also, check out the stages of culture shock here on wikipedia.
This article was submitted by a guest author and ISC member.