TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS
6. Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.
In the heat of a strong and intense culture shock moment in your host country, it is very, very easy to slip a bit. Slipping-up is what culture shock is all about. There are moments when you take a step back and ask yourself,”did I just do that?!” Not the best moments in your attempt to have meaningful cultural experiences and intercultural exchanges. Many of these moments are things you are actually trying to avoid or think you are above them, but then your “sense of urgency” just shows its face in the most inopportune times. So, what are these conveniences of our home country that we instinctively want to cling on to? They aren’t necessarily things you can explain in specifics, but there are general topics we could discuss.
“Where is the bathroom? Is that the only bathroom in this place? Am I going to have to use that? Do I really have to actually pay money to use this restroom?”
There are times when you are in the search for the bathroom in a non-western country; probably the most important thing you need while traveling. In the United States and in some other westernized countries, the general idea that restaurants, stores, grocery stores, etc. in a community will provide you a restroom free of charge, and most of the time you don’t even need to buy something there. We expect that the bathrooms are going to be there for us that we indeed start taking that convenience for granted. Then you find yourself in another country and that convenience is now gone. Many places do not even have a bathroom for their customers to use. The quest for where you are going to find a bathroom to use is indeed a real one when walking around a city in a foreign country. Not everyone will let you into their bathrooms!
“It is taking so long for internet to get set up in my apartment! Why don’t they offer an English option when I called the phone company’s customer support line? Why is the internet so slow in this country?”
How important is having internet in your home nowadays? Most people cannot live without it. Now throw in your inability to communicate in the host country’s language to actually get internet set up in your home, it can feel like your sense of urgency about getting internet into your life is not shared with the local phone company…not one bit. Some international schools provide support to their new teachers to help get things set up in your apartment or to even have them set up before you get there, but other international schools leave you on your own. That means you are the one going to the telephone store and trying to figure everything out yourself. Now the tricky part, when you finally get to the date of the installation, you get the phone call from the technician who is literally minutes away from your house. You are so close to getting the internet set up, yet the technician is speaking to you in the host country’s language and doesn’t speak one word of English. Luckily though, many times the technician does arrive and is able to install everything successfully, but in that one stressful moment, you would have given anything to be able to speak their language.
“Could this line be going any slower? How can there be so many people here? Where exactly is the ‘line’ anyways??!”
Waiting in line in more western countries is sometimes quite different from waiting in lines in countries in Asia. What are the hidden rules about getting in a line in China for example? What are the hidden rules about getting in line in India? In some countries pushing and shoving is just part of the game when in a line waiting to get to the cashier. The locals have a “sense of urgency,” the correct sense of urgency, and they get to the front of the line faster. You just need to carefully observe and figure out what their rules are first so that you can also get to the cashier in less time. The convenience in a more western country is that you can assume that nobody will be touching you or pushing you in a line, the line will most likely be a straight one and that there will be someone who can speak English more or less at the register. Once you are living in a foreign country though, you soon may realize that you have possibly taken for granted all of those conveniences from your home country.
If there is one lesson to be learned…it is that you actually do (usually) end up getting the conveniences that you look for in your host country, it just comes to you a bit slower than or in a different way maybe what you are used to. It all comes down to communication (or your lack of communication) doesn’t it? Maybe your sense of urgency for all the conveniences you expect will be lessened a bit if you are able to explain yourself better. What has been your experience living in your host country?continue reading
TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS
5. Look for ways to strengthen and maintain your enthusiasm.
We all have been there before; alone in your new apartment, not wanting to go out onto the street to the nearby market, not wanting to be confronted with a bunch of people that are speaking a language you don’t understand, feeling tired all the time and wanting to sleep through your whole weekend, etc.
It takes some mental toughness to get your spirits up again, to grasp at a tiny bit of enthusiasm when you are knee-deep in culture shock feelings. If this is your 3rd international school you might have said to yourself, “this time it is going to be different. I am going to accept people’s offers of invitation to go out around the town. I am going to be more positive and active during the first 3-6 months after I arrive.”
Sometimes it feels like every other new teacher at your school is full of enthusiasm and you are the only one not feeling that way, but it is true that all new teachers go through this tough stage of culture shock which is trying to stay positive about your situation and keeping an up-beat attitude about the host country and culture.
Ways to increase and maintain your enthusiasm:
§ Invite some of the new teachers out for a drink at a bar in town, for a walk around the nearby park, for some dinner over at your new apartment, etc..
§ Join a meetup.com group in your host city. There are many groups on that website from all over the world. Sometimes it is good to just get away from your work colleagues and meet some other expats in other industries.
§ Start up a blog about all your new experiences living abroad. Keeping your friends and family up to date with all your new experiences can be quite motivating, and your friends and family look forward to your new entries and enjoy hearing about all your adventures.
§ Make sure you have some of your favorite TV programs to watch on your computer. We have all experienced in at least one of the host cities we’ve lived in the long wait time that there can be when getting internet installed in your new apartment. Having some TV programs or favorite movies to watch in the meantime can definitely keep your enthusiasm from dipping too low.
§ Make sure you don’t pass up your first travel opportunity of the school calendar. Looking online for flights to new destinations can really boost your enthusiasm for the expat life that you have chosen for yourself. If you are not feeling like traveling, just start asking around with the other teachers at your school. Once you hear where they are going, you will for sure want to get on the bandwagon and get your trip planned as well.
§ Before you move, make sure to pack some of your favorite home country food products. When you have a day that you are feeling down, you can get one of these products out for dinner. Having some familiar foods can really make you feel back on track. It might just be too much of a shock to your system to only be eating the host country’s cuisine.
Anybody have any more good ideas for keeping up your enthusiasm? There are many more for sure. Just try and keep in mind the reason that you decided to take on this new challenge and change in your life. The life of an expat is indeed quite nice, but it is not full of wonderful moments all the time. International school teachers need to be prepared to handle these tough situations we experience every once and awhile when our enthusiasm for this lifestyle temporary dims.continue reading
TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS
4. Develop tolerance for ambiguity and frustration by being flexible and open towards the new culture.
Effects of Culture Shock
• A sense of uprootedness
• Feeling of disorientation
• Not knowing what is going on
• Behaviors and attitudes which were necessary for obtaining goals in the culture we learned are no longer useful
• Familiar behaviors which marked a well-adjusted person in one’s own culture are now seen as bad manners
• So many adjustments to be made that one becomes overwhelmed, frustrated, and angry
All these things can lead to you not being the most open-minded towards your host culture and country. Do we need to go through certain steps until we get to the tolerance that we seek?
Typical Pattern of Culture Shock
1. At first we think it is charming
2. Then we think it is evil
3. Then we think it is different
Almost everyone who studies lives or works abroad experiences some degree of culture shock. This period of cultural adjustment involves everything from getting used to the food and language to learning how to use the telephone. No matter how patient and flexible you are, adjusting to a new culture can, at times, be difficult and frustrating. It is easy to get lost, depressed and homesick. You may even want to go back home!
Don’t panic…these are all totally normal reactions and you are not alone. Sometimes it is hard to remember why you decided to leave home. You are on an adventure – a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn – but it does not always seem that way. Staring you straight in the eye, you cannot avoid culture shock entirely.
Adjusting to a new culture can be difficult and frustrating, but it can also be a wonderful, thought-provoking time of your life during which you will grow as a person. Living in a foreign country will open new doors, introduce you to new ways of thinking, and give you the opportunity to make life-long friends. The most effective way to combat culture shock is to step back from a given event that has bothered you, assess it, and search for an appropriate explanation and response. Try the following:
• Observe how others are acting in the same situation
• Describe the situation, what it means to you, and your response to it
• Ask a local resident or someone with extensive experience how they would have handled the situation
and what it means in the host culture
• Plan how you might act in this or similar situations in the future
• Test the new behavior and evaluate how well it works
• Decide how you can apply what you have learned the next time you find yourself in a similar situation
Throughout the period of cultural adaptation, take good care of yourself. Read a book or rent a video in your home language, take a short trip if possible, exercise and get plenty of rest, write a letter or telephone home, eat good food, and do things you enjoy with friends. Take special notice of things you enjoy about living in the host culture.
Although it can be disconcerting and a little scary, the “shock” gradually eases as you begin to understand the new culture. It is useful to realize that often the reactions and perceptions of others toward you–and you toward them–are not personal evaluations but are based on a clash of cultural values. The more skilled you become in recognizing how and when cultural values and behaviors are likely to come in conflict, the easier it becomes to make adjustments that can help you avoid serious difficulties.
* Information and excerpts were taken from Julia Ferguson’s website.continue reading
TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS
3. Do not expect to replicate your current lifestyle. Look for what is there, not for what isnʼt.
“Wherever you go, there you are.” A psychologist friend of mine told me that one time, and I think it is 100% true. I’m not for sure international school teachers are moving from school to school and country to country to replicate their current lifestyle, many times they are trying to flee it! But again and again, you typically find yourself just settling back into the same routine and actions that you have always been doing…no matter where you are living. You do change some small things in each placement, but many routines take time to change and are hard to break.
I think what this commandment is referring to is the situation when a person is coming directly from their life in their home country. Then for sure you should not expect to replicate your current lifestyle. It is easier than it sounds though. It happens to be a bit human nature to want to surround yourself with familiar things. Many smart entrepreneurs and importers are keen to this aspect and cash-in on selling us those things in many of the cities around the world where there are international schools (e.g. brownie mix, soft brown sugar, satellite TV, chocolate chips, etc…). These familiar things are going for a high price because those stores know that many of us international educators want them. This is done all in attempt to replicate our past lifestyle.
After awhile though you find things in the local stores and shops that start to create your CURRENT lifestyle in your new host country. Many of those new aspects because an even better addition to your lifestyle than the old ones! I definitely miss things that were part of my lifestyle in my last placement, but certain things are just not replicable outside of that placement (cleaning lady, having a driver, going out to eat every day, etc…). With that being said, you will certainly find other things in your new placement that will become a part of your new lifestyle.
Successful international school educators are good at being open-minded to trying new things in the host country. It means taking chances and taking opportunities to try new things and to do things in a new way. It also means leaving some old routines of yours behind, or at least “on-hold” for awhile.
One thing I enjoy about my new lifestyle abroad is going grocery shopping almost everyday, versus going 1-2 times a week in the United States for example. I also enjoy walking to the grocery store versus taking your car. There are many other aspects of an international school teacher’s new lifestyle abroad that would be hard to leave behind if we were all to move back to our home countries!continue reading
TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS
2. 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 though 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 old 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 that you were previously at. “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, boss, 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 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 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 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.continue reading