Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas #2: Anticipate a challenging adjustment period of…

September 4, 2022


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.

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Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #6 – Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

November 19, 2011


TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS

Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

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?”

Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

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?”

Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

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??!”

Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

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?

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