We’ve all probably enjoyed a holiday, yet longed to get home, if only for a “decent cup of tea”! Imagine experiencing that feeling (and many more) because you’ve chosen to become a global citizen – someone who lives and works either in a new locality or overseas. As no two individuals ever experience the same feelings from such a major upheaval, their ability to deal with the adjustment will be unique. Be aware though, they may need some help to turn such challenges into life-enhancing experiences.
Despite outward appearances, people often go through four common moods or phases as they adjust. If you know someone who’s just made a life-changing decision – be a good friend, colleague or neighbour, recognise the signs and help them to reach the positive end phase. Here’s a rough guide:
The Honeymoon Phase
Like newlyweds, many new arrivals experience the “Honeymoon” phase. They’ll be excited and stimulated as new surroundings are explored and they adjust their daily life to fit a new job and location. Mostly they adjust positively to the changes from their accustomed former way of life, embracing all things new and different.
Socialising with new neighbours and colleagues helps them experience a really positive feeling, as often they’ll be treated like “celebrities” due to their newness or different nationality.
These feelings change as the “Disenchantment” phase sets in when newness wears off. It’s normal for people to become weary of the constant need to change customary patterns to fit their new way of life. Their usual sense of identity may not translate easily into the new settings or lifestyle. They may struggle to establish themselves to these new, unfamiliar experiences, as what was first exciting and new becomes bewildering, exhausting and uncomfortable.
As they’ve not just moved home locally but a lot further (and this can often be experienced by people simply moving from one end of a country to another, which feels like another planet!), homesickness may develop from the strain of living somewhere “away from home”.
No matter what people are experiencing, rest assured that this phase does wear off eventually. You can help by arranging to meet up regularly, just to make sure they still feel welcome and part of their new community. Even just smiling and exchanging pleasantries can make an enormous difference.
During the “Culture Shock” phase, people will avoid contact with their new environment and its people. Staying indoors to avoid everyone or, particularly with expats, seeking the company of others in similar situations becomes “essential”. Often, new arrivals become highly critical of the new neighbourhood and have negative feelings towards the local people. Don’t worry! This is a natural response to suspecting they may lose their own cultural references and all the things they were taught as a child – it doesn’t mean that they’ve suddenly discovered they don’t like you.
Imagine what they’re going through – experiencing to new daily activities, habits, services, local dialect, values, ideals, nature of friendship – just some of the differences involved. Help them to learn the differing meanings of basic concepts, values and attitudes of their new culture, to help them acclimatize. When they move to accept the new routines as “just another way of life”, they’ll cope more effectively.
Adjustment or Acceptance
Lastly, the “Adjustment or Acceptance” phase helps people function with greater ease in their new surroundings. They begin to understand the meanings of the language or dialect, if this has been a problem, and regain their sense of humour. An ability to respond more naturally to differing situations will help them accept and enjoy the new culture on its own terms, as different rather than better or worse than their own.
Perhaps surprisingly, having gone through all this to settle successfully somewhere new, people often find that returning to their home country triggers a similar process of re-adapting to their culture in later years. Sounds ridiculous but, in my personal experience, it’s absolutely true!
Whatever the issues – remember all problems can be turned into life-enhancing experiences, you’ve just got to work at it.