This Gratitude Friday, I just wanted to express my thankfulness for finally learning to control cultural disorientation a bit better. It’s taken a long time, but I finally have been able to understand some of the triggers and manage them in a way that subdues the “culture shock” from previous experiences.
Fresh off of a visit from the USA when this typically occurs, I wrote the following article for the AIWC blog. I wanted to share it because it’s been a year and a half of learning for which I am grateful to have finally wrapped my arms around better.
Bon weekend, everyone!
We have been living in Geneva for a year and a half now, but still its common to get “the blues” every now and then.
I learned in assimilation training that the many varied stages are natural part of the expatriation process. Their theory is that the following stages are experienced:
1. Initial excitement
2. Initial anxiety
3. Arrival fascination
4. Initial culture shock
5. Surface adjustment
6. Internal shock
7. Acceptance & adaptation
8. Return anxiety
9. Reintegration shock
The stages last different lengths of time for different people. Also it is very common for spouses to be in different stages at different times. Cultural shock / disorientation is something we all go through, but I thought I would share a few of my personal tips on beating the blues:
Reach out. It is always good to build your social network in a new city, so it starts to feel like home sooner. A few social groups in Geneva include The AIWC and Glocals. Many churches are English-speaking as well, including ECBG – Old Town, Emmanuel Church – right bank, Anglican Church – right bank, and the Lutheran Church – Old Town. The sites AngloInfo and World Radio Switzerland also provide ways to link up to others.
Don’t wait. Many people want to wait until they are settled, unpacked, and feel like everything is in order before they get to socialization. I’d advise to join some of these networking groups immediately. That way, if you start to get the blues, you already have these to lean on.
Embrace the uncertain. Living in a new place can make you feel uneasy many times. When I first moved to Geneva, the hardest thing was that I didn’t feel capable of doing day-to-day chores. Back in my home country, I was independent, capable, and could handle most any situation. In Geneva, the language divide and difference in customs made me feel like I was a different person. Everyone feels this way, so the key is to tackle things head on!!
Think positive. Don’t let yourself get drug down by the differences and challenges. Start a gratitude journal for the new experiences and things you are doing. Along the same note, be careful not to be critical of your new country. Avoid commiserating too much with friends as this behavior can sometimes foster more negativity.
Get out!! If you are feeling blue, make sure to get out of the house. Talk a walk. Go discover a different park. Make a date with a friend to go to a museum or restaurant. These things can definitely help your mood.
Identify the triggers. I discovered that about 50% of the time, I would get very sad upon returning to Geneva from my home country. I identified two triggers – busyness/pace and weather. If I have a lot going on when I come back, such as a guest, a trip, or work-related activities, I am happier because I don’t have time to dwell on the differences. I also tend to have a harder time in the rain and cold, since this is different weather than I was used to. That is a hard one to avoid, but at least I know to expect it!