You’ve moved abroad and the honeymoon period is fading. What now?
“Maybe I should just go back.”
Expats, global citizens and trailing spouses: you may be saying this to yourself after experiencing a series of exasperating and distressing ‘gray moments’. These micro-breakdowns can accumulate, take a toll on our well-being, and leave us teetering on the brink of DESPAIR.
As someone who has navigated various reinventions, I’ve been to the edge of the ledge MANY times.
This unwelcome guest showed up on my doorstep after I accepted what first appeared to be my dream job in Cologne back in November 2000.
My new job afforded opportunities to travel and meet exciting personalities in international media. BUT the constant travel and long working hours drained me. Slowly, but surely, a string of disorienting and disappointing ‘gray moments’ can poke holes in our dream of a thriving global lifestyle with burning questions like:
Do I REALLY have what it takes to build the thriving global lifestyle I’ve been looking for?
Do I DESERVE to live the possibility of the dream I took the leap for?
Is this the RIGHT place for me?
And as someone who seriously considered going back, but decided to stay, build and live the life I took the leap for, here’s some food for thought.
Before you make a decision
Evaluate where you are in the acculturation process. There are five stages to be aware of:
Stage 1 – Enthusiastic acceptance
When you first arrived, everything was new, and you were experiencing a great deal of novelty. All cultures are a compilation of both light and shadow characteristics. You may have been attracted to how open and friendly people in your new home appear and overlooked some of the more challenging aspects of building meaningful and intimate connections. This is the honeymoon stage. You only saw the light. Somehow you overlooked the shadow.
Stage 2 – Doubt and reservation
The novelty begins to fade and you begin to recognize that the culture is not as perfect as you thought it was. You’re now feeling the tension between the familiar and the unfamiliar, which is draining. To conserve your energy, you may begin to withdraw instead of reaching out.
Stage 3 – Resentment and criticism
At this stage, what began as the BEST decision we’ve ever made morphs into the WORSE decision we’ve ever made. We may find ourselves struggling with knee-jerk reactions of anger, shame and blame. We could even be alienating those who could eventually become our strongest allies.
Stage 4 – Adjustment
Fortunately, we get through the turbulence and make the necessary tweaks and adjustments. During the adjustment stage, we acquire new skills and strategies to make the necessary upgrades, even with all of our own and our new home’s quirks and flaws.
Stage 5 – Accommodation and evaluation
During this stage we’ve cultivated a new degree of comfort in the new culture. We begin to forge more meaningful relationships, have a higher degree of healthy self-regard , and begin to feel joy and a sense of healthy pride after braving the treacherous storms of reinventing ourselves away from home.
Affirm your ability to sift and sort through the messy middle
Unfortunately, some of us get stuck in one of the middle stages. And we’re unsure if staying, moving to another country or returning to the place we leaped from is the best way forward.
I’ve been there and seriously considered ALL of the above. But, I paused, took a breath and consciously said to myself…
I HAVE what it takes to build the thriving global lifestyle I’ve been looking for.
I DESERVE to live the possibility of the dream I took the leap for.
Even if Cologne isn’t the right place for me, I CAN shift my paradigm, learn from this experience and find the RIGHT place for me.
And I did.
You can too!
Do a test run
If possible, do a ‘test run’. Return to the place you took the leap from or visit the new country you’re considering leaping to for a discovery vacation.
You don’t have to tell anyone, but be lovingly honest and disciplined as you do the necessary due diligence to prepare your next steps forward from a more empowered, rather than from a reactionary mental and emotional state. Otherwise, you’re at risk of replicating old ways of being, thinking and relating that don’t serve you in your life’s next chapter.
Embrace the acculturation process as an ongoing journey
As expats we have to learn how to continually face the unresolved grief of leaving things behind (even with ALL the gains), questions of belonging and identity, and the challenges of building sustainable relationships.