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Brace yourself and enjoy the ride!

Successfully crossing cultures is a major challenge. Do not leave this to chance or luck, but consciously prepare. Brace yourself. It will really make a difference. Adjustments will take time and energy and will remain challenging, but part of the shock of culture shock is not expecting it. Knowing that it is coming is important to be able to cope better, adapt quicker and enjoy more.

Many studies show that three leading causes of assignment failure are: partner dissatisfaction, family concerns, and the ability to adapt. Being aware of what might be coming will make the experience easier and it will also help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed.

I often compare it to turbulence in an airplane. Although I still do not really like this I am much more at ease about this since I once was in the cockpit and the pilot showed me a patch of turbulence on the radar screen. He showed me where the turbulence would be, that we would reach there in about 10 minutes, that it would be light at first, but worse for about five minutes and that it should be over in about 20 minutes or so. And it happened just as he had explained! That gave me such comfort. It was not that the turbulence did not happen, and it indeed was quite bad at some point. The cabin service had to be suspended for a short while. But being prepared for it and knowing it was coming and that it was something normal and deliberate (the pilots did not decide to fly around it but assessed the situation and went through it) changed forever the way I experienced turbulence when flying. I can even fall asleep now during turbulence, something which I was never able to do before. All a matter of confidence.

There are many things to say about this topic. Here I would like to focus on the question many expats ask themselves. Why am I so tired?

When moving to another country for your job requires smaller and larger adjustments to make. Adjustments is something we are used to. We all have experienced things like going to a new school, moving to a new house, a new job, or travel to another country – But not many people have experienced so many major adjustments at once before moving to another country to work for several years. That is a huge adjustment during which several major factors causing stress play out at the same time: letting go of your old job, leaving behind your social network family and friends, a transfer to a new job and starting a new job in which you do not know anything yet, maybe a partner who has to let go of a job al together, a partner who all of a sudden is dependent on you, maybe a country where climate and the health structure is challenging, kids who do not want to leave their friends….

So there is a lot of upheaval in your life. Both excitement and apprehension. Both fear and a sense of adventure. But all these changes and emotions all take time and energy. Stress – be it positive or negative – requires energy. Your time and energy are not limitless….

It is not only the practical things which make you tired, the logistics, the unpacking of the boxes and setting up your new home abroad etc. Of course this takes time and energy. But there are other things too. Things which are less visible but even have more impact.

The loss of routines is something which wears you down. There are many things in your daily live which you do without even thinking about them. Dressing up, quickly walking to the bakery, brushing your teeth. Of course you give some attention to be able to do all these things, but you can do it easily and think about other things. Even driving in your home town is a routine. You are often able to think about other things and how often has it happened that you arrived at your destination without really consciously passing all the traffic lights. Many things at home are somewhat of routines which require less of your energy, both mental as well as physical. Leaving more head space for other things.

When moving to another country – and especially to a country very different from your own many more things which were routines before require a lot more focused attention and energy. Of course in time some of these things will become new routines. But these take time and relearning. And this can make you feel uncertain and dependent. I remember when I got my car in Jakarta. They had it delivered to the office. I had to make a choice. Drive home myself in the horrendous traffic and that too on the other side of the road than I was used to driving or leaving the car at the office, getting a driver to drive me home first and then practice first in an area of town which was less busy. That decision alone took time and gave me stress. I was actually afraid to drive home myself, but I also did not want to be dependent, I felt stupid not to dare to drive, if so many people could drive in Jakarta, why would I not be able to do that… I left the car at the office for two days and then I decided to try. I still remember that moment of fear vividly when entering the road from the office drive way and plunging into traffic. And I also remember the immense pride and happiness after I arrived home an hour later. I conquered my fears! But very tired I was after this….

Many other things regarding transportation are not routine anymore. Is there public transport, is it safe, how does it work, where to buy tickets, how long does it take to reach your destination, how to plan so as not to be far too late or far too early for an appointment. And what is “in or on time” in this country anyway…? All these decisions and finding out how it works require energy.

Another things which is immensely tiring without realizing it that everyone you see and speak to is new. Of course that can be exciting too. But interacting with new people all day requires much more energy. Trying to figure them out, trying to get to know them, maybe wondering whether someone could become a friend or not. It will be more difficult to really relax and be yourself as you might unconsciously also be wanting to present your best self to all the new people you are meeting. And in the midst of all this you will miss your good friends back home even more.

A lot of things to find out, learning how things work, new routines. Brace yourself and learn about it. You are going to be tired. A move is overwhelming as there are multiple stressors and a lot of emotions to deal with. Being prepared it will happen can make a huge difference. Be kind to yourself and prioritize self-care. Although you might think you do not have time for this, this is the most important thing to do. And of course there are other things which you could do.

Curious to know more about this? Or to learn more about overwhelm and possible ways to cope, or to be more aware of the mode in which your are operating. Are you living in survival mode or in resilience mode? How is your energy balance and are there ways to influence this? Just drop me a line if you would like to talk about this and if you would like discuss if there are ways to better prepare and smoothen your adjustment process and as a result enjoy the experience (much more)!

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