The Four Stages of Living Abroad

Anyone who has spent a lot of time abroad knows that living abroad is so very different from backpacking, with it’s own joys, opportunities and challenges. Christine Fisher explains:

When I prepared for my first extended stay abroad, I daydreamed about all the travel and exploration opportunities ahead of me. I planned the logistics, arranged housing and budgeted my finances. With my sights set on London, I studied British culture and hoped for positive experiences. What I failed to prepare for, though, was the culture shock living abroad would bring. From the honeymoon stage to frustration or ‘rage state,’ to understanding and integration, life abroad certainly has its ups but at times also has a few downs. While in the moment they may not always seem positive, each stage can add a true richness to your expatriate life.

Honeymoon Stage:

london eye
photo credit: anamobe


Honeymoon stage sets in early on in your time abroad. It is the time of excitement and intrigue when everything new and different is appreciated. During honeymoon phase you will be eager to learn about and experience all your new location has to offer. You will see with your own eyes the iconic landmarks or events you have seen only through another’s lens in photographs and guidebooks. Enjoy honeymoon stage while it lasts. Like your entire trip it will come with the benefits of new acquaintances and memories to last a life time.

Frustration or Rage Stage:

Railings
photo credit: Ed.ward

When the honeymoon is over, you may find yourself shaken. Perhaps knowing what is ahead, though, will lessen the blow of the most trying stage of life abroad. The frustration stage or rage stage sets in when the cultural differences, the language barriers, the fatigue and other tribulations unnerve you. You may offend someone or be embarrassed yourself, but no matter what the trigger, your entry into this second stage will be clear. The most consistent advice experienced expatriates offer is to remain positive. They warn to not reject differences but to adapt to them.

During my first extended jaunt abroad, frustration stage hit early. I was overly conscious of my actions, fearful of offending anyone or committing any cultural faux pas. Constantly monitoring my actions got to be too much. What really put me over the edge seems silly but was the confusing tangle of streets with cars zipping in the “wrong” direction and the seeming lack of pedestrian rights. Fortunately I did not have much of a language barrier to overcome, and with time I began to accept both myself and my new home hoping to find the best of both worlds.

Understanding Stage:

fried breakfast.jpg
photo credit: hawken king

If you can get past it, rage stage will be just a minor glitch in your time abroad, a glitch that makes everything from there on out seem great in comparison. After frustration you will find understanding, the stage when you become familiar with local people and customs and homesickness wears away. You will probably still make mistakes and find yourself confused, but you will be able to take these things lightly, finding the humor in them. Some even go as far as to call this third stage the humor stage. Laughing at yourself and learning from your mistakes will help you advance from understanding to true acclimation.

Acclimation Stage:

² – Immortal Lens -( Youssef Hanna )”]Just Sit And Relax!

Acclimation stage is all about acceptance – accepting your personal background and accepting life and culture in your new location. You no longer feel isolated, but rather you have begun to assimilate. While some people get stuck in earlier stages, if you can make it to acclimation stage, you will get the most rewarding travel experience possible. Then, just when you feel truly settled in, it will probably be time to go home.

Christine Fisher is a Contributing Editor for World Reviewer and a freelance journalist. Normally based in Philadelphia, Christine is now living in London and traveling through Europe.

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33 thoughts on “The Four Stages of Living Abroad”

  1. How true! When I lived in Istanbul last year, I went through all the stages you mentioned. I think the acclimation stage is the most wonderful, when you finally feel comfortable with yourself in your new surroundings. Thanks for a lovely post!

  2. I’m at the end of the Rage Stage right now, and it all had to do with a series of events in which my credit cards weren’t working here in Singapore. I got things taken care of now and I’m moving on. Phew!

    Note to travelers: let your credit card companies know you’re in a foreign country so they don’t stop all your cards because they think they’ve been stolen. It was an oversight that caused me a lot of embarrassment and frustration.

    Flora

  3. I completely agree. No matter how much you travel, even to the place you decide to move to, you cannot skip right to Acclimation stage. I think my rage stage climaxed when I spent 2 hours in line to get birthday packages from my mother then was turned away because I only had a US ID and a photocopy of my passport. I then waited another 2 hours the following day and my packages were ripped open and searched simply because I have the unfortunate luck of having the same last name as the president of Argentina, which raises great suspicion here.

    I just wrote a blog post on my homesickness, and it was a mix of rage and acceptance, but I did end it on an optimistic note.

  4. Sometimes I go through all of these stages during a weeklong vacation. LOL. I love the term “rage stage”. Definitely going to remember that one…

  5. Aw man… The phases you list here are so true… But I am not looking forward to it. I am going to Colombia soon and I can feel the excitement building for the honeymoon stage… but I just do not want the rage/frustration stage at all.
    Where is the land of perpetual honeymoon??

  6. It’s a shame we can’t skip the Rage Stage. Fortunatley I’m still in the honeymoon stage, hopefully I can stretch it for as long as possible.

  7. Great post that really sums up the experience well. I remember a few months after I moved to London I had a really hard time with homesickness. But it didn’t last long and you start to see the awesomeness of where you are and what’s going on around you, along with all the cool new people you meet.

  8. So true! I think the rage stage is always associated to beaurocracy or banks isn’t it? It’s so frustrating and boring! even worse when there’s a language barrier.

    I think when the honeymoon period wears off you need to remember and pick a couple of things that make you happy and make time to do them and not let the blues get you (that’s where I’m at now and I’m picking sports..)

    i think you have to remember the grass is not always greener somewhere else, there’s good things and bad things wherever you go, you just need to check the balance and make the most of the good?

    Good luck to all of you out there feeling a bit wobbly, IT WILL GET BETTER!

  9. Great post!
    As an ex-expat, I did go through all these stages myself.

    The hardest one was probably the rage phase, because of the fear of doing something wrong. It’s a phase of permanent self-doubt and it’s really hard to deal with, especially with the language barrier.

    But once you’ve entered the last phase – don’t try to leave. Futile exercice.

  10. The fun thing is if you live in a place long enough, the stages start to repeat themselves! (At least you repeat the rage stage and the understanding & acclimation stages a few times… Unfortunately, the honeymoon stage is a bit hard to get back… but that’s how things go with honeymoons, I suppose!)

  11. You nailed it! I went through all of those stages when I was living in France. It took me a long time to get to the acclimation stage… if I had gotten there sooner, I would have appreciated my trip a lot more.

  12. Completely agree with your excellent post, this coming from a South African from Cape Town now living in Cusco, Peru….although not fully in the acclimatization stage yet…..

  13. I’d be wary of putting my mindset into a time frame like that especially before going abroad – since you might subconsciously end up forcing those stages into your own experience!

    Looking back, though, I do see how my experience matches up. I lived in Tokyo for 1 year and I’m beginning to wonder whether the simple act of *leaving* forces you to acclimate. When you actually leave you have to say goodbye to so many people, places and things that you naturally start to reflect on your role in that country. Maybe some of you know what I mean?

  14. You have summed up expat life well. Now at the partially acclimatized stage I watch new arrivals follow the same path. It is true that it gets easier, but the frustration stage can seem like an eternity. The sad part is watching expats leave at the frustration stage instead of hanging in for the best part.

  15. I really liked your post and it really it home to me as someone living abroad :).

    I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of stages like this but it you definitely hit the nail on the head. Until now I also never thought about when it was that I started to feel frustrated and unhappy living abroad in Sweden (I’m not anymore though! Must be in the understanding or acclimation stage. But thinking about it now I know the moment the honeymoon ended. It was when I put my back out and I could barely move. At home in Australia I would have gone to my physio, who would have cracked that pesky vetebrae that always goes out back into place. But in Sweden I was supposed to follow some sort of five week exercise plan and only then would I they crack my back. i cried on the way home on the train and nobody even offered me a tissue.

  16. I have been living in Vietnam for 5 years and I believe no matter where you live you go through the same stages stated above.

    I also tend to think that it is always the country who live in you know the least. The people who are traveling in the country you live in, travel and see way more places than you did…

  17. I moved from Ireland to Spain with my Spanish fiance and I’ve been here for about a year. I’m used to it at this stage but I still don’t like it here. It’s horrible being an outsider for the rest of my life. Even worse, I got pregnant after 5 months here and even though I’m delighted to be pregnant, it’s horrible having my first baby abroad, where I don’t know how anything works. Id love to go home but I can’t…

  18. Hi everyone,

    I’m Christine, the author of this post. I can’t thank you enough for your comments. Not only is it great to know other people have felt this way, but to see that people connect with something I wrote is incredibly rewarding.

    I wish you all the best in your travels and adjustments.

    Best,
    Christine

  19. GOD im in the rage stage right now prague has been a bitch to me, the city itself is wonderful its just hard being alone and all that, plus pickpocketing so i have to rely on my family for financial support hopefully it will end soon though

  20. Love this!! I’m currently in the humour stage. I’ve been living abroad for less than two months and already I managed to find myself all the way on the other side of the world making the same mistakes I made at home. Oh the irony. Right now I’m just laughing at myself. Oh well, you live and learn. I really hope I get to the acceptance stage soon.

    1. Thank you for this post! I am in month 5 living in NZ from Canada. I love it here but do think the honeymoon is fading since I am starting to compare things here to Canada, thinking funny things like damn it there are so many flies in my house. In Canada we had fly screens and dryers to dry our clothes. I get annoyed with little things like not having a full time job yet. However I have met the love of my life, have free time to go surfing and have sheep out my window and eat dinner at the beach. Life is good, just need to stay positive and not fall into past habit of the grass is greener on the other side. Starting to see humour in my patterns following me around the world! haha! Safe travels!

  21. Thank you for this post! I just happened to stumble on it, and it’s exactly what I needed after a month of living in South Korea. I never thought I’d go through stages like this; I thought I’d be in love right away… but it’s honestly so hard to adapt. I know now that there’s a silver lining! 🙂

  22. Thank you so much. Reading the post and comments feels like therapy to me. I am a Mexican living in Chile, and although the language is the same and peoples attitude is generally positive towards me, I feel very isolated and sad at times, and although I know it will go away eventually I am feeling like this has gone on forever. I am facing this alone, haven’t found much friends here because everyone has a life of their own, which makes the rage stage even more difficult to go through. This truly makes me feel less alone and reassured that it will all get better in time.

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