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 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:
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.
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 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.