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.
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.
33 thoughts on “The Four Stages of Living Abroad”
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.
Thank you Christine for writing it! It’s definitely garnered a lot of comments over time.
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…
Thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I love this article so much. One of my friends reviewed this blog on my travel blog http://www.acrossthepondmagazine.com/2011/01/why-someday.html
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…
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.
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.
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?
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…..
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.
Too right, just when you’re settled, you’re off. Guess it’s the (small) downside of travelling so much!