Moving abroad is not for the faint-hearted. And although each case of expatriation or immigration is as unique as each expatriate, most will agree on a simple fact: they were never quite ready for it.
Whatever perception you had of your home country, and of the country you were moving to, the end result is never what you had planned and prepared for.
China is one of the main destinations for expatriates
Replacing one inconvenience with an other
If you thought you were leaving unpleasantness behind in order to walk into the light, you may be in for a big surprise.
Try and remember all those things you expected to miss, and those you were so excited to leave behind? Now think again. What truly happened to them? Heavy street traffic and sirens have replaced your neighbours’ yapping dog. You finally said good bye to a gossipy colleague, but you now work with a foreign management you do not always understand, leaving you feeling somehow isolated and confused. You now have 2 guest rooms to welcome family and friends… but you realise none of them will come and visit you, because, you know, they are not sure they will like the food. in short, you
Regardless of where we come from, the amount of things we take for granted is far greater than any of us realises. From social standards to food, climate, hygiene, or customs, culture shock leaves us speechless, facing small nothings we never thought were even a thing.
Say good bye to the old life
Generally speaking, the first few weeks abroad are a shock. Exhilarating for some, scary for others, but unsettling for most people. The sounds, the smells, the light, it all feels different. And there is little to no way around it. It is not a holiday, you are not going back home next week!
As weeks pass, you adjust to the essentials, slowly becoming aware of more subtle differences. The things that used to make your daily life no longer exist in this brand new life. You suddenly miss the less likely things, some of which you were not aware you liked in the first place. But since you moved to a place where they are rare, non existent or impossible, you suddenly miss them. Say good bye to ordering pizza at midnight, having a kids sleepover in the garden or sleeping with the windows open.
Istanbul view from the Galata tower. Embracing a new culture and a new life.
Embrace your new life
You miss small and big nothings, although you have replaced a lot of comfortable habits by others just as interesting, possibly more memorable. In my new life, I take a taxi like some light up a cigarette, easily, casually, frequently. I never had that before and I love it. But in my new life I have realised how much I like nature. My new home is an ultra urban environment and I had never experienced living with so little trees, and no bird singing in the morning. I miss the bird that used to annoy me by starting to sing at 5am on Sundays.
The surprising upside to this though, beyond the stress of adjustment, is how young one suddenly feels. Moving to a new country implies learning all codes anew, adapting to a million new ways, accepting to let go of the adult in control we once were, to allow ourselves to start again. The simple action of going to a supermarket in your “new life” will bring back memories of being 10 or 12 years old, and being sent to the shop by your parents for the first time. What if I don’t find the items on the list? Who can I ask? Do I have enough money?