There’s nothing quite like really and truly living abroad. I thought because I had travelled a bunch and studied abroad in two different countries that I was ready to live abroad. While it’s been the best experience of my life, I don’t think I was quite prepared for what I was getting myself into. And this was just moving to Australia… They speak the same language and follow generally the same societal norms – what’s to worry about? Even though I didn’t think there would be much to be shocked about in Australia, I was definitely surprised at how much was actually different. Obviously, the differences were in a subtle way, but just enough to sneak up on you when you least expect it and make you really miss home.
According to some really smart people. there are four stages to culture shock. After reading through these stages, I realised that living abroad and culture shock are eerily similar to the process of falling in love. No matter how slow or fast you go through the stages, it still rings true for me. After experiencing ten months of living abroad in Australia and now in Thailand, I can genuinely say that these stages are spot on. I’m sure anyone else that has lived abroad for an extended period of time would agree.
Just like a first date, moving to a new city for the first time can be terrifying, mind-altering, life-changing, nerve-racking and most importantly exciting. You’re excited and you have a right to be. A first date can bring about hopes of new love and new experiences. Your first few weeks of dating are perfect and no one will ever be as great as that new special someone in your life. Same goes for moving to a new city. There’s the potential for new friends, new restaurants, new bars. You find a change of pace, a change of scenery. Everything is so so so much better than home. Sure, you may not even speak or read the language and nobody in a 20 km radius can speak a lick of English, but nothing and no where else in the world can be as great as your new city.
Then comes the withdrawal. In dating, you usually begin to miss your old way of life, hanging out with your friends more, your routine. When you move abroad, you begin to miss your familiarity with home and the comfort in knowing where everything is – down to where your favourite bread is in the grocery store. You miss your own language, your family, your culture. You miss being able to speak to the people around you without over exaggerated hand gestures. Eventually, like in dating your significant other, your great, shining, blinding love for your new city begins to wear off. You still love living abroad, but it’s not rainbows and smiles all of the time, and you start to recognise this. Challenges become more and more challenging. Frustration may begin to rear its ugly head, and self-confidence about your decision to live abroad (or date your S/O) starts to dwindle.
This is what we call becoming comfortable. You’ve gotten through the rough patches, and while it’ll never be easy-peasy-lemon squeezy 100% of the time, you become to accept that. You adjust your old frame of mind to adapt to the new culture (or the new relationship) you have built. You make sacrifices and adjustments only to find that it makes you a better person.
Finally, after what seems to be an eternity you feel a satisfying, relaxed enthusiasm creep over. All of a sudden, you have your favourite restaurants, cafes and bars. You feel confident in making new friends, branching out, setting plans. You can conquer the streets and not get lost. You find comfort in the familiar. You no longer need to Google Maps it to every single place you’re going. You no longer feel doubtful of the street food. You feel secure and safe, much like being in a long term relationship. This is when you know you’ve made it, and if you make it to this stage in a new country, it’s pretty near impossible to ever want to leave.
While moving away from home was (and still is) always difficult, I can’t help but love this process of falling in love with a new country every year or so. It has taught me so much about myself. Adapting to new cultures and languages opens your mind up to a whole new world of thinking, just like opening your heart up to a new person changes you from the inside out. While I may be 100000% loyal to my relationship with Sam, I’m not always so loyal to the countries I move to. There’s always other countries out there flirting with me enough to want to pick up and move on. With that said…. Where should we go after Thailand?!