The 3 phases of living abroad

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The 3 phases of living abroad

This week one of our employees is celebrating his six month anniversary of living in Shanghai, China. Although he's been out of the U.S. for over a year, this is the first place that he's settled down and really started to experience these 3 phases. This inspired us at Teaching Nomad to write a list about the phases one goes through when one starts out as an expat. This is for those who are leaving their home shores and braving the unknown for opportunities in China.

Phase 1: Honeymoon
"Ah...", this is what most of us must sounded like while wandering around town those first few weeks. Everything was exciting and appeared in vivid colors, and we mean everything. Normal products you also have at home like Mountain Dew, look completely different here. Another great example is the grocery store, for us this means Carrefour. A colleague of ours was so blown away with this place that she was taking videos inside the store - loving every minute of it. The metro (subway) was another great adventure. It is fast, clean, convenient and very thrilling. The opportunities in China to travel are incredible and varied which was amazing for some of us who were only used to local buses or trams.

Phase 2: Frustration
Most of us weren't sure when this happens exactly; we suppose it's a gradual thing. For some reason many of the things that seemed so interesting in the honeymoon phase were now frustrating because they weren't the way we are used to them back home. This led us to believe that we were single-handedly responsible for changing these things and showing the world there's a better way to accomplish specific tasks. For example, that grocery store that was once so incredible is now full of annoyances. Why is there no ground beef? Why are they playing loud music (and often the same soundtrack on repeat for hours) I can't understand? Why won't the checker just put my groceries in the bag rather than next to the bag, speaking of,where is the bag boy? Why are they stocking the shelves during prime shopping time, shouldn't this happen at night? How about those metro trains we loved so much, every time you get to your stop, you're thinking, why won't the people just let me get off the train before they start boarding? Why is it so crowded every day? Why don't they crank up the air conditioning? Why does security always make me put my bag through the x-ray machine when no one else does it? As for traffic, if you're like most of us,  you grew up giving pedestrians the right of way. Now you're in China and it couldn't be more different. The pecking order goes: bus – car – scooter – bicycle – pedestrian. Now every time a car doesn't stop for us, we think they are personally trying to run us over!
 
Phase 3: Acceptance and enjoyment
We have gotten more enjoyment out of this one than even the honeymoon phase. By accepting the culture and environment we now have allowed the positive benefits to have an effect on us and we see the opportunities in China more clearly. Of course we still hope to have a positive effect on our environment as well, but we are not disappointed if we cannot change the things that once frustrated us. We know that the grocery store will be crowded and that some older woman might run into us with her cart, and that's OK. We know that the subway will be crowded, but hey, it definitely beats walking! As for the traffic, just remember to look both ways before crossing the street, but you can't take it personally if the taxi tries to run you over. In this phase we've also really stepped up our efforts to speak the language and eat the local food. It's always easier to order McDonalds delivery, but come on, we could do that in the States, well maybe not the delivery part!

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