The 3 phases of living abroad

Feb 11, 2012

This week Sophia and I are celebrating our six month anniversary of living in Shanghai, China. Although we’ve out been of the U.S. for over a year, this is the first place that we’ve settled down and really started to experience these 3 phases. I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list of phases I will go through but I believe that they may be the most important.

Phase 1: Honeymoon

Oohh…ahhhh…this is what I must have sounded like wandering around town those first few weeks. Everything was so interesting, and I mean everything. I remember the first morning, I stepped out of the hotel and into a convenience store, and I saw the craziest looking bottle of Mountain Dew ever. It was a completely different shape than any soda bottle I’d ever seen before and Mountain Dew was somehow written in Chinese characters. I hadn’t drunk a mountain in who knows how long but I had to have it. A great example is the grocery store, for us this means Carrefour. Sophia and I were so blown away with this place that we were taking videos inside the store…loving every minute of it. The metro (subway) was another great adventure for us…we got our metro cards and map and we were unstoppable, riding that sucker everywhere and so happy that we could get around so fast.

Phase 2: Frustration
I’m not sure when this happens exactly; I 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 I was used to them being back home. This led me to believe that I was 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 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 I 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 me you grew up being taught that pedestrians have 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…every time a car doesn’t stop for me I’m thinking they are personally trying to run me over!
Phase 3: Acceptance and enjoyment
I have gotten more enjoyment out of this phase than even the honeymoon phase. By accepting the culture and environment I now have allowed the positive benefits to have an effect on me. Of course I still hope to have a positive effect on my environment as well, but I am not disappointed if I cannot change the things that once frustrated me. I know that the grocery store will be crowded and that some older woman might run into me with her cart, and that’s ok. I know that the subway will be crowded…but hey, 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 I’ve also really stepped up my efforts to speak the language and eat the local food. It’s always easier to order McDonalds delivery…but come on, I could do that in the States…well maybe not the delivery part!
If you have gone through something similar or maybe you’re going through it right now, I’d love to hear about it…leave a comment!
Brett Isis
Founder, Teaching Nomad.


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