Been There, Done That

Maria Foley brings up an important topic in her blog “Can previous expat experience help with adjustment?” Maria claims that it isn’t a given. This really hit home. When I moved to Norway 4 years ago, I had already lived in 9 countries and traveled the world for two years. I was a pro! I knew exactly what to expect and was sure it would be a breeze to settle in. Not so. I found Norway to be the toughest transition I’d ever made. So what happened?

I think it’s about expectations and preparation, and my expectations were definitely not well managed. Nor did I prepare much for this new place, assuming that it would be similar to Sweden, where I’ve spent a lot of time. Many of us expats with experience living in different countries move to a new destination thinking that we’ll have no problem settling in because we’ve been there, done that. We know what it’s like to move to a new place and not know anything about daily life and culture. So a new place isn’t such a challenge. We know how to adapt. Or do we? Other expats might tell you that despite their experiences, they were in for a rude awakening because one culture is not like another. So true.

That is where the preparation comes in. Cross-cultural training is an important ingredient, though it must be specific to a country. General cultural knowledge based on tried and true theories is a good basis, but getting some country-specific expertise is also a must. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be hard in your new location, but at least you’ll have the head knowledge to help counteract the feelings of confusion and frustration that may surface. Even though emotions are stronger, you can still refer back to what you learned to help you say “ok, I don’t like this, but I do know I can expect this sort of behavior and one day, one day… it may just seem normal, once my brain gets used to it.”

Four years after coming to Norway, I’ve finally accepted certain mores and etiquette as “the way it is” even if they can ruffle my feathers. I know I can’t change Norwegian culture single-handedly and I have to admit that they have a lot going for them too. Finding the positive in your new home once the honeymoon is over is a good remedy for culture shock. So good luck on your next expatriation and remember, preparation and expectations will help you on your way.

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