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International life and the 3 A's!


Text: Kathy Borys Siddiqui

International Life comes with its share of gains & losses. What can we do to have smoother transitions? How do we ensure that the gains outweigh the losses? The 3 A’s are fundamental.

Dare to be aware First and foremost, the more aware we are of what is happening to us, the better we are with ourselves and everyone around us. Moving to another country is a big step, it takes courage, and it can be a very emotional process. When we decide to move, we usually focus on all the practical issues and tend to omit the crucial aspect of emotional well-being. One of the first steps to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves and our emotional well-being is to become aware of the Cultural Adjustment Phases. Most have heard about culture shock. However, there are a few more, and these phases are fundamental to understand and acknowledge the process of relocating.

With understanding comes acknowledgement

Let us briefly go over the Cultural Adjustment Phases. The classic model is the culture shock curve which was introduced by Kalervo Oberg in 1960. We have 4 phases. The Honeymoon: Described as the rose-tinted glasses phase. We are excited by the new host country, everything is new, exciting and we are exploring. Culture Shock: A very intense feeling of homesickness surfaces, we notice a big difference between the host country and previous place we called ‘home’, a significant amount of complaining can take place, intense feelings of frustration, sadness and sometimes depression.

Adjustment: We can see a substantial decrease in frustration, being more and more comfortable in the new culture, and there is a sense of belonging because of the established circles of friends and communities. Adaptation/Acceptance: We regain our balance, we are confident and feel that we are capable. We have an understanding of the host country, and we do not need to ask continuously WHY things are this way. This is a very general and brief overview, and the phases are essential in our transitions. I believe that they are more of a circle then curve. The intensity of the periods may fluctuate depending on our emotional well-being, our surrounding, family matters, as well as various stages of life. The initial experience with cultural adjustment phases is usually the most intense. However, a lot depends on our personality and the country we move to. In my opinion, as Internationals, we will experience these phases over and over again, and they are something that is written into our global lives.

Take Active Action

We come from diverse places, and we all have our own cultural identity. Living international lives can make this cultural identity a multilateral one. As we move from place to place or decide to live (long-term) in another country, we acquire new experiences, traditions, languages and form new relationships with people who come from all over the world. We will never be 100% Danish, even if we live here for many years. We carry so many diverse experiences, so many gains & losses, so much knowledge regarding various places and their cultures that we are Internationals to the core.

"As we move from place to place or decide to live (long-term) in another country, we acquire new experiences, traditions, languages and form new relationships with people who come from all over the world."

As international spouses & partners, we must remember to take active action and put ourselves on the map. This means being vocal about what we would like to gain from this current relocation.

Communication is a vital part of all intercultural relationships. I can not emphasise the importance of expressing our needs, wants and feelings. As an international spouse or partner, you are the glue that keeps everyone together and keeps the international life moving. Allow yourself to gain as much as the rest of your tribe does.

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