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You may not even recognise the extent to which your culture has played a role in how you show up until you are right smack-bang in the middle of a new one.
And then, aaaggghhh, the potential overwhelm of . . .
You knew things were going to be different, but this different?
The streets are different.
The homes are different.
The shops and sounds and smells and food and ambiance are different.
And you bump up against people. People!
People who have very different ways of viewing the world.
Whose expectations may not resemble your own.
Whose perspectives and attitudes towards life and eating and family and money and politics and humour may leave you wondering if you’re actually on the same planet.
All of which is a super fun adventure when you’re on holidays. You can observe it and feel entertained by it, and then leave it for the comfort of your own planet (oops, I mean home).
I’m playing here, because adding a spark of fun can make things seem so much easier, don’t you think?
But it all becomes much more meaningful once you’ve chosen to live amongst these differences. Learning to feel comfortable as you become part of your new community requires a lot of adaptation, and there are things that you may not want to adapt to. There are aspects of your life-up-until-now that you’d like to keep just as they are, thank you very much! In the absence of familiarity and a like-minded environment, it can become very easy to feel like you’re losing yourself.
But that’s not what you want, is it?!
Of course not!
Rather than losing yourself, you want to become MORE.
Expand who you are.
Evolve into that wonderful future YOU who feels confident and charming and magnificent in her experience of life, wherever she is in the world.
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s less about the cultural contrast and more about your thoughts about the contrast that begin to knock you around.
So, I’m going to share with you an approach that, as you apply it, will create a little more ease and grace in your experience of all this contrast.
All it requires is some prepaving of your thoughts; designing your own self-talk before you need it so that you can easily access it when you need it.
It’s an art that you can gradually master the more you use it, and I promise that it will help you to smooth the emotional ride, at least a little, and potentially a lot.
Okay, you ready?
Let’s begin by listing the emotions that may contribute to the build-up of a “culture shock” reaction.
incredulity (meaning that you can’t believe what you’re seeing or hearing)
and maybe even a little depression
Can you relate to any of those emotions?
Now we get to lift ourselves up a bit; a lot, even. So, let’s set our incredible imaginations freeeeee and anticipate the emotions that we’d LIKE to experience instead. What about something like:
Boy, that feels better already, doesn’t it?
Now what we want to consider is which thoughts will trigger those emotions.
This is the clever bit, so let’s have fun with it.
Allow me to make some suggestions and then you can go wild with your own.
Imagine that you find some of the habits in this new culture a bit, well, weird. Bizarre. Maybe they are so different to what you’re used to that they just feel totally wrong.
So, you can prepave the way to better-feeling emotions by choosing better-feeling words to describe the “weirdness”.
How about a word like interesting?
That changes your mood/reaction instantly, don’t you find?
It gives you space to observe the contrast without becoming emotionally involved.
Here's another one:
You may have noticed that I choose the word contrast to describe cultural differences. I do that deliberately, because to me it has a slightly different energy around it.
Whereas the word difference can imply a certain separateness, contrast sounds more like variety. Orange and pink are contrasting colours. Both alive and beautiful, yet decidedly contrasting. Salt and sugar are contrasting flavours, both valuable.
See how this works?
You can find your own words, just make sure that the words you choose feel good. That’s what you’re aiming for, thoughts that feel good. Or at least that feel better. Thoughts that bring you a sense of relief or anticipation, or even lightness and enjoyment.
Now let’s see how we can bring some of these words into your thoughts when you come up against uncomfortable situations in your adopted country and culture.
Remember, we’re prepaving here, meaning that we’re choosing some thoughts before we need them so that we can access them more easily when we do need them.
How about something like this:
“I know I’m going to bump up against some surprising contrast that may feel uncomfortable, so each time something new comes up, I’m going to try looking at it with a sense of fascination and interest. It feels good to be fascinated. I like fascination.”
“My intention in this adventure is to elevate my self-identity as a I gradually become a more expansive, more confident, more experienced and capable woman.”
“When faced with a challenging situation, I’ll ask myself, “What if . . . I could do this with ease/I showed up with confidence/I allowed myself to feel uncomfortable without getting down about it/I gave myself some wriggle room to try again until I get it right/I am pleasantly surprised at my own finesse?"
Prepaving the way by choosing your thoughts before you need them is an art that you will grow to enjoy. Over time you will become quite masterful at it. The more you feel its effects, the more it will enchant you and become your treasured friend that you can always rely on to lift you up.
You can apply this approach of prepaving your thoughts to all aspects of your life.
When it comes to the experience of harmonising (oooh, there’s a good prepave . . . looking for harmony between yourself and your new culture. Oooh, that’s great – I just came up with that one as I was writing. It sounds far kinder than “adjusting", and actually far more appropriate. What fun! I’m going to write a whole new article around that idea) . . . ok, to continue . . . when it comes to the experience of harmonising with/adjusting to your new culture, there is more that I’d love to share.
But prepaving your thoughts is a fantastic starting point that will help you navigate the emotional rollercoaster with more ease.
At least a bit.
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