If any of you have read the charming James Rhodes waxing lyrical in the Spanish press about all the things he loves about his new home country, Madrid, you will clearly recognise the honeymoon stage.
In fact moving to and living in another country is a series of dizzying stages, from elation to frustration to a love/hate relationship.
In today’s blog post we are going to unpack the different stages of the expat experience.
Anxiety / Excitement
So you’ve decided to move to Spain! Great idea! At this point of your expat journey you will be experiencing a dizzying variety of emotions. Maybe you’re nervous about adapting to a new country? Your Spanish isn’t good enough? Will you make friends? Will you be lonely?Your heart is also racing with the excitement of possibility and the unknown.
Relax! Everything will be fine! Your Palma will be sweating and your heart thumping from the moment you get on that plane.
Moving to another country is an adventure and if you have an open mind and heart you will adapt to your new circumstances.
You’ve arrived in Spain, everything is so quaint and charming! You can buy baguette from the tiny corner shop like you see in those foreign movies. Your heart is bursting with enthusiasm and joy and excitement about settling in and making new friends. Rose tinted glasses and all!Enjoy this phase and make it last as long as possible because reality is going to hit you and you won’t have seen it coming!
Suddenly creeping frustration enters your expat experience… how can it take so long to open a bank account? To sort out your visa? Why are Spanish civil servants so rude and unfriendly? Why isn’t your Spanish improving fast enough? Why is it so hard to make Spanish friends?The discovery that things are different from home may hit you like a slap in the face.
Moving to Spain requires patience.There is a tendency to compare things to home. It’s hard but try not to do it! About learning the language: this will take time and be kind to yourself, put your efforts into learning the language as it often feels like a barrier to local friendships.
Don’t be worried, in my experience living in Madrid, Spanish people have groups of friends: friends from school, friends from uni, friends from work. They rarely ever mix their groups. In fact, when they celebrate their birthdays they have several parties because they strictly don’t mix their friends. As a result, despite the friendly intentions, it’s hard to form close local friendships.
Many Spanish people will happily say “we should hang out sometime!” But then never follow up because they are too busy maintaining their friendship circles and you don’t fit in any of them.
So don’t be so hard on yourself! What you’re going through is very common.Remember that this phase is only temporary. In fact, it’s part of the up and down rollercoaster of emotions. Sometimes you will teeter between incredible love and fondness for your new home and tear your hair out frustration.
Sometimes you will feel like a child and need to check back on how to do things all the time. You might experience waves of homesickness or feel lonely as the friends you’ve made move back to their home countries or move away.
Make friends in the same boat as you and go to meetups to find like minded people. Be strong! This too shall pass!
Resignation / Acceptance
This phase is unique for everyone. Some people get there sooner than others, some may never get there.
Having a good grasp on the language will really help you feel like part of your new home and your new culture.
Learning about the culture by speaking to locals will greatly help you reach this phase.
One day your brain will just click into place and you start to feel more comfortable and natural and may even take on some good or not so good local customs and habits (arriving late to everything for example)
You see the good and the bad and maybe take on a more relaxed attitude towards things you had previously been stressing and frustrated about.
Some days you will ebb into the previous phase and experience grinding frustration. But most days you will feel happy that this is your new home. You will finally feel that you belong!
Reverse Culture Shock
If you do decide to move back home after having lived in another country you will encounter reverse culture shock.
You will feel like you’ve experienced something life changing and have numerous stories to tell only to discover that no one wants to listen to them. Friends and family’s eyes glaze over when you rave about your adventures abroad.
You will feel like you’ve moved light years ahead while everyone home is standing still and this might make you feel lonely or like you don’t belong. You might even feel homesick for the country you just left, having integrated some customs and culture from there.
Welcome! You are now a citizen of the world and this is a common experience! You have embodied a part of the country you have been living in and it will forever be a part of you. This phase will also pass and normality will return.