Transitions are probably the hardest part of moving overseas. You don’t have to move abroad to be in a transition, however! Some other times of transition, or change, would be having a baby, moving to a new house, mourning the loss of a loved one, or losing a friend. Some transitions are fun and exciting. Then there are the ones that bring heartache and hurt.
There is always stress involved, regardless of the type of transition you are experiencing. I have always felt so lonely during the transitions in my life. The good news is, you don’t have to be alone! There are so many others that are going through similar experiences.
Looming Cross-Cultural Transitions
I have never lived in one place for more than four years from the time I was born. I’ve experienced moving overseas a few times in my life! This year marks a new achievement for me. We broke the four-year mark! We have lived in our current house in Papua, Indonesia for five years! Yet we are in the process of moving again. This time, we have children who have lived most of their lives here.
I also have a house that I have been lovingly making into a home for five years, and will sell most of it before we leave. I grieve the life I must leave, and I am scared about the adjustments to come. I dread the questions people will ask and the misunderstandings about our experiences. I genuinely believe that preparing for a cross-cultural move is even harder than actually making the move! Having resources to help your family adjust can be a huge asset for your journey.
*Check out the resources on this page, and don’t forget to tell me what you think of them in the comments! If you have a suggestion that has helped you, please let us know what it is.
Things to Think About
I have always had issues with saying good-bye. That’s pretty common with MKs/TCKs. It makes it hard to know where home is. You end up Living Everywhere and Nowhere all at the same time.
I always keep my face looking forward and let the past go. It’s essential to look to the future and plan for all the changes, right? Looking ahead like this has worked for me for years until my husband pointed out that what I was doing wasn’t healthy. It didn’t give closure. I had to learn how to say good-bye well for my children. My husband would come in and announce that we needed to go to such-and-such place one last time and say good-bye. I would look at him blankly and wonder why we had to do that. Later, when I saw my kids saying good-bye to people and places before moving on, I caught a glimpse of what I was missing. I still tend to down-play the good-byes, but now I try to remind myself how important it is to leave a place with closure and good memories.
It can be beneficial to think about some things ahead of time, but not just what is going to happen in the new place. It is also helpful to talk about what you are leaving. Here are a few things to think & talk about with the whole family when you get ready to go to a new location.
Questions to Ask
- To whom do you need to say a special good-bye?
- Who do you need to thank?
- What can you do to capture memories of places that are special to you?
- What items are essential to you that must come with you on the move?
- What activities would you like to do before you leave?
- What are you thinking and feeling about the move?
A New Adventure Coaching Cards by Sarah Whyte
(44 Coaching Cards for an International Move)
Sarah Whyte suggests four different stages of transition to a new country. I believe there is one more that she doesn’t mention. The four stages she talks about are the Leaving Stage, the Transition Stage, the Reinvolvement Stage, and the Entering Stage.
I believe the stage she leaves out is the Culture Shock Stage. This stage can come after the entering stage or after the reinvolvement stage. The tricky part of this stage is it can show up at anytime, even after you have lived in a location for years and feel like you have already become involved! There is always some initial culture shock when you arrive and start interacting in a new culture, but people don’t tell you about the culture shock that comes later. The culture stress that you live with daily! I talk more about it in this post to Moms Living with Culture Shock.
Want to Know More?
Another great website for expats living overseas is A Life Overseas: A Cross-Cultural Conversation. They have great resources for whatever stage you find yourself. One post that gives some great tips is Leaving Well: 10 Tips for Repatriating With Dignity. I had tears in my eyes just reading some of the suggestions!
Many people assume that when you leave the country that you have been living in to go “home,” everything will go back to normal, and things will be great. This is often not the case. Returning to the passport country can be even harder than taking on a new country. I have always experienced more culture shock returning to the United States than I ever did going overseas. Maybe that is because when you are abroad, cultural changes are the norm. When you are returning to your home country, it is not expected. It can make it even harder to cope with culture shock.
Moving Cross-Culturally or Repatriating?
I would love to hear some of your own stories! Have you had a successful move or a bust? Tell us what worked best for your family, or share below what didn’t work so we can learn from you! One thing that has always stuck with me is that expats have to stick together. I’m here for you. Please email me with questions or comments at email@example.com.