I often wish my current Self could have had a little chat with my past Self before I moved. Today I was thinking about one of those important topics my past Self should have been made aware of. But since I can’t go back in time, I am sharing it here with you in the hopes someone will find it helpful.

Don’t expect to hit the ground running. You won’t. Ok, there are always exceptions, but generally speaking it takes 1-2 years (*) to acclimate to a new culture, no matter how familiar that culture is (my fatal flaw: thinking that because I had visited Ireland so often, spoke the dominant language, and knew..oh so much about its history, that I would jump in with both feet and need no life vest). You may be one of those beautiful exceptions but be prepared, and know that feeling culture shock is NORMAL. So be gentle with yourself. Even brave adventurers who take the leap and move abroad need TLC.

It has been two years for me and I only now feel acclimated.

Let me reiterate some of the small and seeming insignificant areas I experienced culture shock when I first moved here:

  • Nobody else sounds like me!
  • If I open my mouth, everyone will stare at me because I sound / look / act differently.
  • I don’t understand that social cue. What am I suppose to do / say?
  • Where do I stand at the check-out?
  • How do I stand in line at the post office?
  • What type of jobs are here? Do they do those jobs differently than back home?
  • Where do I buy white vinegar…crazy glue…a hand-held peeler…[fill in the blank]?

This list is not exhaustive, but the items represent the relevant point I want to make, and which is imperative for you to consider if you are planning a move abroad. At some point, you will feel out of your element ,and potentially silly, frustrated, disenchanted, stupid, and disgruntled. The whole endeavor may seem like a horrible mistake, a bad idea, and you may declare to yourself and your friends, “What WAS I thinking!?”

Take heart, in all likelihood you will move through this stage, and if you don’t, it is OK to have an exit strategy. Going home, hopefully, is an option. Culture is culture, and in the same way not every State in the US is a good fit socially, ethically, or geographically, for my personal tastes and interests, so too every other country out there. (Also, each country contains regional differences just like back home. Maybe this county or provence isn’t right for you, but the one next door is.)

I came across this table today and liked it enough to save the image, though I don’t remember where I found it. (If you made this table, please know I wish to give you credit.) It’s a great reminder that culture shock happens, even to the best prepared.
“In many cases, it takes at least a year to acclimate to a new country.”