Oh, the adjustments. Sometimes it’s the little ones that just about drive you insane. How do you do it? What are the things you can do to help ease them? These are a few things that made a difference for me.
Get out and explore. The more quickly I can learn how to manage getting around, the more quickly I feel comfortable in a new culture. I am an introvert, and when I am overwhelmed by all the changes, it is a challenge to make myself get out. However, knowing my area and orienting myself to where various places are located goes a long way in helping me feel more at home in my new place. When we moved to Thailand, I had one week with my husband there before he had to travel. One week to get our house set up and learn my way around enough to survive while he was gone. We got drivers’ licenses, maps, groceries, and trashcans—all those important things. And then he left. My older kids were old enough to leave in charge of the younger ones, and none of them were too keen on riding around while I continued with the numerous errands necessary to help us settle in well. So I got in the car and got out in the town. And got lost. And got lost again. (I didn’t have GPS back then, but I did have a good map.) However, when I got lost, I also figured out where I was and how to get back home. It was amazing how quickly I went from feeling overwhelmed to growing confidence each time I found myself heading back into familiar territory rather than into another province! You do want to find out quickly which areas to avoid, hopefully not by experience, for safety and security reasons.
When we first moved to Kolkata, our family went out every Friday for about six months to explore the local tourist sites. Even many years later, we have fond memories of our experiences during that time. It helped us not only find which places were fun for us and for visitors, but it helped us learn something of the history of our city.
Meet your neighbors. This is not always possible, but when you can, it can help you to feel more at home. Neighbors can advise you on the best places to shop and eat out, which brands to buy, and which doctors to see. It helps build relationships when they see you coming to them in humility rather than with (oftentimes typical) foreign arrogance. Knowing your neighbors can help you feel safer, because you have someone to call on in an emergency, or someone to ask questions who knows your area. I know there are exceptions, but most people will want to help you if they realize that you are sincere in your efforts to get to know them.
Know your limits. Learn when it is time to take a “home” day and stay in your comfort zone. Some days you need to not be challenged so that you can get some soul rest. A little can go a long way as you are restored by a good book or some time with a quiet hobby or cup of tea. (Spoken like a true introvert!)
In my next article, I will write about kitchen adjustments.
Guest author: Joan Perkins lives in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, with her husband, Bill, and two youngest sons. She spent 25 years living overseas, in Costa Rica, Argentina, Bangladesh, India, and Thailand. Joan graduated with a M.Div. degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and enjoys teaching women. She and Bill have six children, and one grandchild.