Coping with Change 2

by | Jun 13, 2017 | Change, Expat, Self care | 0 comments

A few years ago I used to enjoy watching a TV programme called ‘A Place in the Sun’, where would be expats sold up everything to buy their dream home somewhere warmer than the UK. Despite harbouring very high expectations of paradise, very few of them seemed to last very long, soon becoming miserable because things were not the same as home, the food in the supermarkets was ‘foreign’ and shops closed at odd times during the day. It was like watching a slow motion train crash; you knew who would give up almost from the moment they opened their mouths because they were not embracing the difference in culture the new country offered, but were fighting against it. Two negative thinking styles were evident in almost all the failures to adapt: using the word ‘should’ a lot while expecting people to think or behave the same back home; and a low frustration tolerance, meaning they gave up without really giving it a go.

So what is wrong with the word ‘should’?

Demanding or expecting that others see the world the same way that you do is unrealistic and bound to lead to disappointment and frustration. Imagine you and a friend were each to look at a photograph of a patterned plate and describe it. Yours was taken from above looking down and your friend’s photo was taken from the side edge or from the underside. You would both be looking at the same thing, but from a different angle and therefore your perception of the object (colour, shape and size) would be very different and so would your descriptions. Neither of you would be ‘wrong’ about how you saw the object, you just have different perspectives.

Living in Korea brought home this lesson almost every day. Western ladies, indignant at being shooed out of a store with the words “no big sizes” called after them, accused the Koreans of being rude, while the poor shop assistant was actually trying to help the lady, who they assumed must be very busy, so that she didn’t waste time coming in only to discover that nothing would fit. The Koreans in turn thought we were selfish for not automatically offering to take a heavy bag on our lap if someone had to stand with shopping in the bus and we had a seat. It just hadn’t occurred to us that anyone would do that. The viewpoints were different. By seeing the other’s viewpoint and understanding where they were coming from made life’s frustrations much more tolerable and led to a lot of amusing anecdotes to take home.

Living as an expat is however bound to bring frustrations as we initially take three trips to accomplish something that we thought we ‘should’ be able to do in one, and which we could back home, knowing what to ask for and where to go. Contrary to how it sometimes feels at the time, when you are turned away from a visa renewal because the rules have changed and you need yet another document that you were not told about before, it is not aimed at you personally and it doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just maybe not today.

It sometimes takes effort to take that deep breath and look at what you now need to do, change your schedule, rethink the problem, but being resilient, and coping with small problems without being too disheartened, is the mark of a successful expat. You don’t have to be happy every day in a new posting. Even the most seasoned of us has a low point occasionally, but ask yourself whether this set back is a small one or something larger. Will it matter in a year, two or ten? If the answer is no, then give yourself a break, go for a coffee or some fresh air, then dust yourself down for another try armed with the knowledge you have gained from your latest knock back. You may just succeed next time.


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