Relocating – a Double Edged Sword
By Josephine Charles, American clinical psychologist with International SOS, Beijing
Relocating with the family to a foreign country can be a double edged sword. On one hand, it can mean career advancement, financial reward and the opportunity to experience and enjoy living, working and traveling in a totally different and interesting environment. On the other hand, this same experience falls into the category of stress called “Life Events,” which include changing homes, schools, employment and country. These changes can have a negative effect on the individual members of the family, putting them at risk of psychological issues such as anxiety, disorientation, frustration, anger and depression that may lead to a communication breakdown within the family unit.
Sometimes, it can take time for readjustment, and acceptance that things which were comfortable and familiar, representing security and self identity at home, may no longer be available. It is helpful to understand that there are often several phases to this settling in period.
The first period is where everything appears interesting and unfamiliar, even exotic. Time is spent searching for a new home, a new school, meeting different people and making new friends. The days fly by swiftly.
Following this “honeymoon” period is a time when it is possible to sink into what is called by some as “Culture Shock.” This is when the reality of the situation hits home, where nothing seems to work as it should, or did, back home. It becomes easy to feel frustrated, small things that were once easily handled now become magnified and a feeling of losing control over what is happening takes hold.
At this stage it is important for the psychological well being of the family to not ignore any warning bells. Care should be taken to avoid a crisis developing.
Now is the time to remember what is most important to you as a family, the reason you came to China and advantages such a move offered. Open communication with each other is essential, even though it often seems there are not enough hours in the day. Make time to sit down and Really listen to what is happening and how each member is adjusting. Recognize and respect each other’s points of view and offer support and real encouragement. It is also important to take time out to do things and have fun together.
If for any reason the symptoms of “Culture Shock” persist, seek out a trained professional who understands these issues and can advise and assist in negotiating the emotional roller-coaster during this readjustment period.
Remember, don’t let the short term static interfere with the “big picture.”