Taking the time to say Goodbye

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Ann & ChrisI just watched the Parks and Recreation episode where Ann & Chris move to Michigan (click on link for episode).   I was unprepared that these two characters were leaving the show for good!  For some reason, I thought that they were going to change their minds and their proposed departures were just a temporary plot twist.

Anyway, I found myself sad that they were leaving, and I realized that I hadn’t really conducted proper goodbyes when I moved to Kansas from Oregon.  I started thinking about closure and ending friendships, and I think now there were several factors adversely affecting my transition:

1) Most friends defriended me first.

I had recently gotten married and some of my “close” friends were upset that I had gotten married at all. They wanted me to remain their wingman. So they ended the friendship on those grounds.  There might have been time for reconciliation if I’d stayed in Oregon but moving away killed those options.

2) Our move was sudden.

On a cognitive level I had plenty of time to understand that we were planning to move, but the logistics of moving 1500 miles took only three weeks.  Looking back, this was not enough time to adequately say goodbye to my parents and friends, sort through belongings, and mentally prepare for a major life change.  I don’t think three weeks is adequate time for closure.

3)  I didn’t want my employer to know I was leaving.

In retrospect, I am sure there could have been a better way to handle this, but at the time, I was angry with my boss for laying off my husband (we worked for the same office) and I was retaliating by not giving ample leeway of my imminent departure.  Since I didn’t want my boss to know I was moving away, I didn’t tell any coworkers either, so I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my friends at work.  This proved to be a devastating mistake since I ruined chances to stay in touch with them as well as creating a sudden hole in my social network.  I went from having lots of buddies to having no one overnight. Very lonely, for sure.

I encourage you to read this post by the Modern Nomad.  It was helpful for me to sort through feelings since I’ve moved a lot too, so this probably contributes to my bad behavior of not properly saying goodbye to lots of people over the years, for many reasons.  Saying Goodbye | The Modern Nomad.

One thing I have learned and have already improved upon is conducting a proper goodbye at work.  I need to make sure to say goodbye adequately to non-work friends also.

Nietzsche, Culture Shock, and the Art of Adaptation

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Photo credit: Bob Writght from http://paw.princeton.edu/issues/2009/09/23/pages/5946/index.xml

Mt. Princeton, Colorado.  Photo credit: Bob Writght from http://paw.princeton.edu/issues/2009/09/23/pages/5946/index.xml

I burst into tears yesterday at the sight of some Rocky Mountains in the western part of the United States.  I moved away two years ago.  Shouldn’t I be over being homesick and culture shock? This question prompted me to research culture shock and reflect on my findings.

Travel vs. Moving = Vacation vs. Permanency

Part of the reason travel is so exhilarating is that you volunteer to go to another place and immerse yourself into culture and place for a duration of time of your choice. In fact, most times travel is all about you and your preferences: city/country, hotel, restaurant, museum/tours, shops, beach, etc all are chosen by YOU.

Relocating however is not a welcomed choice always.  As a trailing spouse, you may not even get to choose the place let alone the time the move happens. Instead, you are choosing your marriage or family over comfort (and career!) and must stay in the new place at least for a while.  So you can’t just ignore what you don’t like because you’re not on vacation. You must adapt or die, as they say.

Culture Shock is an Understatement

The unique or quaint aspects of your vacation destination are the very thing that exasperates you when it is a daily reality of your new home. I think the novelty of a new place wears on someone’s patience after awhile because what used to be easy, convenient or familiar is now absent.  This website stated “Real CultureShock can happen in places you expect to be similar – it’s the accumulation of tiny things that can tip you over the edge. Don’t expect that it’s just that there’s snow, or that the buildings are taller.”  It comes down to little things like customer service or social etiquette.  How the different sexes are treated, whether you have children or not, food preferences and even….past times and hobbies. Maybe just the standard of living, condition of roads and infrastructure, and the severity of blight and crime is new to you. Routine tasks now take all day or maybe a week or more due to perhaps lack of knowledge of services or delays in service.  You can read my post about trying to find emergency pet care and how exhausting and stressful that was.

I remember nothing “made sense” even though I wasn’t even dealing with serious cultural changes in hygiene, language, food, gender, and race.  One article I read stated that all one’s cues on how to act and react are stripped away when you change cultures.  It’s this removal of cultural props that is disorienting and confusing. When you are a tourist, on the other hand,  sometimes it is fun to get lost in another culture.  In fact, I used to travel for this very reason:  I wanted to remove the veneer and rediscover myself in a new context. Then the discoveries were to help me orient myself again back home.   I think we all can agree that relocating is not a fanciful delight but a gut-wrenching overhaul of everything you know and love.

Thus when you see something familiar like a snow-covered mountain in Colorado that is similar to other places you’ve lived and loved, you burst into tears.

For an academic perspective on culture shock, try Paul Pedersen’s The Five Stages of Culture Shock:  Critical Incidents Around the World (1995 Greenwood Press, Westport, CT via Google Books).  It was helpful to know culture shock was a process, unique to each individual and based on experiences and expectations.  I would agree that if I’d had more time to research Wichita before moving here, I would have been better equipped to handle the transition. This hindsight is what compels me to write this blog and urge readers to DO YOUR HOMEWORK before relocating. But also be kind to yourself when things are tough.  Further, Wikipedia offers an interesting discussion on their Four Phases of Culture Shock. Also this blogger describes it in his own words. Either way, isn’t it nice to know it all will pass with time?

IMG_20130801_151652But don’t worry about me…Guess what?  I’m all better now that I’ve shared this with you.  And now that I’ve learned some critically important cultural cues for Kansas and can appreciate Wichita and Kansas norms, the pangs of sadness are fleeting.  Read my other blog post about how it all gets better with time. Don’t forget what Nietzsche said:  “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Let’s hear about your experiences.  Any advice for those who have just moved?

Staring, politeness, tailgating. This place rocks, man.

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I wasn’t accustomed to being the odd one.  So it took me by surprise that people stared at us. All the time: In Walgreens, in the grocery store, on the sidewalk, while driving by.  They would see me on my bike and crane their necks out the window as if I had green skin and two heads.

I also wasn’t very experienced with super duper kindness in person upon the first time meeting but then the cold shoulder otherwise after that. But that is how we were (are) sometimes treated here. It makes me leery of any kindness extended, because I am unsure this person will speak to me again.

Finally, I had to adjust my own driving style to accommodate the TAILGATING here! It is so scary.  I just drive a little slower than the speed limit and put my blinker on way before I need to turn.  So many cars here are dented (or worse) and it doesn’t take a genius to understand it’s because of the way they drive.

Of course, now that I’m used to these things, I realize also that people aren’t as touchy feely as I’m used to and aren’t as responsive to conversational opinions either.  Most times I just get a blank stare when I say something. To soothe the awkwardness of social interactions and ease into another culture, consider the following:

  • It is easy to romanticize where you formerly lived and think where you live currently is full of odd cultural ticks.  Even though you might still be in the US, there are regional and even municipal cultural aspects that differ significantly place to place. Accept it: What’s normal for you is balls-out weird for others.
  • Personal space is a key cultural factor.  Figure it out. For example, most people don’t want to be hugged by a stranger during a conversation, but that’s how people operate in Eugene, Oregon. Conversely, I was hugged by an elderly Latina as I dropped her off at her appointment when I was a driver for the Red Cross here in Wichita; I have never seen her again. It just depends.
  • All citizens in the US either are immigrants or descendents of immigrants.  That means that another country’s culture has been transplanted here as well.  So it could help you understand some nuances by learning about what settlers colonized where you live and then read a travel guide on cultural competency for the original country. For example, it helped me to understand that parts of Kansas were colonized by religious Swiss immigrants.  Since I’ve lived in Switzerland too, I started recognizing cultural similarities in small Kansas towns and here in Wichita.  In fact, for some people in Kansas German is their mother tongue, so some Kansas government documents have a German-language version.  Cool!
  • Change.  Don’t do what is comfortable to you.  Mimic and imitate. Observe what locals do. You might fit in more quickly and get a favorable response sooner.  Instead of expecting chatty customer service, I state the facts now and reduce my friendliness to wait staff unless they initiate something more.
  • Get a sense of humor (that’s culturally sensitive).  Everyone likes a good laugh!

What have you done to adapt to your new place?  Let me know in the comments!