‘What’s wrong with me?’

A single instance of culture-clash can be demoralising for an expat partner, especially when they’re new to town and vulnerable. But rest assured, there’s nothing wrong with you.

Shamed in public

Once upon a time, in a crowded foreign city… an expat mother is trying to navigate public transport for the first time with her young kid in tow and zero local language skills. With some help from a kind stranger, she manages to purchase a ticket. However, not realising she has to validate the ticket, she ends up enraging a short-fused bus driver, who berates her in public. Feeling humiliated from the experience, she returns to her house with the intention of telling her husband she wants to move back home.

Feelings of guilt

“A ‘culture clash’ moment like this can be very upsetting and stay in your mind for a long time. For someone who is new to town it can be particularly damaging. You might even question yourself. What’s wrong with me? ” says Global Connection consultant Sybille Kenny. “To add to the emotional challenge, the expat partner might have nobody to confide in. It’s very hard to come to terms with adjustment when you’re feeling isolated.”

This too shall pass

“Our Cycles of Change cultural coaching programme can help expat partners be intellectually aware of the phases everyone must go through and the emotions they can experience along the way,” says Sybille. “No matter how well an expat partner thinks they will adjust, they always have to go through the phases of adjustment. Whether you’re a serial expat or on your first ever assignment, you will always expend a lot of emotional energy while trying to get used to a new culture and a new rhythm of life.”

Caught by surprise

“Often we see that expat partners can be caught by surprise when they struggle to adjust and experience challenging emotions,” says Sybille who adds that the biggest culture shock she ever experienced was when she moved from a German city to the German countryside. “It was so different and I was definitely caught out and began questioning myself. I wish I knew then what I know now! What I was experiencing was perfectly normal and soon passed.”

Photo: OKIMG_3319 – Flickr

This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe

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