Yesterday, we chatted about things you could do to make the immigration process easier before you actually get on the plane. Today, we’re going to chat about things you can do to adapt more seamlessly once you get there. This is obviously going to be different for every person, but these are the things that worked for us, or things I now wish we had done.
If you’re planning to move to another country, you’re pretty stressed and anxious especially in the weeks before you leave. Personally, this was amplified by the fact that my husband had to leave before my kid and I could, so that made me freak out more than a little. I had a horrible flight experience, which gave me super saiyan mode anxiety on its own. You kind of expect to have just as much stress in the first few days after you arrive, right?
For me, this wasn’t the case. Upon arriving, I felt amazing (when the vomiting stopped and I’d eaten/slept). For the first few weeks, everything was rosy. The weather was fabulous, sightseeing was great and it all felt like an amazing vacation in a new country. Along with that, domestic life just went on. OK, so it felt like the kind of holiday where you hubs still works and you still have to cook and clean. Haha. But I mean, we were just soaking up new experiences and relaxing as much as we could after the drama and tons of things that needed to be done before we left.
Then reality sunk in. We had left everything we’d ever known. This is how we survived and are still surviving.
Make an Effort to Keep in Contact
Skype weekly with your parents and loved ones. More if you need to. Make an effort to stay in contact and share photos to set them at ease. Also ask for photos so you don’t feel more left out of their lives than you’re going to feel anyway. Because you’re going to feel left out. Here’s me with the good news! Yay! 😛 The point is with the internet these days, it’s easy to stay in touch.
For the first while, I skyped with a different person every day. In my personal opinion, this might have been a mistake, because I was putting in hours of face time during the vacation phase, when everything was peachy. The truth of the matter is that after you leave, life goes on for the people at home. Just like you didn’t see or spoke to all of your friends and family every day while you all lived in the same country, it won’t be that way when you don’t. They have lives and will return to that, even if they want to be a part of your life because they are worried or excited for you. But they usually worry the most during the ‘vacation phase’ when you are OK, so you assure them you’re OK every time you talk. And they believe that, which leads to them returning to their lives. As it should be, I’m not hating on anyone here.
This leads me to the big ‘however’. Two things happened at the same time for me after about three weeks.
One, the ‘vacation phase’ ended and I realised what we had done. We. Had. Left. Our. Family. And. Friends. For. A. New. Home. Where we don’t even speak the language. In the wise words of Varric Tethras, ‘well, shit.’
Two, people at home skyped less because I had repeatedly assured them we were OK. We still spoke to our folks often, but friends and other family engaged less frequently. There was one week where I heard from no one and, of course, it happened at my lowest point. At that moment, it sucks more than you can imagine.
The result? BOOM! You’re depressed, alone in a strange country and suddenly severed from your loved ones. While I never regretted moving, I did feel incredibly alone. I’ve always been the kind of person to deal with things alone, so I didn’t tell anyone I felt this way until we hit the three-month mark. You can read more about that here.
If you’re thinking of moving or just moved, my advice here would be to pace it with the skyping in the first while and go with it full throttle when your rocket comes back to earth. Also, swallow your pride and let your people know when you’re feeling down. It helps IMMENSELY to have a familiar face talk you through it and listen to your laments. If you struggle to talk about it, write. Send emails, texts or whatever and get it out of your system. You’re still human and a move to another country is a massive thing. You will adapt.
I promise you that it does get better. Now, there are many weeks when I don’t talk to anyone via skype (we still skype with our folks every weekend, but I mean during the week). It’s okay. I’m smiling as I type this. 🙂
Remember that your people won’t forget you. They’ll be busy sometimes and you will too, but distance can’t kill love. I know just as much about their lives as I used to when we shared a zip code. Sure, I can’t go to parties and christenings and stuff, which still sucks and brings pangs of missing them, but I’m still in their hearts and they are still in mine.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this lonely feeling is a recurring one. While it’s a lot better now, I still have a day here and there where I feel really cut off. I’ve learned that those are the days I can send my people messages or photos and just talk, without even having to admit I feel down. They instinctively know when I need cheering up and often do it without realising it. Take heart that you won’t always feel down, but it’s OK when you do.
Meet New People
The ease of this point is going to differ from country to country.
Some cultures are just more accepting of outsiders while other cultures are not. We know people who moved to India, for example, and were received like long lost family. They felt at home almost immediately. We’ve heard the same thing said from friends who moved to Canada and the Netherlands.
Research and experience in Germany specifically, has learned us that making friends here is super difficult. We know people who have lived here for four or more years and can speak the language fluently, who have still not been able to make friends. That’s rough.
What has been our saving grace is the fact that Jan’s colleagues are almost all immigrants from the rest of Europe and kind of band together, because they’ve experienced this friendship-difficulty first hand. We’ve gone out with them a few times now, which helps immensely. It also helps that we all get along well.
If you’re moving, try to force yourself to join some sort of group, as far as possible. A church, a book club, whatever. If you can find people who share your interests (and speak your language or one you understand), do so as soon as possible. Try to see them often, even when you’re not feeling up to going out. You’ll need a new support network, so try your best to build one.
We’ve made friends with our landlords to the point where their grandchild and Kay have play dates, and Jan’s colleagues have become our friends too. It helps that there’s at least SOMEONE you can see once in a while and have conversations with that doesn’t happen through a screen.
Take a Moment to Know Your Area
I can hear you saying “DU-UH” here, but just hear me out.
Use the ‘vacation phase’ to find your places.
* Figure out what grocery / *insert place here* store you like best and how to get there.
* Learn what roads or bus routes to take to work (and to whatever other places you need to go). Experiment with these to find the quickest one and always have an alternative in case something goes wrong.
* Find out where the nearest hospital is.
* Find a doctor who speaks English if you’re moving to a country with a different language. Otherwise, find a doctor you like.
* Find a park you like or where the kids can play.
* Find a church or place of worship where you fit in. We couldn’t do this because the closest English church is over 35 km away, so we stream sermons on YouTube, but ideally you would go somewhere you can meet people.
If you have these places sorted, you’ll adapt more easily and also be ready for emergencies. You’ll know where to go for a walk or which stores to avoid when you feel down, and also which ones have friendly employees when you need a smile. Experience here dictates that the doctor/hospital one is important too. While my parents were here, we needed to find a doctor and a dentist in a hurry, which would have been easier if we were prepared. Let our stupidity guide you to make less stupid choices. 😛
Stick to Your Decision
I’m an all or nothing kind of person. The only way I’m going to follow through with something is if I give it all. This meant that when I moved, I couldn’t leave a back door open. There is no return plan here. We sold everything and will seriously only go back if there is no other way for us to survive, AKA, all other options have been depleted.
We decided that we wanted to make a new life somewhere else and we have. You’ll notice if you’ve read any of my German chronicle posts that I try not to refer to South Africa as ‘home’. It’s no longer my home.
When you immigrate, you’ve probably decided to make a permanent home of your new country of residence. Remember that decision and cling to it, even when stuff gets difficult.
Because Jan and I made this decision that we’re not going back to South Africa, it means that we’re much more determined to make it work here. We both promised each other that even if we hated it in Germany, we would suck it up and make it work, because it’s still better than the circumstances in South Africa. We’re safer, we earn in a stronger economy/currency and have a better quality of life. That’s worth something.
If you make it easy for yourself to go back, you might be setting yourself up to fail. You’re going to have to steel yourself, because it’s friggen difficult. Some days, it feels as if my anxiety has anxiety. My obsessive tendencies get almost unmanageable. You feel abandoned and alone. You don’t understand the people in your new country and learning the language is complicated. Plus, add the fact that stress makes learning more difficult! You don’t always sleep well and it takes its toll. I could go on, but I trust you get the picture.
It isn’t easy at all. But it’s the right thing. Remember that and you’ll survive.
We know a lot of people around the world who immigrated and all of them share this one view. If you put your mind to it you can do anything, right? So put your mind to staying in your new home.
Don’t be so Hard on Yourself
Immigrating is a big thing. I’ve read in different articles on the subject that it’s a traumatic experience with a grieving process afterwards, akin to the seven stages of grief.
Like anything stress/anxiety related, you’ll feel horrible at times. And, like with all stress/anxiety related stuff, you’ll have to work through it or even seek medical help if it becomes unmanageable. Don’t belittle the things you feel, because you think it’s stupid or whatever. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health!
So allow yourself time to grieve, like you would when you lose anything else in life. You’ve just lost your frame of reference totally. Your people are gone, sure, but so is your place of worship, your grocery store, your language, the neighbourhood where you grew up. We’ve met a lot of people from other parts of Europe who are now living and working in Germany and you would think that this move is easier for them, right? Because European cultures are similar, right? RIGHT? Wrong. Immigration has just as massive an impact on people who come from Europe and even grew up in countries with similar weather and customs as here.
Don’t feel like you need to keep up appearances. Cry if you need to. Rant if you need to. Scream into a pillow or go jogging. You don’t need to be busy all of the time, so if you need a moment, take it. If you’re someone who copes by being busy, do that then. The point is, don’t feel that you need to hit the road running. You’ll probably crawl for a while, then jog, then run, then fall and crawl again. It’s a process and a cycle.
You’re going to have off days. You’ve just gone through a MASSIVE change, so allow yourself time to come to terms with that.
I know it’s easier said than done, because this is the thing I struggle with most. This isn’t a good time for my anxiety to act up either (is there ever a convenient time for that?) because I’m in the middle of a TON of book-related work and we’re potty-training Kayla. With a two-year-old in the midst of discovering life, I don’t have the time or energy to feel down! But I’m learning to allow myself a gap to find my feet. As I said, mental health is important, so I do try to ease up on myself and how I feel.
You’ll probably read more about the process of doing that here in the near future. 😀
I hope you found this post insightful and please add anything in the comments. I love hearing from you.
Have a good one,