If you type into Google “Expat Psychology” or “Being an Expat” you’ll find thousands of articles written by thousands of different people on the psychology of being an expat. This article is just one more! Sort of.
Most psychologists reckon that everyone, no matter how well prepared you are before you move to a different country, (FOR WHATEVER REASON) goes through four stages of mentalness (totally real word) before just accepting it or jumping ship back to the mother-country …
Stage 1: HONEYMOOOOOOON…
What an adventure!! Whoop whoop…you’re off on the trip of a lifetime, you’re totally psych’d and even the kids seem up for it (if they can talk). You land, you act like a tourist for 3 weeks (roughly the length of a good holiday), everything looks super rosey…and then…
Stage 2: CULTURE SHOCK!!
…your working spouse kisses you goodbye one morning, shuts the door and waves to you through the window and it’s just you…WTF!? You suddenly feel exhausted, drained of all life force and maybe experience a difficulty in leaving your home. What’s the point, eh? You’ll only have to speak Swedish to someone or worse, be made to feel like an idiot for not understanding someone. But, you HAVE to leave the house, you have to get shit done in order to make this house a home. It’s all on you to make everyone feel settled and comfortable. Your spouse is too busy working and, well, the kids can’t deal with the house move, utility bills, furniture shipment, car renewal, insurance comparison. Isolation, loneliness and loss of self.
Culture shock is a sneaky SOAB. The slow realisation that everything you have ever known is forever more different. You don’t even have to be in a different culture, per se. You could have moved to a different neighbourhood and experienced culture shock. But, in a foreign country I think it is best summed up when you hit the supermarket. Breakfast, for example…they drink sour yoghurt here. WTF IS KVÄRG…never mind the fact you don’t know the language. Do you know the difference between filmmjölk and lättmjölk? You learn quickly, trust me!
Every single thing you once took for granted as an every day occurence seems like the impossible. Even your picking your kids up from school becomes this daily ritual of sign language, hand waving and one word sentences in which you are meant to decipher whether or not they ate, slept and pooped ok. Then something goes wrong, one of the kids gets ill, the dog gets ill, YOU GET ILL!! Where do you go? How do you ask for rehydration tablets in Swedish? Can you see a Doctor without waiting for 50 hours at the emergency room?
You’ll probably find yourself saying “back in… [insert mother-country] we never had this problem” a lot.
Stage 3: Transformation
There is no set time on when this happens but it usually takes place around your second or third trip home to the mother-country. You’ll be visiting family or friends and all of a sudden realise how odd a particular way of doing something is at home. It might be as simple as how stupid it is that people with buggies on public busses have to clamber to the front of the bus once they’ve got their child onto the bus and pay. Or, how ridiculously expensive child care is or how lucky that all children under the age of 18 receive free healthcare (with the exception of prescriptions). In this stage, you begin to appreciate quite how lucky you are that you’ve been given the opportunity to try out this crazy lifestyle. It’s also a chance to for your children to experience a way of growing up that they never would have had at home.
You’ll begin reconnecting with yourself, too. You’ve probably tapped into a local expat community and made some friends for yourself. You might even be thinking about learning the language! It won’t be complete assimilation but you’ll be well on your way to feeling “at home” in your adopted country.
Stage 4: Assimilation
Personally, I feel that this is a difficult stage to achieve, unless you are well entrenched with a Swedish family or partner. Although, there are many expats who have and will go on to fully absorb their adopted countries culture and colloquialisms, it might be something that never happens. No matter how at peace you become with your new surroundings and home, you never loose your cultural “roots”. These are too deeply embedded in you. Like a Swedes obsession with insulation and winter proof windows, there will be things that you will never let go of.
What’s the point of this?
Well, my point is that some people never make it out of culture shock and the emotional turmoil they go through is deeply damaging. The gap between culture shock and transition needs to happen quickly. If not, it can lead to anxiety and depression, mental illness and in extreme cases physical ailments. What I want to explain is where Littlebearabroad fits into your experience as an expat, love refugee, international transient person who happens to have kids. With the creation of our Facebook Groups and Meetups we’ve got your back when you want to make friends and meet people. Our website, Littlebearabroad.com has tonnes of information about welfare and healthcare in Sweden. And finally, with our future plans for creating a physical space “the Village” (I’ve been told to call it a “dagcentre” – a bit like an elderly day centre – for hipster parents/kids and way more swanky) we’ll have somewhere for you to go with stuff to do. But, for now, if you are feeling any of these feels mentioned above, TALK TO SOMEONE!! Whether it’s your doctor, BVC nurse, best friend or the person you met 5 minutes ago at the latest Meetup group you attended. Chances are they’ve been through the same thing and they know how to help.