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My wife led me out the door and to the Tube station. I had no idea where we were going – but she had a plan. We’d just had a most busy week of work, and now the good thing was that we could do something, together, in London.
The place we ended up in was a huge roof garden in the middle of Kensington. It was lunchtime, and six floors below, London was busy, noisy, and hectic as ever. But up there, all you could see was clouds, church spires and towers – all you could hear was the wind in the palm trees (palm trees! On the roof!) and the water in the fountains.
I’m writing about this because you will need places like these. Let me explain.
Culture shock is going to get you
If you think you will be the first expat to conquer culture shock – the first one to just blend in like a Jason Bourne and start living like a local from day one – you’ve got another think coming.
Culture shock has stages. Each person goes through them at a different pace, but most people do go through all of them – and almost everyone who moves to live abroad will experience culture shock in one way or another. “Expat Flow” has a whole chapter on this phenomenon, and some useful workbook exercises that help you deal with it when it comes.
But wherever you go, and whatever you do, culture shock is something you will have to deal with.
You will need an “opposite space”
When you begin to doubt your decision to move, what can you do? When your ideal destination turns out to be not so perfect after all – is there a way for expats to improve where they live?
The ultimate solution is just to go back. But very often, you realize (even as you freak out over how hard it is to get anything done abroad) that the problems are temporary – that you feel bad about your place today, but it will get better in a week or so. What can you do in the meantime?
One solution is to change something, but less drastically – to look for a place which makes you feel different without being completely different. I’ll call it “the opposite space” for now, and explain it in a second. Going to a place like this – physically leaving where you are and going there, for an hour or a day or even a week – could be all you need to come back to your everyday life more refreshed.
It’s not a new idea – why do you think there are so many British blokes hanging around Brit-like pubs in every European city? They need something “opposite” every now and then – and this is their idea of it. If it doesn’t work for you, here are some ways to find your “opposite space”.
In search of the opposite space
The first step is easy, and a bit therapeutic, too: write down everything that annoys / frustrates / depresses you about the place you’re in right now. Don’t hold back, and write anything that makes sense to you. For my London, it would probably be
“noisy / busy / crowded / expensive / predictable”.
From there, you try to seek an opposite for every problem you found. The above list would then become
“quiet / calm / empty / free / wild and surprising”
The last step involves some research. You know what kind of place you’re looking for, but does it exist?
Go back to your guide books. Ask your friends. Search online. Visit the tourist information centre – even if you’ve lived in a place for ages! Feeling like a tourist will be part of the fun.
Once you figure out a list of possible “opposite places”, go and check them out. If they work, that’s great! You just found a good way to manage your culture shock.
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