The Stages of Culture Shock are Real for Expats
Looking back at my first 5 months living in Calabria (wow, time flies!) I recognize my emotions have been all over the place. Until recently, I was nearly ready to throw in the towel.
Then I read an article about culture shock and realized I had been completely following those stages. Somehow, that brought me comfort.
Month 1-2: It's a Honeymoon!
When I first arrived, it was the tail end of summer. Days were long. The sea was warm. Calabria was my oyster.
I made friends and had somewhat of a social life. Going to the grocery store was a magical adventure.
Month 2-4: Frustration Sets in
But then, winter set in, both in a literal and metaphorical sense.
It got colder and darker and rainier, and I couldn't go to the sea as often as I had before. I got very angry about how cold my house was (thus all the layers in the pic).
I struggled with all of the bureaucratic bullshit required to live in Italy. At times, it felt like a battle I would never win. It feels dramatic to say that, but don't underestimate the the psychological difficulty of completely changing your life to live in another country.
I perhaps thought I was better prepared than I was simply because I had done my research and knew a new life wouldn't be easy here. Let me just say that no amount of research and planning can help you overcome what is (I now know) a very natural part of the culture shock process. That is, being frustrated every single day for months on end.
Month 5: Adjustment is Happening!
Something really interesting happened when I came back from my trip to the US.
First of all, as soon as I saw my beautiful Ionian Sea, I realized how much I had missed her. She reminded me why I moved here in the first place. There's nowhere in the United States that I could afford to live with such close access to such a gorgeous sea and beach.
Next, I realized I didn't feel as much like a Bumbling American when I went out and interacted with Italians. I understand a hell of a lot more Italian that I did a few months ago and that makes all of the difference.
And I got my identity card! Now I look like any other Italian using one to board a plane (unless I open mouth).
Things that had annoyed me I now find more charming. Or at least can try to find the charm in Italian life.
I am relieved that the frustration period is mostly over and that I am settling in to this life.
I'm writing this, looking out my window at my lemon tree. I recently made my first batch of limoncello, though it is possibly too strong for consumption!
I went to the market in Soverato this morning with my friend Lynn. She remarked on how this task and just become so normal for us. I remarked on how cheap the vegetables were.
Point being: this is my life now. I'm done railing against how different it is from what I've always known, and I'm learning to just enjoy.
Up Next: Acceptance
I don't think it will take as long for me to move into the acceptance phase of culture shock. I'm still settling into to my role in this place, but the difference is now I am more willing to be my American self (because she's quirky and awesome) as well as open up to the opportunities that arise.
Nothing but blue skies ahead!