The honeymoon stage was over.
The change came so gradually, my shift in perspective took me by surprise. Here I was in the new home we’d chosen. I could finally navigate the town primarily without my GPS. Our family’s new schedule was beginning to take shape. The kids and I even made new friends. But I wasn’t happy. I felt a rush of guilt and shame. Why did I suddenly feel frustrated and hyper-critical of my new surroundings?
I remember the first few months after we moved. Everything felt new and exciting. The fabulous library downtown with the fantastic children’s room – a slide and a play house made of books? Yes, please. Highly rated schools and fun community activities for families? Sounds awesome. A college town with a delicious assortment of restaurants, a cool night life, and convenient shopping? I was in.
When our family first moved, our new home felt only promising. We made it past the tricky part of packing, moving vans, and paperwork. A new place meant a new start and possibility. I was inclined to idealize the good around me, seeking for the best in my new environment.
I didn’t know it then, but I was experiencing the first stage of culture shock, the high of the honeymoon stage where everything feels bright and shiny. Then the second and third stages hit – Rejection, followed by Regression and Isolation. My kids would experience a frustrating day and plead, “Can’t we move back to Jacksonville?’ My husband would spend another long evening at the law library, I would put the kids to bed by myself, and I would settle down at night to a tv show and a side of pity.
Friends and family offered support and empathy, but I always felt odd sharing my real feelings about the move. I thought, Who picks up their entire life, makes this big, exciting change, then complains about it? I felt unmotivated to participate in my new community and began to idealize our previous home. There, our friends became family, we parked our car in a garage, and the kids attended school with good friends and neighbors. Life seemed so idyllic there in retrospect – why did we move again?
I wish someone had said to me earlier, “This is culture shock, Mindy. The feelings you are experiencing are normal. This won’t last forever. I promise.” So today I want to reach out to the Iowa City moms who are new to the area. If you are in the honeymoon stage, soak in all that is new and exciting. If you’ve reached rejection, regression, or isolation, hang in there. Your feelings are normal. This won’t last forever.
I am gradually reaching the other side of culture shock, finding my way to Adjustment and Adaptation. For me, the key has really been to find ways to engage in community organizations. I am in the second year of leading my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and it’s been an amazing experience for both Ella and me. I began attending the local Interfaith Moms group bi-monthly and connecting with moms from a variety of faith traditions. I also found satisfying volunteer opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways. These have truly helped me feel a sense of belonging and purpose in my new home.
No one experiences the stages of culture shock in the same way, but there are a few essential tools that helped me get through. If you are finding yourself in the midst of culture shock, remember:
1. Keep a Sense of Humor about the experience. We don’t just make cultural blunders or run into new ways of doing or saying things in other countries. Sometimes a move to a new city, town, or school can mean a big adjustment. If you can keep a sense of humor about yourself and your surroundings, this can help keep some of the frustration at bay.
2. Be Kind to Yourself. Set realistic expectations for yourself and your family. Recognize that moving to a new home and adjusting to your new community will take time. You won’t assimilate all at once and it might be hard at first, but that’s okay. There is no “right” way to navigate your move and things will go smoother if you are kind to yourself.
3. Give it Time. I am not the most patient person and I think I struggled with this concept the most. It broke my heart to see my children navigate new schools, teachers, and playgrounds. I longed for everyone to be instantly happy, validating our decision to move, but that didn’t happen. Just as I moved through the stages of culture shock at my own pace, so did each member of my family. The process couldn’t be rushed, but we could support each other with patience and compassion.
4. Don’t Go it Alone. It’s not weak or shameful to admit that you are struggling. Reach out to a safety net of support – friends, family, significant other, co-workers. When we feel isolated and alone, we tend to retreat into our comfort zone and this can become a serious deterrent to moving toward acceptance and adaptation.
5. Try Something New and Get Involved. One of the best ways to gain perspective on a new community and feel a sense of belonging is to get involved. This will mean something different for each person, depending on your interests. Perhaps you become involved in a local church, begin to attend Tot Time weekly at the Rec Center, sign up for Iowa City Mom Blog Events, find a knitting group, join the PTO, or become a board member for a local volunteer organization. You won’t know what you enjoy locally until you try a few things, so begin by choosing one new thing and trying it. Don’t give up if you don’t find what you’re looking for the first time. Remember, this takes time and patience.
We eagerly visited our previous home for a week at Christmas time. As we reached the familiar exit that meant home for 5 years, I felt a rush of nostalgia. We enjoyed our time with friends and basked in the familiarity of it all. I surprised myself the day I looked around and told my husband, “I loved living here, but I thought I’d feel this overwhelming desire to move back. I don’t.”
Hang in there, mama. This won’t last forever.