Oct 15 2019

The expat syndrome

Category: MiscellaneousIuliana @ 3:20

I’ve been going through a little bit of a phase lately and a colleague that likes to fix things thought that I might suffer from culture shock. As some of you know I’ve moved to Scotland on the 30th of May 2018. Until that time even if I’ve travelled the world because of work or on vacation, I have been a resident of Romania.

I was shy of 35 years old when I decided to move. Looking back, I try to identify the reasons why I did it, but I’ve noticed that every time somebody asks me why I left, I struggle to choose a single reason. While reading this article I tried to answer this question again. The article is named “The 4 stages of culture shock” and after reading that article I’ve realized that I haven’t gone through any of those phases. Does that make me weird?

I do not know why I left, honestly. A lot of my decisions are based on how I feel, and whatever I felt when I made the decision, or what I was going through when I actually put things in motion, I don’t really remember it now. I remember a moment when I was sitting at my desk in Sibiu and asked myself: “What are you still doing here? There’s nothing for you here, there never was. Do you really want to stay here? Because if you get to 40, you might never leave.” So I guess I did it because I was scared of missing the opportunity to do it.

When I was a child, I never lived in the same place for long. Because of my parent’s jobs and their struggles to try to make the family less poor, they moved from place to place for most of my life. And because these moves happened in a time where keeping in touch with friends was not so easy – there were barely any phone lines, there was no facebook, and letters can only do so much. Plus, as I said, we were poor, so visiting old friends on the other side of the country was not an option. I suspect that this is the reason I’ve always felt disconnected from the world around me. For a long time, I described myself as a piece of puzzle that was forced into the wrong place. I had difficulty making friends because I was grieving the ones I left behind. I did not want to make new friends because my parents might decide to move again. I did not think I could go through the same loss again. I was angry with my parents for making the decision to move. I had difficulty making friends because of my undiagnosed ADHD as well. I was a troubled child, too smart for my own good, too energetic, too restless, too impulsive, too naughty and indisciplined. But being smart made teachers and people forgive my impulsiveness, even if sometimes was perceived as my rudeness, so somehow I made it into adulthood. Of course, my parents moved again, and since we lived in that city only for five years, I’ve disconnected from those people too. I barely remember some names and faces.

I am mentioning all this because the conclusion is that by no choice of my own I have always been a loner. I did manage to make some friends while I was a student and since I’ve managed to live in the city where I studied for seven more years, I’ve managed to solidify those connections. But life changes, people change and sometimes connections weaken.

I do have quite a big number of friends and I do my best to keep in touch with them. I love them and I know they love me and I am grateful for them every day. But in my mind, I’ve always felt lonely and disconnected, because my life did not follow the same pattern as theirs. Don’t get me wrong I love my life, but I would have loved to get married and have some kids my godson and his sister could play with. I would have loved to take them to the same kindergarten and see their mom every day.

When I told my family I was going to move to Scotland their main concern was that I will feel alone here. The bitter irony really is that I have always felt alone. Being alone in Romania, or being alone here, it makes no difference to me.

So I moved. And I thought I would go through my culture shock, I believed I will cry my eyes out and run back home after a year. But here I am and since I mentioned the four stages of culture shock, let me tell you how it went for me.

  1. The honeymoon stage: well, my first two weeks here were stressful. I lived in a weird neighbourhood, and could barely sleep at night. My cat arrived two weeks later and after two more weeks she became so sick I almost lost her. And being unable to sleep because of the extremely long days and the stress of the move was not helping. And I had a book to write. And a new job which was not what I expected and with a salary I was not satisfied with. It’s safe to say, it was not an overwhelmingly positive honeymoon.

  2. The frustration stage: the reason I did not go through this phase is that I expected misunderstandings and miscommunication to happen. Also, the things that were different from my country did not affect me in a negative way, this is why I moved here after all because I wanted something different.

  3. The adjustment stage: well, I set up a house exactly as I wanted and I bought a car. And I have a group of people I played and still play football every Wednesday with. I think I was pretty much adjusted.

  4. The acceptance stage: actually, the acceptance stage is the only one I am going through. I’ve accepted when I left Romania that I will not be going back. Also, when I left I set a goal for myself not to leave this country without getting citizenship.

So yeah, the four stages listed previously did not apply to me. If I went through them, I experienced them all at once and I’m over it.

I miss my friends very much. That will never change. But I do not feel “homesick”. I don’t miss the food. I do not miss the aggressive drivers. I do not miss the shitty roads. I do not miss anything from Romania except the people that are dear to me.

The only time I felt frustrated with this country was when the dentist cleaned my teeth and managed to upset one of them so bad, I was considering going back to Romania to the best dentist I ever met to fix it. Luckily for me, she was right, my tooth was just over-sensitive and after a few days, the pain subsided.

I do feel sad or angry sometimes, but it is not because I’m homesick. I’ve always been sad for one reason or another. But that is the subject for other entries.

Did you move to another country? How old were you? Did you go through those four stages? Let me know in the comment section below. ;)

3 Responses to “The expat syndrome”

  1. Lorin says:

    Perhaps the thing that matters is integrating better with the world. Addressing it as a kind of an optimization problem may help, but be careful because you are dealing with your inner soul.

  2. Iuliana says:

    My inner soul is doomed to be a loner at this point I guess and the world feels more like a background of some sorts.

  3. rox says:

    Well, coincidence. I just moved to Berlin two months ago. I lived in Bucharest for the last 15 years and even though I hated it, I miss its familiarity. Unlike you I moved with family, but until I got married I felt the loneliness in my home country as well. And just the same, I find myself trying to pinpoint a single large reason for leaving and cannot find an exact one. Multiple smaller reasons? Of course, including feeling stuck and thinking that if I don’t leave now I won’t leave at all because I am getting old and too settled. The feeling of unaccomplishment was overwhelming. But now I wake up every day thinking, maybe I was too apocaliptical in my thinking back then. The good news is that that feeling subsides during the day. To be honest my brain totally surprised me – the doubts and regrets started almost instantly the week the move became a certainty – considering the fact I waited for this for the last 10 years.

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