Tag Archives: Family

Moving…with Children

Details are falling into place and it looks like we are on track to head to Amman at the end of October. It’s coming up fast! One thing I think about constantly is how to prepare my two-year-old (we’ll call her Lulu–her Arabic nickname–for this blog) for the move. She is at an age where she is very attached to her routines and places; she is very curious and likes to explore, but she can also become very shy and overwhelmed in new places. She’s done pretty well when we’ve traveled out to visit my family in the Northwest, but I don’t think that is a very good measure by which to predict her reaction to Amman. This is going to be a huge transition for her, and she’s too young to be helped much by talking about it.
I’ve started focusing on making changes in our lifestyle to make it more similar to how we will live in Amman. Little things, like phasing out flavored yoghurt and replacing it with plain, rotating in more beans and legumes instead of meat for meals. This week I plan on putting away a lot of her toys and books, and probably some of her clothes, too. Since we are going to a country that struggles with water shortages, I’m contemplating doing away with the nighttime bath, although often she really needs it (she loves digging in the flower beds). Lately, she’s been watching a lot of camel races on YouTube, and we’re trying to have her watch more ‘Alam Simsim or nature documentaries instead of Blue’s Clues (her favorite) or Yo Gabba Gabba.
Anybody have other ideas of what to do now? I know that in the end, we’re just going to have to get there and start adjusting. Lulu and Hungry Husband and I will have have to go through our own process of culture shock, and while I know generally what to expect from myself and Hungry Husband, I feel really uncertain of what to expect from Lulu.

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Reverse Culture Shock

Hi friends and readers.  Sorry about the disappearing act; I wish I could explain it all, but I have neither the time or the inclination to share everything with the internet world.  Suffice it to say, the past two months have been quite stressful.  Thankfully, (some) things are starting to settle down.

To start with, we are back in America.  This was quite unexpected and has been a very difficult transition for us.  We spent the past few weeks living with my in-laws, who are wonderful people, but it is always stressful for me to not have my own space and be able to nest.  As of this weekend we are finally in our own place, lovingly (and freely) furnished by friends.  I have a kitchen again, which means there will be more recipes forthcoming.

In the meantime, I want to give you all something to read.  I wrote this recently for some of our family members and friends to help them understand a little bit of what it is like to return to one’s home culture after a significant period away.  This is an often-overlooked and unexpected aspect of the expatriate life that is important to be aware of.

Reverse Culture Shock

One of the most difficult aspects of returning to America for people who have spent extended periods of time overseas is dealing with Reverse (Re-entry) Culture Shock.  Although most people generally expect that someone will feel disoriented and uncomfortable when entering a foreign culture, there is little awareness that those same feelings are common and often even stronger when he returns to his home culture.  This has been and continues to be one of the least-understood problems for expatriates when they return to the “home” culture, which, for many, no longer feels like home.

During their time overseas, expatriates experience many changes not just in their environment, but also in their values, attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives, and when they return to their home culture they are faced with the feeling that they no longer understand or fit in to society the way they did before.  It can be difficult to communicate these new ideas and beliefs with family and friends who have not shared the overseas experience and have not gone through the same transformation process; additionally, people in the home culture often do not seem interested in hearing more than superficial details about the expatriate’s time overseas.  Consequently, the transformations experienced by returning expatriates may affect relationships with those closest to them, who don’t necessarily comprehend the subtle changes that have taken place, and may not always accept them.  Expatriates who adjust best and bond most strongly with their overseas community will often have the hardest time returning and adapting to their home culture.

The way in which a expatriate left their overseas context can also play a major role in their home culture re-entry process.  Although most people in the home culture will expect the expatriate to be overjoyed about returning, the expatriate often feels a deep sense of loss and sadness over the people and places they have left.  The expatriate may be experiencing feelings of failure or guilt if he believes that the return to the home culture was unnecessary or somehow against his wishes, or that his work did not turn out as he hoped.  The need to grieve the losses caused by re-entry can also exacerbate the lack of understanding and patience exhibited by family and friends.

Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia or excessive sleeping)
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Personal/ethical dilemmas
  • Feelings of inferiority
  • Alienation
  • Shyness
  • Trouble making (or reconnecting with) friends
  • Relationship problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Work/academic performance difficulties

The length of time it takes to reintegrate to their home culture varies person to person.  It can be influenced by the amount of time the person spent overseas, the level to which they adapted to and bonded with their overseas culture, the patience and understanding exhibited by family and friends, as well as by situations happening in the foreign community of which the expatriate was part.

Running Out of Gas

Well, friends, it is that time in The AmerArab Life: we are preparing for another transition.  Given the past few years of our lives, you might assume that we have developed the necessary emotional, relational and logistical skills to manage this process relatively smoothly.  After all, in the past five years we have:

  • Gotten married;
  • Changed jobs;
  • Lived in five different countries (two of them more than once);
  • Lived in three different states within the U.S.A.;
  • Lived in 11 houses or apartments for at least two months each (the longest period in any one house being eight months), a one-star Arab hotel for three months, and had eight periods of one month or less stays with friends, family or in temporary housing;
  • Actively studied four dialects of Arabic;
  • Decided to start having children, and are now pregnant.

So, it is time to move again, probably at the end of next week (assuming our visas come through as promised).  However, instead of being the efficient list-making, people-visiting, introspective journal writer that I was at the beginning of this past period of life, I am now a procrastinating, uncaring, celebrity gossip googling zombie.  Do I feel guilty about this?  Definitely.  I spent years teaching college students how to “finish well” in their cross-cultural experiences: push through the fatigue, fight the urge to withdraw, plan events to honor the people you have met.  In the past, I have spent the final days before moving making sure to get pictures taken with all my most important friends, distributing gifts and any possessions I planned to leave behind, visiting my favorite places in the city.

None of this knowledge or past experience is helping me gain any motivation at this point.  I am so tired of moving, starting over, settling down, and saying goodbye, and it has gotten more and more difficult each time.  Honestly, apart from the fact that we chose an apartment and furnished it, there is nothing that makes me feel as though Hillside is my home, which seems like it should make leaving easier—but it’s not.  We came in knowing it was temporary, and have lived that way for the past five months.  We spent six weeks away traveling, never formally studied Arabic, lived without routines or schedules or friends.  The only person I have any sort of relationship with is the landlady, and I don’t even know her name; I just call her the respectful word for “old woman.”  I was supposed to go talk to her today, tell her that we are moving, ask if she wants to buy any of our furniture.  Instead I crawled into bed, felt frustrated by my poor attitude, and decided to wait until sometime when Hungry Husband could go with me.

And to top it all off, the gas tank that fuels the stove started sputtering a few days ago, a sure sign that it is low and will be empty soon.  I have been nursing it since then, praying that it does not run out before we leave, because I don’t want to pay the $15 to replace it for a week’s use.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take much time on the stove to make ramen noodles…

The point is, I am 31 years old.  In six months we are going to have a baby.  My brain’s capacity for learning foreign languages is diminishing rapidly, and my introverted, intimate relationship-oriented personality is spent from years of forming friendships that come to an end before I am able to communicate any of my deep thoughts.  I don’t feel like I have much left in me to keep living this lifestyle.  Please pray that this will be our last move for a long time!

BIRTHDAY BREAKFAST BONANZA

Yes, my birthday was last week.  I am now squarely into my 30s, no getting around it.  These things happen and the best way to deal with it is eat as if I still have the metabolism I had when I was in my 20s, when it would have been very easy to confuse me with a hummingbird: always moving and always eating and always remaining on the wee side of creation.

I was thinking about what I wanted to do to celebrate ahead of time, and one thing that kept coming to mind was breakfast.  Why not start the day off with something extraordinary?  Breakfast is a meal that I love—I am always so hungry in the mornings—but rarely put much effort into.  A normal breakfast consists of bread, cheese, jam, an egg (usually hard-boiled), a banana and yoghurt.  Sometimes for a “treat” I combine the jam, banana and yoghurt for a smoothie.

So it seemed like a proper, slightly decadent breakfast was called for.  I started daydreaming of The Golden Corral, which has the mother of all breakfast buffets.  I have mixed feelings about buffets but I get really happy whenever there’s someone to make me an omelet to order.  And french toast.  And hash browns.  And blueberry pancakes.  And flaky, buttery biscuits spread with strawberry jam.  Oh my.

I didn’t go quite that far, considering it was just me and Hungry Husband, but my eggs, (beef) bacon and Apple Cakes from Joy The Baker, served with cute little glasses of homemade cinnamon syrup, made me happy.  And full.  And after breakfast?  I took a nap, because that is what old people like me do when our stomachs are full.

A plate o' happiness