I’ve read your post of Curves and Adjustments, she called to say a few days ago. I can definitely relate to the curve, but I’m not sure it’s unique to the expat experience. Well, I said, the U Curve has been used to describe cultural adjustment since the 50’s (Lysgaard first used it in 1955 to describe the adjustment of Norwegian students to the US), but it can sure remind me of many other adjustments in my life.
As I was saying that my daughter’s adjustment to her new kindergarten came into my mind. Cheerful and excited she walked hand in hand with me on her first day. Everything seemed to fascinate her and she couldn’t get away from the toys even just for a hug as I was leaving. Coming back to pick her up was just as great. Big smile, lots of stories. This girl sure knows how to step into new places, I was thinking. It took three days of cheerful happy farewells before the deep came. For no apparent reason (well, it may have been that boy who was sitting in her regular… for three days… seat) and with no pre-warning my happy confident girl turned into a sobbing pile of tears. ‘Don’t go mommy’ she was crying as if I was leaving her in the den of a monster. ‘That’s OK’ her teacher comforted me as I was trying to hide my own tears ‘It’s just the end of her honeymoon phase’. And sure enough it took a good week of gradual adjustment for my little one to come back to her confident self. To discover again her excitement over the toys, the sand play, her teacher’s stories, and to happily wave me goodbye as I was going away.
More examples were just as vivid – starting a new job, getting married, having a baby for the first time, turning into a family of four. All have their own honeymoon periods, big deeps with the first sign of troubles, or even when day to day routine kicks in, and then a gradual climb towards mastery and adjustment. And yet we both agreed there was something different about experiencing these adjustments as an expat. Could it be the intensity of experiencing this stressful time in the enclosed ‘couple capsule’? Could it be the lack of venting out venues – ones like the old couch at your parents’ house or the shoulders of an ever understanding sister?
‘I couldn’t agree more’ commented another expat lady who heard of our discussion. Coming to Singapore as a newlywed she could wholeheartedly relate to the experience of having to ‘deal with it’ at home, even when the only thing she wanted was to run away. In the absence of her mom’s house, surrounded by new acquaintances who have not yet qualified to be called ‘friends’, all she was left with was the need to sort things out at home with her life-time partner. ‘Is that why they say that relocation is a Make it or Break marriage deal?’ she asked.
I agreed with both of them. Adjustments are a common occurrence all through our lives. The U curve, or any other curve can describe them as they go up and down, taking us high to excitement and joy and low into sadness and anxiety. And yet the adjustment to relocation is special in its colorful exposure to new cultures but also in the demands it puts on spousal relationships. And those demands are in no way only negative. Growing together as a real independent couple has its own wonderful merits. Having to sort things together with no venting out or griping about each other can bring with it a quick maturation of the mutual bond; a sense of crystallization and real understanding of each one in these evolving relationships. ‘Make it or break it?’ I’d like to keep my thoughts on the ‘Make it’ side of it and the strong unbreakable connection this experience has summoned into my life.