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Saturday
Jan222011

This wasn’t what I signed up for 

When the early days of an overseas posting go wrong

In the past month massive floods have inundated many areas of Australia. 

In Queensland alone the flood zone covers an area larger than France and Germany combined, or for those of you in the USA, an area greater than the state of Texas.   97 towns or cities have been affected by flooding or isolation. Since Christmas Eve tens of thousands of houses have been flooded to varying degrees with many uninhabitable. Around 6,000 people have moved to evacuation centres.  As at January 21st 33 people have lost their lives with more still missing. 

These are the facts that describe much hardship and sadness for thousands of people. 

Like most people in Australia my thoughts and prayers are with those I know who are affected as well as those we have met through the tragedies shown through the media. 

In addition my thoughts are also with those expats who I know will have recently arrived in Australia to begin work with their employers, to set up their homes and establish their families in their new locations.

For those expats whose ideas of Australia had been the sort of images which have recently been shown on the Oprah show they will have been expecting a lifestyle that matched the Queensland tourism tag line –“Beautiful one day –Perfect the next”.

The reality of continuous rain, possible flooding, isolation or travel difficulties will have been a cruel disappointment for many.

So what happens when our expectations of an overseas assignment come far short of the reality and the early days provide a shock? 

We often talk about the cycle of change people go through in adapting to a new job and location.  Often there is an initial up period of hope and excitement as the “honeymoon period’ of the early days brings new and exciting experiences and people.  While this period can bring its own unpacking and settling in challenges it is usually a high energy period when people want to explore and meet people, learning all they can.

After that phase many people experience a down period of sadness and frustration when the reality of the differences sink in, the loss of the old home and all it meant is mourned and the hard work of adapting becomes less of a novelty.  This phase, often termed ‘culture shock’, is often mitigated for those who have quickly built connections and gained familiarity through the honeymoon period. 

So what about those people whose new arrival was anything but a honeymoon?  Instead it may feel like you have been catapulted directly into a culture shock.  Chances are you may be questioning your decision to move here.  Perhaps you are planning an escape back home as quickly as you can. 

Firstly, be kind to yourself!  If things have been tough for you through disappointment or challenging situations such as the Australian flooding; acknowledge the hard situation you have found yourself in.  And give yourself time to de-stress in the ways that you find most helpful.

Then remind yourself of why you moved.  What were the reasons you wanted to make this relocation?  Chances are many of those will still be valid.  Refocusing on the things you hope to gain from this move will give you back some of the energy the disappointment has taken from you. 

You may also need to actively refocus your brain onto the more positive aspects of your new home.  Disappointment can create a negative mind-set which is then reinforced by every news item on TV or every incident which occurs around us.  Instead of “rose-coloured spectacles” you may be wearing dark glasses!  Actively look for positive news stories or switch off the TV and focus on what you have around you that you do like.  Take a moment each day to list some aspects you are grateful for in this location.

And the next step is to get out and do the things that you need to in order to work well and build a flourishing life in this location.

What have your early day experiences been in your new locations?  Tell us about them in the comments below.

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