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  • Writer's picturegaelle Chatenet

Starting a New Life in a New Environnent

This is it! The moment you have been waiting for! Finally you are in Japan! After months of planning, researching, imagining, you are here at last! Emotions are running high, everything is new and exciting. Adapting to a new country, or a new school or city can be both exciting and unsettling. Let's take a look at how adapting to a new environment works.

Adaptation typically goes through 5 stages:

1. Tourist/Honeymoon stage:

When the person first arrives in a new environment in which she has been dreaming of arriving. When the move comes after a lot of preparation, excitement and anticipation. Finally, you are here, everything is new, amazing and interesting. There is so much excitement and desire to find out and understand more.

In a situation when the move was done against one’s desire (for instance a child who had to change schools because the parents’ job changed and they had to move away from their friends, a person who had to follow a spouse and give up a job they liked…) the person will go straight to stage 2.

2. Frustration Stage:

The person feels homesick, lonely, they miss their friends and family. If they are in a foreign country, they may not be able to speak the language properly and feel shy, confused and insecure. They might be driven to reduce communication with local people and question the choice to move.

3. Adjustment Stage:

The person learns to adjust, navigate the new culture’s system. They may feel tension inside, feel angry or irritated by the local customs or ways that seem inappropriate. They might try to reduce contact with local people because they feel frustrated by their interactions. For some it can become unbearable and they might think of going back.

4. Assimilation Stage/ Acceptance:

The person starts to make acquaintances and friendships develop. Everyday life becomes easier. The good sides of the host culture become more visible and the person starts to enjoy the differences of the new culture.

5. Stage of Biculturalism:

The person has adapted to the new country, interacts easily with local people. Everyday routines go smoothly. The positive aspects of the new country are more evident. Going back to the original country and seeing friends and family is still pleasant but the ‘flaws’ of the original country are also more visible.

Going through all these stages is not only normal, it is healthy and the indication that you are aware of the changes in your daily life and your body and mind are in the process of adapting to this new environment. It may however not always be easy.

Below are some exercises to help you cope with the stress and frustration that may arise.

Here are some simple exercises to help you deal with stress and frustration:

Cardiac Coherence Exercise: when emotions are threatening to take over.

In a foreign country, when every daily task that used to be so simple seems like a huge challenge, emotions tend to be high and always threatening to take over. When you feel like you are going to lose control, this simple exercise will help:

Control your breathing so that you breathe in for 5 seconds then out for 5 seconds. This will make the total number of breaths you take 6/ minute. Continue for at least 3 minutes, 5 if possible. Concentrate on your breath and counting the seconds, in and out. This will bring you back to yourself and stop panic or frustration from taking over.

Stepping out: When you are in a situation that seems complicated or overwhelming, first take a moment to breathe as indicated in the previous exercise. Then take time to see, hear, feel. See the persons around you, look at the colors, the movement. Just look without judgement or conclusions at what surrounds you. This will anchor you to the present.

Then, step out of yourself and look at the situation as if you were a person observing the scene. See yourself in the situation as if you were a neutral observer and observe the feelings that arise. It always seems easier to solve problems that belong to others. See your situation from the outside to calm overwhelming emotions and become aware of the solutions.

If you are experiencing overwhelming feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety or a sharp drop in self-esteem while adapting to your new environment. Ask for help today.

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