The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition

Fish Out of Water

This is a preview to the chapter Fish Out of Water from the book The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition by Tina L. Quick.
Please note this text is copyright protected.

It is clear to see from the journal entry above that this young woman is at the start of the transition stage, which begins the moment you leave a place. It ends once you have the desire, whether it is conscious or unconscious, to connect with, commit to and participate in the new place.

Chaos and Ambiguity


The most common characteristic of the transition stage is utter chaos. Think about some of the other times you have made an international relocation, even if it was just to go back to your passport country to visit family and friends. You land and everything you have been used to has completely changed. In one plane ride:

▪ You have lost your status, roles, and routines, and the comfort and self-confidence that go along with them.
▪ You don’t know how to get from point A to point B. In fact, you may not even know what point B is.
▪ You may not feel completely comfortable speaking in your home country language.
▪ Chances are you need to familiarize yourself with the monetary system, public transportation procedures, phones, food, banking and postal procedures, social etiquette, customs, and more.

Unexpected Shock


While TCKs transitioning to another country and FSs expect everything to be new and different, all of this can be a real shock to the TCK who has come “home.” You may have expected that you would know your passport country well, but are now finding (or may find) that you feel very much like a foreigner. TCKs are typically more observant than your domestic peers. It is a skill you own, a benefit of your cross-cultural and highly mobile childhood. You have had to be observant in order to see what was happening around you and to understand the reasons for what you saw. You have learned, sometimes the hard way, that you need to watch and wait in order to fit in and not break the social rules of your new culture.

Oddly enough, TCKs are slower to use this skill in their home country. You know a lot about other cultures, but don’t realize that you don’t know your “own” that well.

Things Change


Things have changed while you’ve been away. You’ve changed while you’ve been away. Your international experience has given you different sets of rules, norms and customs. One very thoughtful person at my husband’s office had the foresight to hand us a book when we returned in 2004 to the same city we had left 15 years before. It was the Interchange Institute’s book by Dr. Anne Copeland and Helenann Wright: Welcome to Boston: a Guide for International Newcomers. I was grateful that this person considered me an international newcomer rather than just another American who would have no difficulties returning home. If I hadn’t read the book, I would have made many more cultural faux pas than I actually did.

Things had changed so much in the years we had been away. As a small example, when my family left the U.S. the tipping rate was 10% or 15% if the service was particularly good. When we returned, the rate had gone up to 15-20%. If I had stayed with the old rates I could have left a long trail of angry wait staff, cab drivers and others!

Transition Shock


The Transition stage is also where culture shock begins to take place. The Encarta Dictionary defines culture shock as “the feelings of confusion and anxiety experienced by somebody suddenly encountering an unfamiliar cultural environment.” You may remember going through culture shock when you first moved abroad. You may even have had some training before leaving so you came to expect the different stages of culture shock. You are not immune to experiencing this shock again upon repatriation, only now it is in reverse. Repatriation is widely viewed as being just as or more difficult than expatriation. It is the same experience, but this time it is happening in your own country where you supposedly know everything. This is why it is such a jolt and can go unrecognized for quite some time. You are not expecting it.

The diagram below, adapted from L. Robert Kohl’s Survival Kit for Overseas Living, shows the stages of culture shock or country shock. When it is experienced upon repatriation it is often referred to as reverse culture shock or re-entry shock. Regardless of the name, the experience is the same whether you are a foreign student entering a first or second host country or a TCK repatriating to your home country. For this reason I prefer to refer to it as transition shock. The difference is that the foreign student expects he or she will have to deal with it while it often takes the repatriate by surprise.

The horizontal axis is indicative of the progression of time. I prefer not to indicate weeks or months here because each person progresses to and through transition shock differently and in varying time spans. Some people will get through it in a few weeks or months and others will take up to as many as three years. It is also important to note that it is possible to go back and forth between the different phases. The mid-line represents normal level of feeling. Brent from Chapter 1 who is now in his fourth year of college says he is still in transition. Other TCKs I’ve interviewed were barely affected at all.

The Honeymoon Stage


As you can see from the diagram, the initial rise of the curve at the beginning of the time interval indicates arrival in the home or host country when there is an initial euphoria. Some interculturalists refer to this as the “Fun” or “Honeymoon” stage where everything is exciting, new, and fun. You feel like a tourist. Over time this euphoria begins to give way to feelings of irritability and hostility. Things you once thought were quaint now begin to grate on your nerves.

Expatriates in France often say they initially admired the joie de vivre the French celebrated with the 35-hour work week and two-hour lunch breaks. They, too, partook in long, relaxing lunches in cafés and restaurants when they first arrived. Once they were settled with work and household responsibilities they found themselves irritated at the thought that everything shut down for two hours in the middle of the day. That was often the point in their day when they were ready to make business calls or run errands, but would be disappointed and aggravated to discover the business closed. Or worse yet, if the store, shop or business had been open on Saturday, they remained closed Sunday to Tuesday.

This happens when you return home as well. At first there is excitement over the food or shopping, television and other forms of entertainment that either was not available, lacked quality or was too expensive in your last host country. You enjoy being able to speak in your mother tongue again and be understood. You might eat out a lot at all your favorite restaurants. Then one day you wake up and feel yourself having a mind shift.

The Dip


That's the end of the free preview ...
You can get the rest of this chapter,
and all the others, when you
buy The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition

What else is in the chapter 'Fish Out of Water'?

Fight or Flight

Not everyone has as deep a dip as shown in Fig. 4.1, especially after cross-cultural training, but common reactions to this crisis stage are what give it the nickname of ...

Freeze and Friends

Linda Maguire, one of my intercultural colleagues, often adds the term “Freeze and Friends” to depict this part of the curve. What helps when you are in the bottom of ...

Gradual Adjustment

After taking a deep dip, the line in Fig. 4.1 indicating level of feeling is slowly scaling upward to feeling normal again. In reality what takes place is a series ...

Typical Reactions

Students may feel: ...

Cultural Incidents

On top of everything else you have to deal with when entering or re-entering a country, cultural misunderstandings or incidents, as Craig Storti describes in his book, The Art of ...

Type I Cultural Incidents

Storti explains that there are two types of cultural incidents: Type I and Type II. Type I cultural incidents occur when we react to the behavior of the people of ...

Type II Cultural Incidents

Type II cultural incidents occur when the local people react to our behavior. From all the stories I have heard from foreign students entering a new culture and TCKs who ...

Examples

Following are some examples of cultural incidents that have either happened to me or to others I know and how I would classify them according to Storti’s categories of Type ...

Expecting Cultural Sameness

Storti explains that cultural incidents occur because either we expect other people to behave like we do (Type I) or other people expect us to behave as they do (Type ...

Cultural Effectiveness

Cultural effectiveness is attained by becoming aware of these reactions and realizing that cultural incidents occur because we are expecting cultural sameness. Once we understand that, we are motivated to ...

Hitting the Dip

Once the honeymoon period is over reality begins to set in and feelings of fun and excitement give way to a whole spectrum of emotions. Let’s have a look at ...

Flip Flopping Emotions

Human beings bring order into their lives by creating routines. These routines become so well-rehearsed that you get to the point where you no longer need to keep them on ...

Exaggerated Responses

There are so many things coming at you at once in this new place that it feels quite overwhelming and even the slightest mishap or obstacle can suddenly become an ...

Homesickness and How to Beat It

What do you do when homesickness hits? Homesickness is tough to avoid – not just for international students but all students. Many domestic students are also far away from home, ...

The Blues and How to Shake Them

Blue days, crying spells and mood swings are normal in the transition stage. Nothing-is-right-in-the-world days are normal, but they are usually interspersed with good or just-okay days. Remember that the ...

Thoughts of Transferring

Many students begin entertaining thoughts about transferring out to another school during this time. The majority of them don’t actually follow through because things start to get better. Panic ...

Everyone Goes Through It

This is such a difficult time for students because they are desperately missing their best friends and want someone to talk to. They haven’t yet made a good friend with ...

Exhausting Time

Keep in mind that everything is new and different and you are being constantly bombarded with sorting out how things are done in this new place, where you can find ...

Depression versus Grief

If someone happens to get stuck (freezes) in the crisis stage of transition shock, she or he becomes paralyzed in the sense that there is failure to move forward. If ...

Grief

We all experience various losses throughout our lifetimes and the subsequent grief that comes with each one. It is a part of life and is difficult to avoid, especially for ...

Depression

Depression, on the other hand, is bigger than grief. Self-worth takes a nosedive and with it comes an amplification of negative feeling…about everything. Going to a comedy with friends won’t ...

Listen to Your Body

Students cannot always recognize that they are facing issues that can be helped through counseling services. Many students suffer from physical symptoms such as head, neck, back or stomach aches; ...

Coping Strategies

Many times, particularly in persons with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression sets in during the winter months when the daylight hours are shortened. Be sure to get plenty of exercise ...

Use the Experts

At one time or another during our lifetimes each one of us faces difficulties that are just too complicated, too deep or too overwhelming for us to handle on our ...

Student Health and Counseling Services

Student counseling centers exist on nearly every college campus and many have other less overt layers of student support. In many places the first layer consists of those who are ...

Choose Well

That being said, it is worth mentioning that not all counselors are attuned to the issues of third culture kids/global nomads/international students. Some TCKs have reported their student mental health ...

Hot Topic

Thankfully depression and stress among college students is no longer a taboo subject. Due to an alarming increase in mental health issues in college students, depression and suicide are hot ...

Surviving the Chaos

Self-Centeredness

Self-centeredness (not isolation) is not a bad thing at this time in your life and your transition. Think about taking care of yourself. You’re stressed and having to cope with ...

Plan Ahead

Look at the academic calendar well in advance and plan your trips early on. Don’t wait for the break to be upon you before thinking about where you will go. ...

Ask Questions

As was mentioned before, all college freshmen are likely to feel clueless most of the time, but this is even truer for TCKs and other international students. They not only ...

Invite Visitors

A Canadian colleague who has lived and worked in European international schools for many years, says his family prefers to invite friends to come visit them when they start heading ...

Extend Grace

The chaos and culture shock in the transition stage may seem a bit daunting, but now that you are aware of these emotions and reactions, you won’t be so surprised ...

Make It an Adventure

Treat each challenge as an adventure. A young American family who had just moved to Kenya was initially freaked out by the frequency of lizards in the various rooms of ...

Temporary and Unique

Learn to laugh every day, especially at yourself. In no time at all you will be entertaining friends by retelling your most embarrassing re-entry/transition stories. Be patient…with yourself and others. ...

Reviews

"This wonderful book appears six months too late, as my TCK son has recently gone to university and he and..."

More Reviews
Share on Facebook Tweet This
Buy this book:
Get a Book Preview website