When facing a major change in life like an international move – or any other change in our personal or professional life – we go through similar stages someone faces when having a serious illness, loss of a loved one or divorce.
The so called ‘Change Stages’ illustrated by the Norwegian sociologist Sverre Lysgaard back in 1955 by the use of a ‘u-curve’ describe the stages associated with a cross-cultural adjustment…
“Adjustment as a process over time seems to follow a U-shaped curve: adjustment is felt to be easy and successful to begin with; then follows a ‘crisis’ in which one feels less well adjusted, somewhat lonely and unhappy; finally one begins to feel better adjusted again, becoming more integrated into the foreign community.”
It is interesting that the stages every international goes through when moving abroad or facing major change, and who are actually based on Lysgaards model, are often rather compared to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s emotional stages she describes in a model she introduced in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying which was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients.
The five stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance were considered very useful in a wide range of situations, like when children grieve in divorce, or when grieving a lost amorous relationship, grieving a substance abuse, and many more. – What they all have in common, are that these different stages don’t necessarily come in order and don’t always apply to everyone facing major change.
You can find these stages under different names: in the infograph here below, they’re called Honeymoon, Culture Shock, Gradual Adjustment, Competence, Mastery – with a slightly different in meaning and description.
Fact is, that everyone deals with change in a very personal and unique way, which makes transition so complex in families or groups and teams. It is up to the team leader, teacher, parent to make sure that all members are informed and taken care of during the different stages.
Some develop very individual coping strategies and have a more intellectual approach to change. – In regard to the so called “expat life stages” during transition, you can find many descriptions.
Another aspect to consider with these stages is, that for those who repatriate, the re-entry can be even more challenging than entering into a new country/life. – Why? Because the expectations are much higher: they usually talk the local language, look like locals, sometimes act like locals, but may not share the same experiences, preferences, tastes etc. like locals. Also, they may not understand the local slang (anymore or not yet), which makes them feel alienated and not belonging where they once “belonged”.
I rather prefer calling these stages life stages, because we all go through them, independently if we move more often or stay in one place. Some might experience them more often, but in the end, what matters is to master these stages and make sense out of every single one of them!
In which life stage are you right now?
Find out in which life stage you are at the moment:
- this lasts a few weeks
- you’re curious and interested in the “new” and “different”, like a tourist
- you embrace the “other” and your attitude is very positive
- you’re excited and energized
- you don’t waste time to ponder over minor problems (like the different rules and values; the new office and colleagues that are not like you expected; not functioning light or heating)
- you’re trying to understand the new rules, values, the language and culture, you try out new food, start developing a new routine
- you tell yourself: this is great! what a wonderful time I have! all is much easier than I thought!
- everything that seemed exciting and new, starts wearing off
- you start getting a broader picture of the “new” situation and start noticing the problems
- you start being easily irritated, frustrated by what is different from what you expected
- you feel tired, exhausted, and have troubles getting a good night of sleep
- you start thinking that the way things were before was much better…
- you feel lonely, alienated and sometimes anxious
- instead of a routine, you feel that you have to constantly adjust your sails, which is tiring
- miscommunication and limited language ability make you feel less confident you feel like being in the wrong film
- you ask yourself: why did I do this? why do I have to be here? why me?…
- you slowly start finding a new routine
- things seem to get easier and you start feeling the “normal” self again
- you feel that your self-confidence increases
- you start sleeping better
- you start understanding the new language and culture
- you know how to navigate the new life and stage, what to expect and how to react and act
- you adjust your behaviour and language you feel more relaxed
- your action radius increases noticeably
- you tell yourself: I can do this! Now I get it…! I know how this works.
- you start feeling “at home” and don’t compare the “now” with the past (too often)
- you feel like having “turned the page”
- you know who to turn to if you need help, but you are more self-confident and independent
- you sleep better and feel more energized
- you risk more new things: new courses, new ways of doing things, new ways of going to places etc.
- you make new friends, contacts; you find your new “village”
- you refer to the new place, job, situation as “your’s” now, without using the term “new”
- you tell yourself: this feels great! what a journey! I like this…! I wouldn’t go back anymore!
Can you relate to some of these stages?
If you want to find out where exactly you’re standing right now on this curve, please get my free International Life Assessment.