The 3 Phases of a Cross-Continental Relocation
On January 8, 2018, it will officially be 3 years since I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Singapore. Notice something unusual here? Yes! I’ve finally learned how to write my dates the American way ! You won’t believe that it took me more than 2 years of scratching out, and re-writing dates on application forms to actually get this right. It is somewhat like reforming an old habit.
Until this time, I had spent my entire life in Singapore, with a few years in London for higher education. I was so accustomed to the “Asian Way”: deep deference toward authority and respect for culture and social norms & the importance of a community. Here I was now, in the land of freedom, a nation that values self-reliance, personal achievement and growth above all (side note: you have only to go to a bookstore in America to see that the Self-Help section will probably be biggest part of the store).
PHASE 1: THE SHOCK
I was at once lost, overwhelmed & fearful. The excitement that I had experienced just a month earlier, at my wedding washed away the instant I landed at the airport. Here I was, in a land where I knew absolutely no-one & nothing of (to be honest, I didn’t really know even my husband, whom I had spoken to many times, but met over just a few days – that, however, is a story for another time!).
The first couple of months in a new country as anyone who has made an international move might tell you, are daunting. You have to spend a number of years establishing your currency, and many times, from the bottoms-up. And then, there are the smaller things that affect your quality of life on a daily basis. Such as driving. When I moved into my new home in San Jose, I quickly realized that America (with the exception of cities like New York or DC) is a car-obsessed nation. Seriously, people live in their cars ! There aren’t any pavements to walk on. Hang on a minute – scratch that line. I meant to say that there aren’t any sidewalks to walk on. So I spent about 6 months learning how to drive on the right side of the road (no pun intended). This was the first step toward my integration into life in America.
PHASE 2: DENIAL
Why is everyone so obsessed with their morning coffee? What is hiking? Why don’t they call it trekking? Why are the dates written the wrong way? Why is everything in Fahrenheit? Why do things have to be SO DIFFERENT to the way I’m used to them ?!
It is a natural instinct to reject new ways and to hold onto your old ways for dear life. And so I persisted, until I realized that it was futile. This is my new home. I have to embrace where I live, and let go of the way I thought things should be. And that is the second step towards a successful transition: acceptance & adaptation. Slowly but surely, I began to appreciate things around me more. I began to value the independence that was suddenly thrust upon me – it encouraged me to learn so many new things, and become more self-reliant while I was at it.
PHASE 3: ACCEPTANCE
As you begin to accept and assimilate new ways, you also begin to get calmer. There is no longer a tension within your mind about “which way of doing things is better”. You begin to realize that there is no such thing as “better”, “good” or “bad”. It just is. The sooner you realize this, the less painful the transition is.
This certainly isn’t meant to be a treatise or blueprint for how to adjust to a new country. This is just an account of my experiences of moving to the States. I realize now that every move is different from another. It is a complex and intensely personal experience for each individual; wholly dependent on their past experiences, perceptions and preconceived notions. One thing is for certain though: moving to a country adds another dimension to you, and it changes you in big or small ways ! And well, isn’t that meant to be a part of the cross-cultural experience!
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