Saturday, October 4, 2014

And Then It Just Clicked

People say it takes a good six to nine months to settle in and acclimate when you move to a new country. It doesn't matter how many times you've done it before; with each move comes the need to reestablish routines, find your way around, make new friends and generally figure out how to do things in this foreign place you call your new home. Experts call this the cross-cultural adjustment cycle. Having gone through it more than once I call it the roller coaster of hell. There are ups, downs and more ups (hopefully) before you level out and find your comfort zone.

The first phase of the cycle is the honeymoon period where the newness of everything is exciting; you may not understand how to go about daily life but since it is new, it is all an adventure. But soon the newness turns into cultural shock and adjustment as you struggle to figure out how to manage and live your life in your new environment. While acclimating even the most basic of tasks become chores and frankly, it is just plain exhausting. This phase is often accompanied by mental and physical isolation from the world that you know. (This is repeatedly my roller coaster of hell phase). But once you reach the other side, things are so much better. Here you find acceptance and integration into your new environment. The pieces begin to fall into place and your new world starts to make sense. It is the blissful place to be before the final stages of the cycle---return anxiety and reintegration to the place you call home--make their appearance. Fortunately for me, these final stages of my Belgian life are still several years away. Because right now I am focusing on my acceptance and integration phase of Belgian life, which is a place that I only reached within the past couple of weeks.

Frankly this past spring, and even a part of the summer, were a struggle. Between finding and moving into a house, receiving our household items from both Albania and long term storage in the United States and figuring out what we needed to buy to make our house a home, these past months were just frustrating and tiring. Add in the adjustment of a new school, new job and new routine and I feel like we had more downs than ups. We got a brief reprieve by spending a good chunk of the summer back in the U.S. but returning to Belgium and a new school year involved readjusting to our "real" life all over again.

But gradually things just fell into place. The daily and weekly schedule of school, work and activities started to make sense and feel comfortable. The new school year has brought about a new class for Sidney with a nicer teacher, better behaved classmates and more opportunities. Activities for the entire family have us getting out and enjoying our hobbies both as a family and individually. The quirkiness of Belgium that I spent months trying to figure out is suddenly making sense to me because I am simply accepting it for what it is: the Belgian way of doing things.

All of this dawned on me the other day as I was stuck in traffic. (Americans complain about the traffic in Belgium but after living in major metropolitan areas along the East Coast, even on the worst of days the traffic here is nothing). As I sat there taking in the long line of cars, cargo trailers and tractors vying for the same narrow lane, I suddenly felt at home. It helped that I knew which turn to make to avoid the worst of the traffic but it was more than that. I realized that our family routine is now smooth and when hiccups do occur, we take them in stride. We all have places to go each day and enjoy our time spent there. My French is still very shaky at best but I am comfortable enough to talk and ask my way around most situations. We're continuing to make more friends and now having been here since the beginning of the year, can offer assistance and advice to people who have only recently arrived. I've found my groove as has Glenn and Sidney. Belgium is suddenly feeling like home. And that is the most wonderful feeling of all.

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