In study abroad, the stages of cultural adjustment are normal. We try to prepare our students that there will be times when they will not like their host country. They will think Italian transportation strikes are ridiculous or will get frustrated that Japanese restaurants never have forks. Sometimes the hostility stage is more severe and they will want to go home. We try to give them the tools for coping with the stage but realize that we can’t eliminate it from happening.
When we moved to Oklahoma, I knew I had to be proactive to feel grounded here. I contacted the PhD program director to talk about applying. I got in touch with an organization that works with the refugee community to volunteer. We have consistently gone to a new church every Sunday trying to find the right one. But despite all of the effort, currently I find myself in the hostility stage. While many things are in the works (home, church, friends, and activities), in this moment I am lonely and lacking things to do. I miss my friends and my job and if we were offered the chance to move back to San Diego, I would probably take it.
My big brother called me last night and asked me, “So how is the transition going?” He knew the right question to ask as he has been in my shoes before. I told him about a post by Clearing Customs I read about a week ago about the grieving process. It quoted Ruth Van Reken who said, “Every time there’s transition, there is loss,” and “where there’s loss, there’s grief.” I said that I’m grieving what I left behind in San Diego. He told me that when he was living in Germany, every time someone left to go back home, he grieved as well. He made me feel normal, while reminding me that this is a stage and soon I will feel at home here too.
Although I am not very fond of the hostility stage and just wish I could fit in, feel useful, and find purpose in this new city, I know it’s part of the process. I also have to remember that you can’t grieve what you never had. I am thankful that I had so much in San Diego to grieve for and wonderful people like my big brother who understand.