J Simens.com

Psychological Challenges When Relocating


What are the psychological challenges one faces when relocating to another country?

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Hong Kong

The most significant challenges always seem to be to give up the stereotypes that you already have about the new location and to be able to genuinely understand that culture and geographic location.

Media always puts in your mind what this location will be like, but it is often the best of the best (ideal vacation spots) of the worst of the worst (crime/property). There is seldom any reality check on what is the norm for that area.

When you land you already have full knowledge of what happens in your new location, but you do not have the complete picture. You do not have a balanced understanding of that city or the lifestyle you will be having.

I was recently interviewed by a company in Hong Kong that deals with parenting issues. Hong Kong is a perfect example of needing to let go of stereotypes since a person seldom experiences what you see on TV while living in Hong Kong. Just now if I google Hong Kong, I get investments and tall buildings. Hong Kong is more than securities and futures and skyscrapers.

Hong Kong for kids, at first, seems hard with it’s packed streets and heat, but soon the only thing you’ll find yourself short of is time because there are so many events and attractions.

One of my first exposures to schools outside of the USA was a stop in Hong Kong with the Semester at Sea floating educational system. It was eye opening for me since I had always made the assumption that kids got recess and recess meant in a playing field or grass area.

Semester at Sea

One critical psychological issue for all expats who move around is the need to belong or have loyalty to their tribe. After we cover Maslow’s hierarchy of food, water, shelter, safety, and security – after all our basic needs are met we need to belong. We need to connect. We need to belong to a family, community, a unit, a race of people, tribe, a great school, a good job or something. If we feel connected, we are happy and fulfilled.

Parents can ensure social and emotional stability in their changing environment by blending past and present. You have to connect to both the new location and your previous locations or homes. The importance of attachment and those vital close connections is what makes a person happy.

If you understand how relationships develop, then you have more success as a global nomad.

Relationships develop in this order:  Proximity – Sameness – Belonging – Loyalty and Significance as levels in a healthy connection.

Let me give you an example of this: In Hong Kong – Often work is a place to ensure social and emotional stability because of the connections you can make in this environment. At the school, you have many different people you come in contact with (proximity).

You may be from different nationalities but have children the same age (sameness).

We are all very different, but we have the similarity of belonging to the same school that brings us closer together. When you spend the day to day situations in the same environment, a person should feel like they belong. It is only people who choose to work, take breaks, eat lunch in isolation that misses out on the critical ingredient of belonging. Many people have loyalty to the job they are working in, or they would just quit.

The significance is key for global people. You need to feel like you got something beneficial out of your time in your host country and you need to think that you gave back something to it.

In Thailand, we saw lots of expats helping out with the floods. Students from area international schools are bagging up survival food and making care packages. When the earthquake hit Nepal, these same expats sent supplies and money to help.

The way you leave a location sets you up for your new place.

If you continue to feel liked you missed out of something because you didn’t live in your home country or you felt put out because you assignment was “too hard” or you thought that you wanted to quickly leave the country and say good riddance…then your next job will also seem shallow and non-important. 

Maslow Theory

Things to think about . . . 

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