The First Winter, Homesickness and Dreams of Blighty Culture Shock

The First Winter, Homesickness and Dreams of Blighty Culture Shock and Becoming a Kiwi

The first winter was somewhat of a revelation to me, I had not quite  expected the cold and damp weather coupled with the lack of heating. I was constantly cold and never felt able to warm myself up. That may have just been an idiosyncrasy specific to me and you will not be as bothered but it was something that I had not prepared myself for, both mentally or practically. I found myself wishing that I had not parted with all my winter items so readily and berated myself for throwing out the thermals. Maybe I exaggerate slightly; it is not as bitter but the added damp weather makes the winter feel colder than it really is.

Many people really do not take into account that New Zealand can at times be cold despite its temperate climate. Because New Zealand lies in the Southern Hemisphere, the average temperature decreases as you travel south. The north of New Zealand is subtropical and the south temperate. The warmest months are December, January and February, and the coldest are June, July and August. In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20 – 300C and in winter between 10 – 150C. But remember night time temperatures can drop down as low as zero and without double glazing or central heating it can feel a lot colder! Prepare yourself for the winters, as there are winters in New Zealand. Given the choice between the UK summer and the New Zealand winter it was hard to find much difference between the two. New Zealand winters are cold and damp and English summers are .

The final matter that I wish to share with you is that after arriving at your final destination, you may find that this may prove to be more of a shock than you expected. Many people develop what is known as culture shock. Culture shock develops as a result of being removed from the social society to which one has become accustomed and entering into a strange, new and unfamiliar environment. Think of it like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. It feels uncomfortable at first but if you leave them on long enough, you get used to them. Just watch any young child learning to put their shoes on for the first time. They often put them on the wrong way round and do not even realise that they don’t feel right. They just get used to the new feel and this becomes normal. Migrating to a new country is like wearing new shoes on the wrong feet at first, you either get used to the way they feel but if you don’t and if you leave them unchecked, you develop problems later or you decide to change the shoes so that they fit correctly. In other words there are some adjustments that you will need to make as you adjust to culture shock and your new life abroad. Culture shock seems to have some similarities wherever you go and involves three distinct phases.

Phase One: ‘The Honeymoon Phase’

During this period, you feel excited and positive about your new surroundings. This phase can last anywhere from a matter of weeks to six months. Everything is great and you are looking forward to all that your new life brings with it. You are living ‘The Expat Dream’.

Phase Two: Disenchantment Phase

As life moves on, you may find yourself becoming disenchanted with your surroundings. You find fault in small things which irritate you, followed by feelings of emptiness and unease resulting from dissatisfaction with the new environment not living up to all that you had dreamed off. I remember this phase distinctly when doing our food shop and being faced with the lack of choice of products and prices; mild irritation came over me and I yearned for the familiarity of the buy one get one free offers. Suddenly the cost of living whilst earning NZ$ became a distinct reality  that I often could not afford the products I wanted and there was a lack of  choice available. The reality sinks in, that just because you moved across  the world does not mean that everything will be perfect. Signs of this  phase include, anger, irritability, negativity, excessive eating and drinking, concerns over cleanliness, oversleeping, tiredness and inability to concentrate. If you can relate to any of these, then you will be glad to know that you are not alone.

Phase Three: Acceptance Phase

This phase is characterized by the gradual acceptance of the new surroundings and is often viewed as a compromise between the first and second stages. You have now entered into Expat Reality. You have accepted the changes that you have to make. You have accepted that whilst not everything is perfect, you are either able to adjust to your new life or find a way of changing things to make your new life happen.

Many go through these subtle culture shock phases but don’t realise that these feelings are often quite natural and are often experienced by many new migrants. It is not easy to express such feelings and new migrants may hide behind the pretence that everything is alright. They fear that if they acknowledge these feelings they are failing in their dream of this new life abroad. Never have they been further from the truth and it is at this stage that it is vital that they acknowledge these feelings.

Culture shock is something that hits the most enthusiastic and optimistic of us all. If you find yourself suffering from any of these symptoms, it may be worth attempting to incorporate some of the following ideas into your life.

Immerse yourself in the culture

Involve yourself in some aspect of your new surrounding culture. By Immersing yourself in some aspect of the new culture you will enable yourself to increase your understanding of it and thus learn to empathise and accept it. In general it is important to remember to become involved in the social scene and culture of your new home.

Having chosen New Zealand, we familiarised ourselves With the Maori culture. Knowing simple terms such as ‘kia ora’ which is welcome, and that if you received a greeting whereby someone presses their nose against yours, they are not being over familiar but that this is the accepted way that a Maori person would greet someone.

If you have moved to a country in which the language is different, try taking the time to learn it. This will help in making friends and will aid in making daily life and work much easier. We chose to move to an English speaking country to minimise this aspect, but equally if you are moving to a country that speaks a different language it would have been essential to immerse yourself in this by enrolling in some language classes before you leave and continuing to learn once you are there.

Learning about the accepted social norms of your intended destination will optimize your chances of settling in quickly. For example some of the things we learnt about the culture in New Zealand, although small went a long way in helping the settling in process. For example, if you are invited to a function and are told to ‘bring a plate’, this means bring food on a plate and not just a plate! Or that ‘thongs’ are slippers and not skimpy underwear. Being aware of these nuances can save you a lot of embarrassing situations and help in the transition that you will need to make in order to integrate.

Make friends where you can – work is a great place to start. If you are not currently working, be creative. Join a gym or a local interest group, or it may even be as simple as talking to the neighbours. Try to find versions of activities that you enjoyed in your previous country. Participating in these will help you in feeling more at home and will increase your chances of
meeting new people and making friends.

Get involved locally, many communities put on free events in the town square or centre. We attended a music concert at New Years for free and local people came with their family and enjoyed being out in the open and sharing in the atmosphere. Parks and open living were central to life here and you will find yourself being outdoors more, so get involved with groups and communities locally and join in the culture around you. Also keep an eye out in forums as they arrange regular meet ups and provide support to new migrants.

Take some time to travel around the different areas of the country to appreciate the sights and culture. We were only a half hours drive from some lovely beaches and were able to drive out and walk along the beach. We had views of mountains and spectacular sunsets. We visited Lake Taupo, one of the most beautiful places to sit and take stock of life.

Generally, I found New Zealanders are more relaxed in all aspects both in the work place and With friends. There is very much a take me as you see me approach. One of the practices that took me some time to get used to has been that of seeing people walking around the town, shopping centres, banks and even restaurants with no shoes on. Many New Zealanders do not like wearing footwear and so chose not to do so, even when they are out in public and on the street. Now this practice is not the norm but you do see it and it is accepted. I have noticed that there is a FAQ on the Air New Zealand website which asks, ‘Do I have to wear shoes onto the flight’. At first you may smirk but you will understand that this IS someone’s norm and so this area does need to be covered.

Moving to a new country means you will become immersed within an entirely different culture. As you slowly adjust to your new surroundings and culture, it is important to keep a strong sense of perspective and remember why you originally made the choice to move. If you find your emotions are getting the better of you, take some time out for yourself and do something you enjoy such as a visit to the beach or take in the walks with the spectacular views. Try to rediscover what it was about the country that initially persuaded you to move there. Go back to those initial discussions you had as a family, when you set out your reasons for this move. I stressed in one of my earlier blog posts and it is at this stage that you will come to realise why those initial reasons are of uttermost importance.

Our move abroad was a life enriching experience and one that I would not have changed. We have had our adventure and we lived the dream. I believe that we grow through each experience and no matter what has or is happening in your life at present I believe that you can use every experience positively to advance yourself to the next stage of your life journey. Sometimes our dreams and plans don’t always work out. They say never to live with regrets but to live with experiences.

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