March 13, 2009

Going Through The Phases

Apparently, according to Wikipedia and other articles floating around the web, there are three phases of "culture shock" (a term reasonably applicable to the ex-pat experience) :

  • The Honeymoon or Euphoria phase (when all things about the new culture "are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new"),

  • The Negotiation or Irritation/Hostility or "general grumpiness" phase (when differences between the old and new culture become apparent, creating annoyance, longing, or anxiety), and,

  • The Adjustment phase (when you become used to the new culture and develop routines)

We can say that although the simple linear passage through these phases is a bit of a simplification, looking back, we can certainly detect elements of each of these phases in our own experience throughout our time here. There were certainly some times when we fit squarely into one of those phases. For us, there has definitely been a honeymoon period and an adjustment period, but not a very strong irritation period, if one at all. Though there have certainly times of frustration and/or realization that all the many interesting differences are not all positive; there are good things and bad things, of course.

Certainly, in the beginning, there was a huge crush of newness. Although some parts - the language, new living situation, new pretty-much-everything - are overwhelming, the newness really makes everyday life exciting and interesting. Being in a new place, and having access to a part of the world there is a strong urge to get out and explore and see as much as possible. We love the travelling and the exploration, and tried to make it a point of getting away as much as possible. In Japan, in addition to Kobe and Osaka, we hit Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Awaji Island, Lake Biwa, Okayama, Nagasaki, and a host of other places. Outside of Japan, we travelled to Thailand and to Korea. We tried all the new foods we could get our hands on. We watched Sumo, we went to Hanshin Tigers baseball games, we explored Mount Rokko, we enjoyed countless summer matsuri (festivals) and the winter lights displays in Kyoto and Kobe.

After a year here, at the beginning of this year, we felt a bit of a lull. Cold weather and missing family and friends after our winter trip home all contributed. Also, we noticed, life was getting ordinary again. We had developed routines. The newness feeling had worn off a bit.

But there is nothing wrong with that. That is life. And we have started to enjoy the smaller things. You know, life. Family time. Throwing the baseball around. Doing puzzles. Hanging out with the many great new friends that we have made. Involvement in the kids' school and after-school activities. Cooking at home. Saturday nights out, with more detailed explorations of the diverse restaurants and bars of Kobe. Weekend bike trips through the back neighborhoods of surrounding towns, up into the mountains and by scenic shrines. Then, in early February, breaking through the winter dreariness, we took a great family trip to Hokkaido to see the Sapporo Winter Festival.

Lately, with our return to the U.S. set for the end of June, we are starting to feel like short-termers. This is difficult and a bit bittersweet, since we love so much about our life here. It has been such an extraordinary adventure for our family. With the end in sight, we find ourselves getting a bit jealous of our more longer-term ex-pat friends, including the teachers at the kids school (who have done year and years of stints all over the world) and people here with corporations (usually a three to five year assignment).

So now we turn around, and it seems we're pretty well-adjusted to living here. But soon its time to "repatriate" - now that's a scary sounding word, huh? (According this this NY Times article, repatriation can be hard!)

At any rate, we plan on enjoying our last months here, both the everyday stuff and the new exciting stuff. And as we thaw into Spring, we are making one last big push on the get-out-and-travel side of things. We will be spending Spring Break (next week!) in Bali, Indonesia. During Golden Week at the end of April, we will head to the Tokyo area. And we just booked a 3-day trip to Hong Kong for late May. As our last hurrah, we are planning to stop-over in Hawaii on the way back home. (What?! It's right on the way!)


MeganFitz said...

We just got back from our first visit to Kobe. It is an amazing place. It looks like we'll be heading back in July, so I guess we'll just miss you! How do you manage the flights with the kids? Our 8 year old did wonderfully but I'm really worried about the 3 and 5 year old! The phases are really interesting, I hadn't heard that before. Right now the logistics seem so overwhelming, I'm looking forward to the honeymoon phase!

Semsavblanc said...

You're right. Leaving Japan will be a challenge and will probably bring up all sorts of emotions and adjustments to be made - just like leaving the USA did. I know I'll miss your regular reports about that amazing place that I love. Life is wonderful and strange, isn't it? So is the internet. Thank you for all the things you have done and shared so far. I hope your remaining months there are filled with amazing sights, sounds and tastes that will become precious memories for you and your kids!

Mike said...


Sorry we will miss you guys. Enjoy it! We managed the flights with games, books, and candy...


It has been nice connecting like this. Pretty amazing. Thanks for reading and for sharing!