Culture Shock Stage 4: Escape

Anger gets replaced by thoughts of bailing out. You start looking into cutting the assignment overseas short, or maybe taking extended trips back to the U.S. You start to withdraw from the culture around you, and to isolate yourself and your children from the newness.

Keep an eye on your children; you might see an uncharacteristic retreat into books in a child that generally is active outdoors, or a child that usually is comfortable with friends around wanting to be alone more. Watching TV can replace discovering new sites to see, and perhaps you start placing more value and importance on “American” things then is really necessary. I remember once in Japan getting all emotional over a Bruce Springsteen album playing in an electronics store, frustrated at my inability in Japanese to describe how at that moment I saw Bruce, John Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie and me in some unbroken chain of warrior-poet patriotic spirit bonding thing.

This is where it will fall apart if it is going to fall apart. Try as hard as you can, and then a little harder, to not take the kids with you down this path. I've seen parents working very hard to transfer their negative feelings onto the kids"€”You don't want that Chinese candy” a mom might say, even though little Mark obviously wants it, “Why don't you have something else?” with the implication that something else means something not from the host country.

Parents can get hyper-protective of their children, and can over react to things like sanitation, safety and the like. I'm not saying throwing caution out into the trash tip is the way to adjust; instead, please be careful to be as objective as you can about the realities around you.

If you feel getting out is what you want to do, consider carefully how realistic it is, and how much of the planning and escape is for you, and how much will benefit the family at large. It is OK to take a break, get some perspective and investigate if the feelings you now have for “home” are true and accurate, or exaggerated in the other direction. If it seems that the trip out is mainly for you, keep the children's planning for the trip minimal. Again, let them accompany you, let them acknowledge that things are different, that some things at home really are better (at least for your family) but try not to transfer your own difficulties to the children if they are doing OK on their own.

I'm not saying that anytime you perceive something in the host country as “bad” you are wrong, or that coming to the conclusion that something is indeed better at home is wrong. Coming to some understanding that the world is a busy, interesting place, full of good and bad is one great reason to travel. Reaching those conclusions via a process of discovery and testing is brilliant, rare and valuable. Transferring very natural feelings of dislocation and homesickness into slap dash conclusions is less so.

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