Saturday, 27 July 2013

The shock of culture shock

Before I moved to Hong Kong I spent many a sleepless night dream scheming my new life in Asia.  I read a lot about culture shock but naively I brushed it aside believing that I was worldly and adaptable and it would not be an issue I would encounter.  Besides, I know lots of people who have relocated abroad over the years, and never once have I had a conversation with them, or seen a single post on Facebook, to indicate that they are, or have, suffered from culture shock.  In fact the photographs of smiling faces, stunning locations, blue skies, sunshine, exotic beaches and snow capped mountains would suggest that life beyond the UK shores is nothing but an idyllic adventure.

The shock of the bad news we received from the UK a couple of weeks ago, combined with a tough start to my new job, toppled me from my smug high-ground and I have been descending fast into a pit of anxiety, loneliness, sadness, irritability and depression.  Silently I find myself hoping that I have hit the bottom and it is time to start finding a way out.  Having tried to understand and analyse why I feel the way I do it is clear that I am deep in the throws of culture shock.  This was not meant to happen to me - I'm open-minded and culturally sensitive.  I have lived and worked abroad before and never experienced this intense combination of emotions dragging me down to a place I don't want to be.

My culture shock is all encompassing and it sends ripples out to all those close to me.  I have never been very good at masking my emotions.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and what you see is what you get.  The result being that when I'm up, I'm great fun to be around but when I'm down I have a tendency to drag down with me those I love and care for the most.  I am very lucky to have David as a husband.  He is one of the most cheerful people I know and he can always see the positive in every situation.  I have no doubt that he felt the 'honeymoon phase' passing and 'the honeymoon is over phase' kicking in.  I suspect that being the person he is, he suffered in silence, put a big smile on his face, and just knuckled down and got on with his new life.  I, on the other hand, have been extremely tearful, dwelling on my emotions and over-analysing what I can do to overcome this culture shock.  However, despite feeling like withdrawing from the world, I have started to set in place some coping mechanisms to see me through this phase and on to the 'all's well and everything's OK phase'.

I am working hard to build a support network of friends around me here in Hong Kong.  Two girlfriends here in particular, have very patiently listened to me articulate my feelings and buoyed me up with their invaluable advice.  I have signed up to a number of Meet-Up groups and last Wednesday I took myself off to a pub quiz with an eclectic group of strangers and surprised myself with my contribution in the music round with my immense knowledge of song lyrics.  Everyone was incredibly welcoming and it was a great comfort to talk to an American guy who completely empathised with my feelings and reassured me that it will pass.  Last weekend I was very happy to receive a friend request on Facebook from an old school friend who I was unaware lives in Hong Kong and we plan to meet up when she returns from a holiday in the UK.  And today I have been contacted by a girl who has recently relocated from Shanghai to Hong Kong suggesting we meet up for a drink.  As my support network builds, I have no doubt that this minor set-back will pass and life will become easier to deal with.

I am determined to fight this culture shock hard and beat it quickly. Thank you to all those who have born the brunt of my negative emotions and in particular my amazing husband and my long-suffering parents.

My Winnie who I miss soooo much

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