Raising A Traveling Tribe :: How Do Adults Adapt To A New Culture

by Tina on April 13, 2015

in family, Raising a Traveling Tribe

traveling mama downtown atlanta2-2

When I was a little girl, my family lived in a two story house with a garage/basement combo.  My Dad’s office was in the basement and sometimes I would sneak away from the noise of the upstairs to do my homework somewhere quiet.  The thing you have to understand about me and that basement/garage combo is that I had a love/hate relationship with it.  While it offered solitude and refuge, it also terrified the living daylights out of me… especially at night.  I was certain that some misfortune would come my way if I was ever down there at night, because nothing good happens in a creepy, garage/basement combo after dark!

I remember one time in particular when I had been so immersed in my project in my Dad’s office that I didn’t notice how dark it had gotten.  Feeling nearly panicked over the trek that was necessary from his office to the top of the basement stairs, I quickly gathered up all of my papers with trembling hands and tried to tell myself how stupidly ridiculous I was being.  I always left the light on in the basement so I would be able to get to the stairs without running into something (or someone) but just as I got about half way between the office and the stairs, someone turned the light off.  Too panicked to yell at first, I heard the door at the top of the stairs close again and my delayed attempts to bring the guilty party back were futile.

Again, I tried to remind myself that screaming and crying (or dying right there next to my parents’ chevy station wagon) would only deepen my family’s belief that I was a crazy teen, so instead, I gathered my wits about me and started to try to feel my way to the stairs.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t walked this way a thousand times, which is what I told myself, and as the moon brought I little light in through the garage windows I could see a few shadowy outlines of the things around me.  I knew where I was going but it was still really dark down there.

A few steps more and I thought about running back to my Dad’s office.  It felt safe there.  It had light, his presence, even in his absence was there, but even as I contemplated how comfortable it would be to spend a night sleeping in his chair, I knew I didn’t belong there all night and that is the only thing that kept me heading to the stairs.  I knew I belonged up there and if I just kept going that everything would be fine.

And, spoiler alert… I was fine.  My hands eventually stopped shaking and I resumed normal life, but those moments in the dark… They stayed with me… even now after more than 20 years… because I have been feeling just like that since we got back from the US.

Adjusting to a new culture is disorienting.  Most of us are happy with the place we came from and, even though we know we will be happy when we get to the light, we find the middle ground between the life that we had and the one we plan to live overwhelmingly perplexing.  It’s different than being lost because we have made the choice to go forth to a new place but we find ourselves having irrational thoughts and emotions about what is happening around us.  And most of the people around us are unaware that we aren’t feeling quite right with the world around us.  (I found, when I finally got upstairs after my basement ordeal, my family sitting in the living room peacefully unaware that their daughter/sister had nearly died of fright only moments before!)

So, the question that was asked was, “How Do Adults Adapt To A New Culture?” and my answer is this:  It varies.  Sometimes the disorienting phase is brief and relatively painless and other times it lasts for a very long time.  The most important thing to remember is to hang on because the light does come.  Things will fall into place and you will make peace with where you are, but while you are in the midst of it, you will be tempted to run back.  If you decide to keep going, you have to look for those little bits of light to guide you and run like you-know-what when you finally get to the stairs!!

 Adapting to a new culture is something that many of experience whether we are moving to a different culture, a different part of our own country, or even by changing neighborhoods.  How have you coped with change in your life?  Do you have any tips/stories for those trying to adapt?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Anayancy Quiros April 14, 2015 at 12:48 am

Recently I moved back to my home country after 5 years living in copenhagen, the adaptation back home has been painfull even if it is my home country where you supposed to belong . The feeling of a new start is overwhelming . You couldn not describe in better words what I’m feeling . Thank you for your comforting words.


Tina April 14, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Well, I would rather be alone in my misery, but it is kind of nice to know that I am not the only one who feels out of sorts at times! I wish you the absolute best as you reacclimatize to your new version of home! Big hugs!!


tina April 14, 2015 at 3:51 pm

It is painful, I agree. And it is an ongoing process that never ends. But I have never regretted my decision to leave my comfort zone and go on a new adventure – no matter if it is a different neighborhood, city or country. Because what would be the alternative? Staying where I am right now, doing the same things day in and day out? No, thank you. That’s not who I am. That’s not who my husband is. We have known this for a long time but now we keep asking ourselves whether we have to change. For the sake of our kids. Don’t they need more stability? Don’t they need opportunities to make friends, real friends? My husband and I, we still have quite a few friends from our childhood – we call them our sandbox friends – and these friendships mean the world to us. I really wish for my kids to have a similar experience. But how? What do you think, Tina?


Tina April 14, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Yes, exactly! The choice to stay in one place seems infinitely worse than trying to find our way through the fogginess of a new place. We’ve lived overseas for 10 years and there hasn’t been a single one that has passed without us wondering if we are helping or harming our kids. Every time we come back to this thought: The world is a smaller place, now more than ever thanks to the internet, and now our kids have friends from all over the world to talk to, play with, and hold in their hearts for the rest of their lives. Surely that is a gift!


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