Culture Shock Sweden
A re-post from my blog at www.lisamikulski.com/blog.
Oh hell no! Not me. But yes, it did happen to me and it was dark and ugly and intense. I never expected to experience culture shock in Sweden. After all, I had visited the country three times and because of the relationship with my guy, I considered myself fairly well educated about the culture, work environment, the society and current events. I mean really, how much different can Sweden be from the US? Even more surprising was that I would experience this seven months into my move to Göteborg. So, when I began to wonder exactly what the hell was wrong with me, it came as a complete shock to learn that indeed I might be shocked. I’m not even sure that I’ve come out the other side of this cultural shakeup yet, but I’d like the think the worst is over and that the pendulum is now swinging toward something more normal. There were several other contributing factors to my melancholia, some of which I will share with you, some of which I will not. For the sake of this post, let’s focus on culture shock.
I was pre-warned about the dark, dark days of winter. And while it was always a concern, I am a solar powered gal, I can write to you that the utter lack of sunlight took a profound toll on my senses. When you hear about the dark Scandinavian days, they don’t just mean dark . . . They mean a total lack of sunlight. Gone were those warming rays of the sun that I once felt in my home land, even during the month of January. (It is my conservative estimate that during the month of November we saw the sun for approximately one hour. The rest of the month was bathed in constant cloudy weather and drizzle. The sun, if you can call it that, would rise at 9:00am and set at 3:30pm. No wonder why Swedes have such a high rate of suicide.)
Also adding to my sadness, was the fact that I had absolutely no one to talk to. Hell, I didn’t even realize myself what part of the problem might be. There were many lovely people that reached out to me and provided support and kind words via social media but it’s hard to really talk through that medium. My friends and family in the US were all dealing with their own very stressful and busy lives but sometimes you just want/need to hear the voice of a loved one. And, for me in Sweden, I had not yet met people whom I could truly confide in. So, one day, on a Thursday, I went into the city to walk, write, and drink. I walked many many kilometers. I wrote nine pages in my notebook. I drank two glasses of red wine. Having performed this exercise, certain revelations, among them the notion of culture shock, started to become exhaustingly apparent.
How could this have happened to me? I’m sure not everyone experiences the intensity that I experienced, but alas, I am a sensitive gal. And this did not fare well for me. I can tell you most certainly, the experience has altered me. I think it alters everyone who experiences it in some way. After all, the process is one of adjustment and asslimiation. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Who knows. Perhaps this is the journey I needed to travel. Perhaps the outcome has made me stronger and, I hope, not colder. Less trusting? Hmmm… perhaps that was required too. We all have a life path to travel and the path is not always easy. But it is always there. It is a path, I think, which must be traveled alone. Or at least it was for me.
The condition known as culture shock is described as including some, or all, of the following maladies:
* Sadness, loneliness, melancholy
* Aches, pains and allergies
* Sleeping too much or too little
* Depression, powerlessness
* Strong feelings of dissatisfaction in even the little things
* Viewing host country and it’s people as hostile
* Intense anger, irritability, resentment
* Lack of desire to interact with others
* Loss of Identity
* Unable to problem solve, lack of concentration and focus
* Loss of self confidence
* Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused
* Lack of energy, emotional exhaustion
Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? While I would never describe myself as an optimist, I do firmly believe that these types of transitional periods can also be a time of great self awakening, learning, and an opportunity for growth. That which does not kill you, right? Anyway, I am choosing to take the path of seeker here. It is my opportunity for self discovery and cultural awareness.
Culture shock, it seems, has a couple of phases. The first of which is the “Honeymoon Phase”. Here everything is wonderful. There is complete euphoria and amazement in your new country. You are excited about everything and everything is bright and new. Yup … Been there, done that.
The second phase is … I don’t know what they actually call it, but for our purposes here, let’s call it Hell. This phase is marked by those nasty descriptions in my bullet list above. There may also be, as was in my case, an adjustment to certain bacterias and viruses. I was sick for six weeks with one flu after another.
The third phase is about adjustments. I have read that this phase can last from 6-12 months. Here one starts to feel more at home. Routines are established. Perhaps cozy hideaways are found . . . a favorite coffee shop or bookstore. Friends are made. A certain amount of comfort is established. Some people, I guess, never actually reach this phase. Others swing in a totally different direction, and now their new country becomes their absolute home and they can not go back to what they once knew as their home of origin. Others, hopefully me, become cosmopolitan and can easily transfer and transition between their old home land and the new.
I think that the first step toward combatting culture shock is the awareness that you have it. Once you have figured out that you are not losing your mind, you can take the necessary steps toward adjustment. Recognition brings acceptance and understanding.
* Get OUT OF THE HOUSE
* Keep a firm grasp on your principles
* Remember there are PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU
* Find coping mechanisms.
* Exercise, meditate, do yoga, run, walk … do this a lot!
* Give yourself the time to fully embrace the misery . . . and then move on
* Be patient, this is a process
* Devote yourself to work, you’re going to need a job, money. Consider it survival mode.
* Remember your passions. In my case, I lost all interest in things I loved. But writing saved me.
* Maintain a sense of humor. Good luck with this one!
* Do not under any circumstances stereotype
* Learn the language of your new home
* Be brave and reach out to make new friends. Kind people exist everywhere.
* Take care of yourself. Read a good book. Take bubble baths. Watch a favorite movie.
* Find an expat organization to join
* If you are moving to Scandinavia, for the love of god, buy yourself a light box!!