You struggled through the ups and downs of the cross cultural adjustment cycle and now you can pat yourself on the back because you made it through! Life has returned to normal. It is a “new” normal and the important thing is you are comfortable with it. Routines have been established. Friends have been made. Local customs have been experienced and overcome. Heck, you might have become fluent in the local language. All of these things are key factors indicating that you have integrated!
My proudest integration moment is also the briefest and smallest experience I had while living in Mongolia. Let me give you some background on a Mongolian custom: if you trip over someone’s foot or knock it under a table you are expected to offer your right hand quickly shake their hand as a way of saying “sorry”. The gesture is so natural that for most Mongolians they do not think twice about it. The situation might happen with a friend, co-worker, or out in public but the custom is always the same: a quick handshake to acknowledge the (minor) offense and then the two of you carry on.
One day, I was shopping in the grocery store. There were lots of people in the aisles making it difficult to get by. At one point I tried to squeeze my way through some people and as I got past them I accidentally knocked into a woman’s foot. In a split second I stuck my right hand out behind me searching for her hand to shake. And she shook it!!! We locked eyes after that hand shake and we both looked shocked for very different reasons. Me, because without thinking I had taken part in an everyday Mongolian custom. Her, because a blonde hair, blue-eyed foreigner had taken part in an everyday Mongolian custom. I went home with a spring in my step that day.
The integration stage is rewarding….once you get through the first three stages. Thank you for reading my four part series on the cycle of cross cultural adjustment. Writing these posts was an insightful way for me to think about the different places I’ve lived.
Have you survived culture shock and adjusted to a new culture? Did you realize the moment things started to look up for you?