Equity & Diversity Opinion

Adapting to Living Internationally

By AAEE — September 27, 2017 3 min read
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My entrance into Chinese culture was overwhelming and paradoxical in an amazing way. All the bright neon signs and lights that crowded the streets of Beijing, along with the people on bicycles and taxis were completely unexpected; as was the first stop from the airport at a kiosk to buy water for the 2-hour road trip to my new home. Beijing seemed like such a modern city, yet the water from the faucet is not potable. I was amazed at the beautiful apartment complexes but was surprised by the surrounding outdoor fruit & vegetable markets that sat alongside piles of garbage and hungry pigs. So many paradoxes to observe, consider and ask questions about.

Culture stress is inevitable as you move overseas, but manageable if you prepare to engage as a learner. Be intentional when entering a new culture to observe before making assumptions, gather information from the local people and other expats, and ask questions to discover purpose behind things you don’t understand. Make it your goal to gain a better understanding of your new culture and to cultivate friendships as you learn.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Dr. Max Raines and his colleagues at Michigan State University created the ADAPT Model for Freshman entering college academia. Moving to new country can feel like becoming a Freshman again; the feeling of being lost and in need of someone to be a mentor. The professors at MSU identified 5 transactions that are important to any major change using the word ADAPT to help make it memorable.

Activate Commitment: This transaction is made within ourselves and is probably the most crucial. The decision to make a commitment to personal growth and continual learning will keep enthusiasm and motivation high, even in the midst of the hard, different and unexpected times. When we view transition as an opportunity for positive growth it leads to a faster and more successful transition to a new city, school, colleagues, and culture. In turn lending to a confidence in seeking support to gain a better perspective and understanding.

Develop Support: Making the commitment to be fully engaged where you are, encourages participation in learning new skills, discovering new patterns in behavior, meeting new people, and expressing expectations. Engaging well necessitates finding resources to help navigate the transition; this transaction brings about new friendships, helps you to acquire new talents and is the start of feeling like you belong.

Adjust Expectations: Daily expectations are made, even more so in preparation for an international move. Sometimes expectations are obvious, like “someone will be at the airport to pick me up” or “I will have a place to sleep tonight.” Although often they are harder to discern, like “I will be teacher of the year” or “I am great at languages.” Take the time to consider your expectations, think about how practical they are and make changes to make them realistic and attainable. This is an intentional and continual process of changing and adjusting expectations. It can be very helpful to remember the things that have been better than expected and to keep a positive growth perspective.

Prioritize Goals: To help keep expectations positive and realistic, it is wise to have goals that create opportunities for success. When looking at the big picture it is helpful to formulate a set of small, attainable goals. Once there are small successes, confidence is gained and the experience becomes more enjoyable. This builds self-assurance and situations become more comfortable providing the incentive to set more goals and try something new.

Transpose Identity: How we think about ourselves has much to do with the successful adaptation to change. The physical body may have made the transition to the new country and school, but the heart and mind are still in the former place. Modifying identity to include the new environment requires time and honesty. Seeing value in having a new identity within the current situation will assist with a successful transition.

Discovering new things about yourself as you explore and learn about a new culture can be staggering and remarkable. Make the commitment to enter in as a learner and expect amazing things to happen as you grow in perspective.

Kris Crum
Lead Mobilization Recruiter - U.S. Operations
International Schools Consortium

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