Relocate: The Hateful 8

Proof the expat curve is a long and winding road

The phases of the expat curve are a little like the Beatles. Most experts agree there are four, but some lists include six or seven.

As a simple four-piece, the curve can be boiled down to Preparation, Honeymoon, Culture Shock, and Adaptation – so John Lennon (the founder), Ringo Starr (cheeky grin touring the States), Paul McCartney (business concerns after death of Brian Epstein), and George Harrison (quickly at ease with band splitting, first to have solo hit). 

Oh no, it’s Yoko 
But often, extra phases are thrown in at the beginning and end – the Decision to Move (“Let’s replace Pete Best with Ringo”) and Repatriation (Stuart Sutcliffe returning to his life as an artist) – as well as in the middle: Superficial Adaptation and Culture Shock Phase 2 (“Who asked Yoko to the recording sessions?”).

So let’s go for the whole shebang and take them all on: Decision, Preparation, Honeymoon, Initial Culture Shock, Superficial Adaptation, Culture Shock, Adaptation and Repatriation. 

Er … that makes eight. Well, nobody said moving to another country was going to be easy.

The Decision: Love it, hate it
There’s an extremely good chance, given you’re reading an English-language newspaper in Denmark, you’ve already made it. 

Maybe you’re an avid Guardian reader who enjoyed ‘The Killing’ so much you couldn’t resist the challenge of moving here and starting all over. Or you’re an American student in love with Copenhagen after six all too short months in 2015, who decided to emigrate once you’d graduated. More likely, you met a ‘Danish bird’ on a stag night in Prague and, two years down the road, after living together for six months in your hometown, despaired of the local air quality and booked a one-way ticket. 

Some of you got a job before arriving, others are just winging it. But whatever your circumstances, deciding on moving here was a leap of faith.

Preparation: Bye-bye beloved  
While you’ve visited Denmark many times on holiday, and enjoyed a great Christmas here, nothing can prepare you for what lies ahead. Or can it? Companies like Copenhagen Relocations specialise in taking care of the logistics and potential obstacles, so you can truly savour your arrival.

After all, don’t they say moving home is already one of the most stressful activities known to humankind, and that’s without factoring in liquifying other assets, visas, air freight, negotiating the language divide and buying a new curtain rail at 01:30 to appease your insomniac seven-year-old. 

You’re in unfamiliar territory without the support of the family you have grown to depend on, and overnight most of your associates have been rendered friends of the Facebook variety. Not only do you have to settle into a new home, but a new environment with unfamiliar working conditions, schools, childcare, healthcare and transport. And this new responsibility is rarely shared with the ‘working partner’; inevitably it will rest on one set of shoulders: yours! 

“Did somebody mention new cultural norms? Give me a break! I’m trying to rewire 23 plugs and make sense of the Rejsekort.” And all the time, the thought is lingering in the back of your mind: “Have we made the right decision?” 

Honeymoon: Love of my life
“Oooh, and you must try this one.” Who knew authentic Danish pastries were this good. One deep breath later, and a warm glow has enveloped your life. Everything is quaint, and everybody is so nice and understanding. The days are long and you sleep well at night … because, quite frankly, you’re knackered.

There’s limited time to reflect on what you’ve left behind and the hurdles you overcame: the result is a flood of positivity that even the Grinch wouldn’t be able to resist. Every time you explore, you’re rewarded with a new cultural experience, be it a culinary joy or communal convenience. Schools and work have opened up networking possibilities, as has an expat sports club.  

And you’re even beginning to think like a local: from perusing the free circular to identify supermarket special offers to picking free cherries in the local cemetry. Language lessons were easy to sign up for, and when you speak to your friends and family back home, you tell them this was the best choice of your life … in Danish … and fail miserably. You laugh and keep on taking the happy pills. You’ve got about six weeks’ worth.

visit copenhagen/ Malthe Zimakoff

Initial Shock: Hate you too 
Approximately two months in and it hits you. You miss the takeaways, agony aunt columns and daytime television of the country you left behind. Your partner is aggravated by an incident at work in which he was told off for working 45 minutes past clocking off time, while the doctor is refusing to prescribe the migraine pills you know from bitter experience are the only ones that work. Somehow you’re on Momondo with your finger hovering over homebound flights – yes, the only ‘home’ you know. 

All the energy of the arrival has disappeared and been replaced by frustration, irritability, erratic sleeping patterns, and frequent physical complaints – stress basically. Nothing is ever open. Everything is sold out. And nobody knows how to queue. Even worse, your relationship is strained: your partner has more going on and doesn’t appreciate your pressures. You desperately need someone to talk to.

But when a friend calls you up via Skype, you pretend your camera isn’t working. You don’t want them to see you’ve spent the last four hours crying, staring at the blank walls you still haven’t administered a homely touch to because you were out enjoying yourself. It makes you hate your new home even more.

Superficial Adaptation: Gotta love a trier 
Somehow you hang on. Every expat you meet becomes your own personal guru – like they’ve unlocked a secret code for you – and you mimic their behaviour to the extent you convince yourself you’re coping. 

With this new-found confidence, you start to adapt and find a routine, and you even make a breakthrough with the language. Friendships with fellow expats follow … perhaps with people you wouldn’t normally socialise with, but at least you feel they understand you. A sense of humour returns and you find yourself laughing most things off, including your mini-crisis.

Culture Shock: Hate, hate, hate 
The horror, the horror: the more you understand your new homeland, the more you realise it’s not for you. The people are too conformist … or inhumane; the thinking too inward … or avant-garde. Everywhere you look, the wrong decisions are being made, and it’s all so frustrating. But nobody’s interested in your tried and tested solution, or your infinitely more fun office party game. 

Locals who were initially warm, like your neighbours or parents at the nursery, no longer greet you. By now, their frown suggests, you should be hailing them in their language. A failure to be understood at the shop leaves you close to tears; an attempt to start a conversation is greeted with frosty silence. Perhaps you’re paying the price for living in an expat bubble. Everything is just too … foreign. 

Even your new friends are becoming weary of your complaints. Before you know it, you’ve joined an expat online forum to vent your frustrations. Hate’s a strong word … but all too often at this stage the strength of your feelings will be in direct contrast to the positive ones of the Honeymoon period.   

Adaptation: Laters haters 
Not everyone has to endure two rounds of culture shock, and there is no quick-fix solution. Some swear by a new routine, goals or mentor, while others will tell you time is a great healer. A degree of perspective might tell you all those miscommunications and slights were mostly in your head, but that doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t enjoy the odd language or social triumph, even though you don’t celebrate them as manically as during the Honeymoon or Superficial Adaptation phases. 

Experience has prepared you to be ready for everything, and suddenly you’re the confident, competent guru handing out advice to newbies. You’ve realised that even most of the natives don’t understand half the peculiarities thrown at you. Life has become comfortable and is no longer emotionally challenging. You respect your new country and start to think of it as ‘home’. And most of your good friends live here too.

Repatriation: Loved and lost 
And just like that, the ‘journey’ is over. You went the whole hog and integrated, but now it’s time to return to your home country. Remember, the country and friends you left behind haven’t probably changed that much, but you have! 

This is crucial in easing your way back in. Don’t regale them with your expat heroics – they probably won’t be interested, although quietly a little envious – and instead listen to what they’ve been up to. Inevitably you’ll meet others who have had similar experiences and will be happy to exchange stories. One day soon, you’ll look back with pride at your adventure abroad.

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