When you move or travel to a new country where you don't speak the language or understand the culture, there is bound to be some transition-related stress. Prince Charming and I have not been immune. In retrospect, there are some things I personally could have done better, or could have tried to avoid to make the transition a little easier. I'll share nine of them.
1. Don't expect anything to be the way you expect it.
I had counted on all of our connections in the Middle East being, somehow, an easy 15 minute taxi ride away. However, they are scattered all over the place, and between the traffic and the checkpoints, meeting up with people can take hours, not to mention a hefty toll on the mood.
2. Don't start a new diet at the same time as moving.
I became a vegetarian shortly before arriving in the land of spinning cylinders of meat on every corner. I have stuck with it (although I sometimes eat seafood) and I'm glad because I think it has improved my health. However, it would have been one less thing to worry about had I done it six months or a year before moving. Every new habit or new activity you pick up before moving is just another new thing added to the overwhelming mountain of the unfamiliar that you are about to dive into.
3. Don't start a new medication before leaving.
In my case, I started taking a different kind of oral contraceptive almost immediately before leaving. My body needs time (about 3 months) to get used to a new hormone combination. Lesson learned. This lesson could apply toward any kind of medication, especially a long-term or brain chemistry altering medication such as an anti-depressant.
4. Go easy on yourself.
If you are like me, you want to jump into every possible activity, and understand where everything is, and be fluent in the language YESTERDAY! Celebrate the amazing victory of learning just one word a day. Eventually, you will feel like your normal, productive, fast-learning self, but for now, enjoy allowing yourself to not have any of the answers. This is a hard one for me, since I don't relish feelings of confusion and complete ignorance. In fact, they make me feel ashamed and sometimes humiliated. Those feelings lead to isolation and weight gain. So, I get lost. I learn to lean into the sense of freefall and disorientation, and just go with it, like jumping off a cliff into a cool lake.
5. Go easy on your travel buddy.
There is nothing like travel to get to know someone better. I went to a spiritual guide when I first began dating Prince Charming, and he recommended I travel with him to see if he was someone I wanted to spend my life with. I did, and I do, and here we are. The reason travel is so great for getting to know people is you see their worst and best sides. You see them exhausted and thrilled. You see them hungry and with tired feet. You find out how they lift their own spirits and if they are willing to lift yours.
6. Go easy on everyone.
This goes, of course, for everyone you meet in the new culture you are in. You might meet someone, and be highly offended by something they do or say. In fact, what they do or say might be the kind, polite thing to do in their culture. I believe that most people are doing their very, very, very best in life, even if it doesn’t seem like that.
7. Rely on the kindness of strangers.
There is nothing like travel to get you over "stranger danger" instincts. The truth is, most people are trustworthy, kind, and willing to help. The people who aren't probably won't make eye contact. In fact, you probably won't even see them before they take off with your hand bag. Get good at identifying friendly faces, and then ask for help without hesitation. The worst that will probably happen is they give you the wrong directions. See item 6.
8. Establish a Routine.
The sooner you can establish your new "normal day," the better. Get up at a regular time, go to bed at roughly the same time. Find out where and when you exercise and stick to your normal healthy habits. Don't stick to it like a machine, though. If there's a new adventure or social opportunity beckoning, be willing to bend your schedule.
9. Journal, Photograph, Blog, Email, and Skype.
Everything hard and everything that goes wrong, happens to be the stuff people find the most interesting. (We are mildly sadistic, we human beings. Or, more kindly, we enjoy learning from others mistakes). The wonderful moments that you document will be even more wonderful, because, like in a good adventure story, they are earned by the part where we fought the giant spider. Or the part where we kissed the frog. Or the part where we ate the poisonous apple. You get it.
Even though transitions can be more stressful when they come in batches - getting married and then moving immediately, for example - I don't regret our decision to start our marriage off in this way. This is priceless time together. It's incredible to be able to share each new challenge. It's exhilarating to be able to laugh off all the pressure we put on ourselves each day.
Thank you for allowing me to share my happy and challenging moments with you on this blog.