With a few negative comments on immigration we received recently, I thought I would throw this one, from a personal perspective, into the pot. I am not trying to taunt anyone, nor am I dictating what anyone should do with their lives, rather, I would like to challenge anyone who is considering, or toying with the idea, to take it to the next level.
Yes, immigration is an overwhelming experience, and I can honestly say that the best bit is the first bit and the last bit. In between the sandwich there is a gauntlet to run and the one thing you should never underestimate is culture shock. It is subtle and will creep up on you, exposing your weaknesses and affecting you in ways you never expected.
So if you are thinking about leaving SA anytime soon, be ready for it! To be fair, you cannot prepare fully for what will hit you, and your own personal circumstances, emotional makeup and previous experiences will affect how you deal with it. With immigration, there are many practical problems, paperwork, bureaucratic hassles and other issues. Each case is unique, as it will be with the culture shock you will experience to some degree or another, as you struggle to integrate into a new society.
In short, there are three (or possibly four) distinct phases which are related to our cultural identities and more importantly, how we interact socially on a day to day level with fellow humans.
This includes deep rooted interpersonal and communication cues, such as body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, idioms and slang expressions. At a deeper level, there are issues of status, rank, and your place in the “pecking order”; the dominance hierarchy - How confidently you navigate these waters will affect your emotional well being directly.
First Phase: “Honeymoon Phase:
Second Phase “Negotiation Phase”
Third Phase "Adjustment or at-ease Phase."
The fourth phase (if applicable) is known as “Reverse culture shock" or "return culture shock" which can occur upon your return to SA once you have fully acclimatised to your new home.
Now, when you first arrive in your host country, you will find it a charming and happy experience. You will feel like a tourist because, well, that’s what you actually are. Everything will be romantic and easy going. Red carpet treatment and smiles all round.
Contrary to what I expected, the initial phase is the easiest; you will re-discover your teenage invincibility, and coupled with your new positive mindset, no obstacle will present any serious problem at all. You will flatten mountains!
For me, it lasted a good six months or so: I got a job and a new rented home very easily, and I thought England was the best place on earth. My wife and I toured quite a bit; we went to visit her birth town and the home where she grew up in. The summer of 2006 in the UK was a scorcher. When we landed at Heathrow at 7 am, the thermometer was already at 20 degrees Celsius and that’s how it continued for the next six weeks. AMAZING!
I got sunburnt in the UK and swam in the North Sea. Money was plentiful as we had some left over from the sale of our house in SA. I recall memories of that time with the fondness I do of previous love affairs.
Then the niggles started, and boy when they did, they soon became hobgoblins. The accents and colloquialisms of the locals I had thought so wonderfully witty and “twangy” before, now sounded idiotic and nasal. Our second summer was lousy; it rained all the time. Then came our second winter and everything turned into a pile of crap. The job I thought was so great turned out to be a one way hole into oblivion. I realised I had been recruited as an un-groomed immigrant wage slave fit only to receive the boss’ dirty boot as he cascaded managements’ failures down the line…(a company that subsequently went bust after I eventually left. I had foreseen the problems but was not in a position to be listened to or taken seriously)
It paid the bills but it sucked Donkey Kong Balls.
I was drawn into the vortex of the second phase of culture shock with a dawning sense of horror, alienation and fear; No safety net, no comfort zone: Just me and my spine. I was dwarfed and engulfed by an enormous machine; I was just a number, a nobody. Just another bloody foreigner.
I often got lost in the car and had to rely on the SatNav for any minor excursions. All the names of towns, many unpronounceable, were still new to me. I often got confused between North and South.
Emotionally I felt enveloped in cotton wool, out of touch with my normal feelings, yet people around me seemed to be quite normal. My tongue felt wooden and my accent flat. I was amazed at the difference between my first few months and these later months. It was good as between heaven and hell.
This is a crucial phase, and will need managing very carefully; If you cannot cope with this phase, you will have all sorts of problems and might find yourself on a flight back to SA, tormented by your failure.
The second phase for me lasted a good 18 months or so. This is the phase where I managed to work out the issues and accept my new life. It’s important that you work through it in your own terms. Luckily for me, I set my own terms for phase two and I found myself, amazingly and wonderfully, after about three years fully emerged on the plateau of the third phase.
I got another job, one in which I earned better money and gained more respect. Life in the UK began to seem pretty much what it used to be in SA (with some very obvious differences, no Ju-Ju, no JZ, no crime, corruption, reverse racism etc)
I have no intention of entering phase four as I have no doubt that things have changed so drastically in SA that I would probably have heart failure upon my return.
Where I live now in the UK I have no need for any security in or around the house; No burglar bars, no alarms, not even a fence. The property is adjacent to farm land and there are not even street lights.
I leave my car unlocked and the windows open when I pop into the supermarket to pick up daily groceries.
The SatNav stays glued to my windscreen when I return.
I draw cash at the ATM while the people in queue keep an embarrassed distance from me.
I leave my mobile phone lying around in public places and my wallet stays in my jacket pocket when I hang it up at work or at a conference hall.
My young daughter catches the bus to and from school un-chaperoned every day and I give it not a second thought.
On this level: the level of the day to day life of a middle class, white male in middle age, things are 1000% better than they were in ZA. I have traded the sun, the lapa, the swimming pool and the Sunday braai for peace of mind, character building and the adventure of the unknown.
And I would gladly do it again.
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