Saturday, March 20, 2010

Immigration and Culture Shock

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.

28 Opinion(s):

FishEagle said...

A handy, insightful post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you're not staying in the part of England where all the muslims live? That's the current picture I haveof the UK. I'm in Australia and I must say my transition was pretty painless. My kids meshed into their new life without too many problems. They also catch public transport everywhere - they have matured beyond recognition - no more asking me if the car door is locked when we leave home. They smile, they laugh - they never think about crime (unless I point it out to them). I would not change this freedom for anything in the world. When I left, I breathed for the first time in many years. I think what's important is that you have to be ready to leave otherwise you'll never be happy or make peace in your new land.

Rose said...

Wow, reading your post was almost like I had written it, except for a few changes here and there. I totally agree with you there is no going back at this stage and we have been gone for 9 years now. Our transition was a lot more difficult though as both of us were on a SA passport and had to wait 9 years before our citizenship was approved. I will have to write my story sometime.

Anonymous said...

He's not kidding. Phase II does separate the wheat from the chaff. Those who bail out at that point have lost more than they realise when they return "home" to find friends have moved on, things have changed even more, and they have to start all over again. But this time with a whole lot less money.

I moved to Australia too, a couple of years ago, and tho there were some rough times in the beginning, I am slowly realising that I am living life the way it should be lived, and not just waiting for it to be taken away from me at the whim of some wanna-be self-described "revolutionary" with a born hatred for white people and a sense of entitlement because of it.

I can't see a Phase IV for me either. Ever.

Exzanian said...

Anon 11:57 - I live in a smallish town in the farmlands of Essex. Still "old style" English countryside atmosphere. Yes, some moslems but almost no blacks at all. Yes, the crime issue is without a doubt the biggest relief as you mention. Another thing I forgot to mention is how people sell things by placing them on their driveways with a "for sale" sign and ask you to leave the money in the mail box. Others sell eggs on the driveway with money tin handy, you take your six eggs, and pop a quid into the bottle. Society is still built on trust. It's another world altogether...

Islandshark said...

Too right, Exzanian.

What about leaving the house keys with the plumber or electrician while they do what they have to and leave it with the neighbour?

Or sending your watch via regular mail to have battery fitted?

Laager said...

Interesting stuff guys.

I made the move to the UK in 1988. Certainly the first 2 years are the most "difficult" - i.e. EVERYTHING is new and you are on a major learning curve.

This biggest misconception to have is that because you speak a dialect of English and grew up in the English part of SA you are British. No way. Certainly having a command of the language does make the process easier than say transferring from an Afrikaner background, but there are still major adjustments to make.

I never experienced the post 1994 crime wave that folks in Gauteng have been through, although our home in cape Town was broken into 3 times and we had 1 car stolen.

If you are going to make it in your new country you have to lose the "when we" mindset and make the effort to assimilate. Remember you are the "new boy" and the locals all have their established networks.

22 years down the track i still feel like a tourist when I go out to explore the country as there is so much variety packed into a very small island. part of the new life was living through and being unemployed in a serious recession between 1991 and 1994. Hard times. However, with a PMA and faith you will survive and prosper.

And now that the kids are educated and making their way in life, what next? My dream lifestyle? 6 months in the UK during their summer and 6 months in Cape Town during their summer.

Max said...

You people make me sick, you like a bunch of British aristocrats drinking champagne and eating strawberries while you watch a Boeing 747 that's about to crash.

"You should get off that airplane old chap looks like your heading for the ground. Look at me I'm down here safe and sound, pity you don't have a parachute, ah well another day in Africa.

To all those who want to get out of South Africa, please fuck of now or for ever hold your peace, your purring pisses me off.

Anonymous said...

ExZ, I completely identify with your description. I am probably in the latter part of phase II, having been in my new country for almost 2 years. I have had my moments where I have absolutely hated everything and everyone. I still find it hostile, and excessively regulated, but I can see phase III ahead.

A large part of your well being is determined by your self-esteem, which is connected to your earnings, status, friendships etc. The sooner you develop friendships, overcome the cultural issues and earn a decent wage, the sooner you start to rebuild esteem. I am still struggling with the friendships. It is easy to make friends, but deep meaningful connections are absent, and I suspect it will remain that way. Fortunately we have a lot of South Africans around, so that helps. As for your earnings, the corporate route can be very hostile, and a slow recovery. I have always been an entrepreneur, and that presented new challenges. How are things done, who do I sell to, what are the rules, what is the protocol, how do you network? And that has been very frightening. But progress is being made, and I am slowly starting to envision a grander future.

Would I go back? I would have 12 months ago, if I didn't have children. But not now. Yesterday my daughter played in the street with her new scooter, and I was very conscious of how at ease I was.

Recently I acquired my firearms license, and to order a rifle is as simple as having it delivered by courier, who leaves it at the front door (including ammo); not that I have, but how trusting is that.

Of course there are many other advantages, like not having to have a BEE partner in my business. I also don't worry about my wallet, or locking the car door. Although that bit me awhile back, and it hurt. I had my car broken into and my wallet stolen, which included my ID and my passport. The reason I had my passport with me was because newcomers have a host of hurdles to jump, which requires a passport. Naturally the police didn't understand, but fortunately the "bad guys" neatly placed all my documents in the neighbours yard, and only removed my cash.

As for assimilating, for me it is somewhat important, but I am acutely aware of my unique abilities and characteristics, and I proudly hold on to these. I do change those rough edges that make life easier, though. But, for the most part, my new foreign friends enjoy me because I am different.

I suspect I will struggle emotionally for awhile to come, but usually the 5 year mark signals a change, so I am told, where you find yourself aligning naturally with your new country.

I am slowly starting to enjoy building a new life in a new country, and spend more time wondering why I didn't make the move years earlier.

Anonymous said...

@Max. I have heard such vocal protestations for decades. Back in the day I was constantly called a soutpiel, and yet I am sure there are as many Afrikaners outside as there are English.

But tell me, Max, what effort have you made to get out? I suspect none, because I have met many South Africans that have managed to make a plan. If, on the other hand, you have decided to stay in Africa, that is your choice. As it is ours to leave, and to tell others to do the same thing. The parachute is there, just get off your arse and look for it.

Exzanian said...

Rose, I think the experience of immigration is universal, the only difference will be one of degree. My life certainly is more interesting as a result. Judging by your blog you have had some interesting experiences as well! Thanks for popping in.
Anon 21 March 2010 22:07 - Too true, once you make the move, never look over your shoulder, as hard as it may be, you need to be resolute. It gets easier slowly, but damn surely.
IS, yah, have you ever lost anything here? Even your wallet or jewellery will be handed in wherever you did your shopping and happened to lose it. The only thing that will probably not be returned is if you drop cash.
laager, you are lucky to make the move so long ago. I spent 5 years agonising over it, and when I eventually started the move, passports, paperwork etc, the problems just dissolved, it was easy. It was only later that I had the problems to adjust, which I have overcome but I would be in an even a better position now had I made the move five years before that!

Exzanian said...

Thanks for that mate. It's not easy, genuinely, not easy. Harder than the army for sure, because at least in the army you know it ends after two years ;)
Max, get a life mate, the fact that I had the guts to immigrate entitles me to comment all the more. I'm like the guy that voted and thereby gained the right to bitch. The idiot that refuses to vote loses that right.

Islandshark said...

Only lost something once, when we were fairly careless.

My son dropped his wallet on a bus and it was handed in at train station.

Max said...

VI we have agreed on many topics over the last past months, but one I cannot condone is the promotion of whites to leave South Africa. I do not condemn those that have left but I do condemn those that shout out from their crystal towers to us that are still here to leave, do you know how demoralizing that is? It's like being at the battle front and seeing your comrades turning and running. It's not helping in any way telling us to leave, and if you are not sensitive enough to realize that then rather say nothing.

Anonymous said...

Max, yes, we have agreed in the past. I would really like to believe that a solution is imminent, but nothing suggests that. You don't have foreign support, nor do you have support amongst white South Africans. We never were able to stand together. It is a virtue, to be optimistic, but perhaps not in the face of such overwhelming odds. Why not "live to fight another day"? Perhaps this war is to be decided over millenia, and not within a lifetime. I haven't abandoned South Africa; I still have family that I fret about daily. But my current circumstances allow me much more freedom to maneovour; besides I am still surrounded by my countrymen and I still get to enjoy my culture. Ironically, perhaps more so.

Max said...

VI, I think I would rather fight to live another day, to live in a land where my forefathers have been laid to rest since 1798 is my God given right and anybody that wants to take that away is going to pay.

All I hope is you guys in over there continue to support us with all you have.

Anonymous said...

@Max. I support South Africans any way I can. I am slowly getting into a position where I can employ South Africans without the usual qualifications. I am not religious, but I promote an Afrikaans church, so that Afrikaners can find support amongst their people, and from time-to-time a friend of mine provides meal support for South Africans that have fallen on hard times. Many of us do what we can, and you would be surprised to know that most ex-pats remain connected to their country of birth. All of this goes unnoticed, and it is the way it should be. But it is wrong to think we have abandoned South Africa, and that we preach from our "crystal towers". It isn't like that.

Viking said...


for reference, there are more Afrikaans emigrants than English speakers outside SA. It's close, though. I read that in a reliable source last year.

Anonymous said...

@Viking. Given the historical 60:40 split, I imagine it is probably representative.

Interestingly, this means the numbers are not indicating that one group is more rooted in Africa than another.

Perhaps it is time for the more fanatical Afrikaners and/or Boers to recognise this.

Anonymous said...

Just reading through all the comments about immigration, @ viking I think the reason the numbers for Afrikaans immigrants being higher is because they had to officially immigrate, whereas a lot of English speaking South Africans would have already had foreign passport and therefore just be returning to the place of their birth or another European country. It would be interesting to note, how many Blacks, coloureds and Indians have left South Africa. I am aware of the above as there I have met people in all race groups at South African meetings, although we have left South Africa we are still patriotic, I don't think you would see one South African living in Australia for instance supporting Australia against South Africa in Rugby or Cricket.
Everyone's reasons for leaving are different, and I'd say that a lot of foreigners would never have tasted South African products if it weren't for us immigrants promoting them in our adopted countries.

Laager said...

Interseting point Anon 18:13

Some years ago on a return visit flight to SA I was surrounded by SA Indian school teachers going "home" (Durban) for Xmas

The conversation soon turned to how we were coping with life in our new country. Whites who think they are experincing a hard time in SA please take note:

Most of these teachers had left SA to find a better/safer life for themselves and create a future for their children.

In SA their neighbourhoods were virtually unliveable due to rampant crime (by blacks) and ineffective/non-existant policing. Some of them were also victims of AA and had to seek work elsewhere.

The UK had turned out to be anything but the promised land for them. Both they and their kids were experiencing overt racism that they had never experienced in SA. The kids were experiencing daily racial name calling and insults from their white peers. Our white children had experienced similar ignorant white prejudice from white peers. The new Indian immigrants after 1 year were finding the transition very difficult and were weighing up their options to return to SA.

The moral of the story is: if you make the move bite the bullet for at least 2 years before you have thoughts of going back or somewhere else. You will only go through the same process again.

What you have got going for you is that generally white South Africans are raised with decent values and a good work ethic. It will win through in the end. Along the way you are going to have problems as you out-perform the locals. They will not like it and can get very nasty about it.

The rewards come when you see your kids go out into this new world with better qualifications and fully equipped to cope wiith anything that life throws at them.

It is then that you say: "It has been worth it"

Anonymous said...

I just battle to adjust living with the 1-dimensional locals here in NZ, low morals, lack of self-respect and total lack of responsibility.

Common sense isn't common, and mediocrity is the accepted standard. And don't get me going on the welfare state socialist mentality.

Brent said...

What annoys me the most is people in a foreign land trying to convince others of how great their adoptive countries are! While posting on a website called!

You talk about how bad things are but you offer no suggestions to make it better. Just hoping it will get better so that one day you can return, No? Well then what the hell are you doing?

I don’t blame those for leaving, especially those that have kids but don’t undermine those that are in SA still trying to fight for a future.

If you’re adoptive country is so great and you can’t ever see yourself entering “phase 4” then please tell me what the hell you are doing on this site? Why don’t you post on a site in your new land and comment about how great it is? Stop trying to convince people in SA of how great it is when most people are already aware and have heard the stories many of a time. Maybe just maybe some people actually want to stay because they see something worth fighting for.

Some of you posters and admins need to recognise how contradicting you sound!

Oh and by the way, Im in the UK on a ancestral visa raking up some pounds, I have no problems with this country and I rather enjoy it. I don’t feel the need to preach to South Africans to get out though! Because those that can leave but don’t do it for a reason!

And BTW it takes “guts” to stay in SA not leave!

Anonymous said...

@Brent. You are suffering from vitamin D deficiency from lack of sunlight. Also, as a 24 year old, barely post-pubescent, pippie-joller, you are hardly in a position to talk about the difficulty of emigrating or re-establishing oneself; you haven't even established yourself. But one day you will wisen up, and we may even listen to you.

Anonymous said...

@Brent, as VI says you have no idea what you are talking about, and you say the reason you are in the UK is to rake in the pounds, which obviously means you are taking your pounds back to South Africa and therefore depriving some person who is living in the U.K. for good from earning a living. You say it takes guts to stay in S.A., I am afraid there you are wrong, it is EASY to stay in SA because you have your maids, your gardeners, etc. Most people I know who live in S.A. state their reason for not leaving is life will be too hard anywhere else in the world. It takes so much to leave SA, leaving your family, friends, comfort zone, be treated like an alien etc, discriminated against when you want a job (now I know what our blacks felt like for so many years) but we do it to make a better life for ourselves. My 70 year old aunt was raped at her husbands graveside in Rustenburg, tell me is that a reason to stay????

Exzanian said...

Brent said "It takes guts to stay in SA"
Try leaving a job of 15 years, selling your big house, getting rid of three beautiful dogs, tearing away lifelong relationships...Brent my boy, you still have to learn things I've forgotten. I've earned the right to sit here and criticise ZA and the ANC for the rest of my life if I choose. I don't hate ZA, I hate what the ANC has done to it. There is no solution, the more whites that can leave and stop paying taxes, the better...ZA belongs to the blacks, let them have the thing and make it South Zimbabwe, sooner the better.

Brent said...

My Apologies then, I was under the impression the goal of this blog is to create awareness of all the shit that is happnening in south africa because the more people that are aware the more the chances of something being done through unification?

You guys say im young and I need to learn a lot of things? Yes that is most probably definitely true I wont disagree with that and I take openly towards other peoples opinions.

My comment was posted as "my" personal opinion and to those of you that actually responded with fair responses without the sole intention of criticizing a persons character, thank you!

I do understand that its difficult to leave friends and family in a warzone and Unfortunaltely Many are not as lucky as me and yourselves to just give up on the country and let it turn into Zimbabwe!

I might be taking pounds yes and Im sure my job could have gone to someone staying here permanently, In the end I performed a service and a bloody good one at that for a company that could not find a competent british person to fill the position.

Yes I came to England pissed at the ANC with the possibility of settling here, I changed my mind for numerous reasons other than that of the usual homesick and intergration stories. I dont have kids so unlike most of you I dont have them to worry about because thats a whole different ball game.I do on the other hand have so many loving friends and family in SA who dont have the luxury of emmigrating so its hard for me to stay here when I still feel we can make a difference.

Yeah its no doubt a better future here for me in the UK. With everything certain, not having to worry about your life being taken away in an instant, easy money, No telkom or eskom dragging the country down, No greedy Government whos only purpose is to enrich their own pockets (to bring maids and gardners into this is just a bit pompous really).

Maybe SA is a sinking ship and maybe I am an idiot for not wanting to climb on a life boat, But if all the people I love are on the ship I think Id rather go down dancing!

Please understand that this is my opinion as a person who only has to look out for himself, I dont judge those for leaving and I do understand that its not the easiest of decisions, just as I dont want judged for wanting to return!

All I can say if the shit is going to hit the fan i hope it happens soon , because at the moment I still see a chance with for SA!

Call me whatever names you want, Im not a patriot but i would like to be one day!

May God Bless you and look after your families and loved ones!

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion folks but time does heal all wounds. 15 years in Oz next month. And I am an Australian who was born in South Africa, not a South African living in Australia. And if you change your mindset like I have, there's no phase I, II etc. I supported the Qld Reds & Wallabies from Day 1, never looked for any South African's when I got here & tried to be an Aussie from Day 1! As I tell my fellow country men, I'm just an Aussie with a kak accent :-)