Our family is a mixed up blend. When we moved from China to Australia four years ago we were all going through different things. My husband was returning to his home country. My boys were learning how to be more Australian because they had never lived anywhere but China. Then there was me. I was immigrating. I am still immigrating. It is a long process.
I am learning to be something new while not losing what I already am. My children have embraced their new lifestyle. My husband is now enjoying being able to get back to all the things he loves about Australia. I am learning to love new things but that doesn’t mean that I am learning to love all new things. Unfortunately for my husband’s sake, cricket is one of those things I do not love.
4 years of transition have equaled laughter, sunshine and frustration and have seen me start this long process of becoming a member of the Lucky Country. I am American so the process is fraught with confusion and teasing from Australian friends. Don’t worry… I get my own back. How can you not good-naturedly rib people who belong to a country in which the main point of any political party seems to be to overthrow the leader so that the next person can become king of the hill? It seems like this country indulges in political blood sport every time the season changes. Yes, I good-naturedly rib them until I realize that while they have been born in this country I am voluntarily choosing to join it.
People might think that making a new home in another English-speaking country is easier than acclimating to life in a place like China. China presented its challenges but at least it was up-front about it. My roommate and I used to have what we called “bad China days”. It really meant we were in danger of behaving poorly or already had behaved poorly towards someone because of cultural stress and overload. I love Aussie land. I love the people, the weather, the lifestyle and the animals, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have “bad Australia days”. Australia’s cultural and language differences are hidden beneath a very thin veil of similarities. That veil of similarities makes it seem, from the outside, like it should be no sweat to adjust to life here.
Contrary to the illusion, the shallow similarities that these two cultures actually have, barely hides a deep chasm of differences between mind set and traditions. This chasm is where I find myself overwhelmed and likely to behave outrageously. I recently refused to hang up on a customer service representative until my problem was resolved to my satisfaction. There is an iceberg under that tip of that story but sufficed to say I behaved poorly and I wish I could take it back. I wish I could put off that call until I wasn’t having a day where I was struggling to adjust to a country which hates the tall poppy. A country where it feels as though sport is almost always more important that a really amazing classic novel. Where there is so much slang that I don’t understand so I have to spend time figuring it out and then using it. Most of all it is difficult to never quite fit in. I will never have a proper Australian accent. I will never enjoy sport or the great outdoors, (unless the great outdoors is the beach with flavored iced coffee). I would never choose to drink multiple cups of tea instead of coffee. A big stress is having to explain where I am from/not from, over and over and over again. I really should appreciate everyone’s interest and thoughtfulness but what happens is that some days it is really too much. My circuits overload in those moments and I have a, “bad Aussie day”. In my case this means a fire breathing dragon of epic Hobbit proportions bursts forth and everyone wonders where such a teeny tiny lady was hiding such a hideous beast.
Immigration is tricky and it is tricky business trying to make sure every Aussie I come in contact with knows how much I love this country while all the time trying to be diplomatic about the fact that sometimes the differences make me uncomfortable or stressed. The ironic part is that now that I live in Australia, the Chinese community feels like a welcome relief from some of the adjustment stress. They say that cultural adjustment is like a roller coaster that starts off with huge dips and scary peaks and then gradually slows down and the peaks and dips get smoother and smoother until you almost don’t even notice them anymore. At this point in the amusement ride the adjustment is almost over and hopefully the screams filled with terror have stopped. If that is the case then Australia is my roller coaster, a roller coaster that is starting to feel more and more comfortable, while Chinese culture would be the merry-go-round that is fun and different from normal life but not scary anymore. You might think that my experiences with adjusting to life in China had given me tools for eliminating cultural stress. You might see me drinking a flat white coffee and eating biscuits and think that I am an experienced world traveler and I breeze through moves to new cultures. Anyone who has known me longer than 2 minutes can now proceed to laugh at the picture that presents. I do have tools for culturally stressful times, but they don’t eliminate cultural stress. The tools I have tame the beast I become when cultural stress gets out of control. The times when I ignore the inner voice which is telling me I am not emotionally or mentally fit to face a certain task like a trip to a huge mall, (the shops), and countless sales people. When I ignore that silent pressure to give myself a break then I am sure to become a raging beast which indiscriminately stomps all over innocent people and their feelings. Just as it would be challenging to play Monopoly at the same time as you ride a roller coaster, dealing with tasks which are normally challenging while also coping with cultural stress is impossible and will have a different effect on everyone. Perhaps you have faced something similar. Maybe you don’t become a beast but something else happens. Want to share what nickname you have for the days you are struggling to cope? Let us know in the comments below.
For those going through something similar all over the globe I would say it will get better! Time is key.
The following are websites with information on tools to deal with cultural stress.