I’m a storyteller. Sharing funny moments from my life with family and friends is part of my identity. So when we moved overseas to Taiwan, something unexpected happened. In the course of a 13 hour plane ride, I became a nobody. It was as if my life, my stories, my history suddenly became a burner cell phone. Pull the sim and discard in the nearest trash (which by the way, is pretty hard to find here if you know what I mean).
If you have moved across cultures, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And it doesn’t necessarily require a move to a new country. It could be moving from the east coast to the west in the United States. From one distinct area in your home country with its own unique set of traditions, vernacular, and “culture” to a different location with a whole new set of these same things. You may even speak the same language, but just not mean the same things or hold the same values.
So what can you do to survive? And not just survive, but thrive.
First, it’s important to understand what you are experiencing as a loss. Give it a name so you can identify which parts are the most important to address. Here’s what I think we lose when crossing cultures:
- Loss of identity, rooted in your context, which provided purpose and gave your life meaning. In our home culture we share identity with others more easily, in a new culture, it is the differences that are exposed, making us feel what we are and are not more clearly than we may have felt or experienced before.
- Loss of context, the setting which clarifies and gives meaning to your words and actions. I remember the day I really understood that no one knew me and no one really cared. That changed over time, but everyone coming into a new culture is going through a similar process of losing and finding themselves.
- Loss and/or Lack of purpose, even though you may have a job, you may or may not have something that provides intention and objective to your life. In our home cultures, these things are more easily assumed so in a foreign or new cultural setting we may find this deep seated need even more exposed than ever before.
As you go through any and or all of these losses, you may experience these emotions to some degree.
It can be easy to get stuck here, but please don’t. Get help if you need it. People find help in different ways, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask or seek help in ways you may not have considered before. See a doctor, counselor, pastor. Try new activities that will help you build relationships and friendships.
Once you understand what you are experiencing, I believe it is the opportunity and potential springboard for a rebirth. I’m still a storyteller, but my old stories didn’t have any context in this new culture, not at first anyways, so as part of losing my history, I figured out my story was still being written.