I’ve probably ranted and raved about what it’s like experiencing culture shock. I (Shon) had all the symptoms–getting fed up easily with the hooligans in class, or royally pissed off at the lunatic drivers; being aggravated easily and feeling generally that every single thing about this place sucks. There were days when I’d have happily hopped on a plane and kissed Abu Dhabi goodbye forever.
Now there are a bunch of factors involved in culture shock and the adjustment to it, don’t get me wrong. However, there are two things in particular that have helped me and the wife to get over our culture shock. All in all, at this point I’ve ended up quite enjoying living abroad (albeit not necessarily the job that brought me here). So what’s the easiest way to build a sense of belonging as a foreigner in this desert land? For us, there have been two things.
First, we kept in touch with the contacts we made when we moved here; people who I met on the airplane and at the Intercontinental. It’s great that we have friends who have been here exactly the same amount of time and who have shared the same experience all the way.
Second, we got involved in a small group that Al Ain Evangelical Church sponsors. The few times we went to church we met some nice people, but then we didn’t see them again. We had no reason to, after all. Eventually we decided to check out a small group for young marrieds because we got invited to it several times by people that Jenia photographed (she’s good–shameless plug here). It ended up that the group made us feel comfortable right off the bat, and before long, we felt it becoming a staple of our week.
At this point, the small group is really important to us as a source of spiritual growth, support, and friendship. Within the group we’ve met some really neat people from all over the world who share similar interests. We’ve had encouragement at timely moments from within the group, too. Once, when I was in the doldrums, trying to cope with the craziness of my work environment and the nuttiness of culture shock, I was offered this nugget of wisdom about looking for other employment here: “the grass is not greener on the other side: there’s just more sand. It may be combed and raked more neatly, but it’s just sand.” That helped me revise my viewpoint on work and tough it out until the shock receded.
If you’re here and you’re in a similarly culture-shocked (entirely normal, by the way) state, I’d suggest getting yourself plugged in somewhere. Socializing with only the people you know from the trip over can easily turn into a gripe fest, doing nobody any good. It’s a good idea to expand your circle and try to meet other people who’ve been here a bit longer. Maybe you’re not interested in church, but if you are, swing on by (if you can find the church–it’s a challenge, with the poor signage) and see about a small group. You may find it to be just what you need.