Adjusting Life Abroad: Dealing With Culture Shock, Fashion Disaster, Weird Food, And Many More
Life abroad certainly has a big appeal to many of us. We can learn the language, we can explore the local food, we can travel around the area we live, and we can see how the locals run their lives closely. However, some of us don’t realise that the process of adaptation and settlement is not as easy as we’d think. There will be moments when we say something wrong, dress inappropriately, are forced to swallow some strange food so the host wouldn’t be offended, get tricked by local vendors, and so on. There also will be moments when everything we normally take for granted back home, becomes such a big task, like choosing a detergent, finding a good hairdresser or school, make friends, or finding a local pub.
My blog talks a lot about this. Moving to Aberdeen, Scotland, in 2007, I didn’t realise how difficult the adjustment was going to be until I got there. Even though I’d visited the area a few times before moving there, even though I’m married to a Scotsman – a local – I still found myself wearing skirt in a freezing winter or sporting a thick jacket when the sun came out. And I thought being able to speak English pretty well will save me from an embarrassing moments, but of course I was wrong! There were times when I said something and people at the shop will look at me in disbelief, or look puzzled, or both. And I had to deal with loneliness, finding new friends, applying for new driver’s license, etc. Basically I had to start over my life, and I wasn’t prepared to have to do it alone without knowing where to find a support system.
Then when I moved to Perth, Australia, in 2009, I thought it was going to be much easier. I’ve survived Scotland! I’ve lived in Australia before! I knew what to expect!
How wrong I was. I landed in early November, thinking that it’s going to be scorching hot as it’s close to summer. I smugly packed my summer clothes and only 1 cardigan, thinking I’d never use it. So imagine my shock when I found out that the temperature in Perth – especially at night time – can drop about 10-15 C. Then after bragging to everybody that Perth is very, very hot, I experienced another shock during a winter time. I had to purchase a heater!
And of course, I have to deal with native animals. So far I’ve only met snakes – twice! – in the house. Thank God I don’t live in Darwin, where some people wake up in the morning to find a crocodile sunbathing in their swimming pool….
Yes, living overseas indeed is very interesting and entertaining, but it also takes a big adjustment and effort to settle down.
About Expat Lifestyle
Wikipedia says that lifestyle is the way a person lives. A lifestyle typically reflects an individual’s attitudes, values or world view. Therefore, a lifestyle is a means of forging a sense of self and to create cultural symbols that resonate with personal identity.
Expat lifestyle is, naturally, the way a person lives abroad and how to adjust or settle his or her life in the new adopted country. There will be different culture and customs which need an adjustment, and in this section, I will discuss about, although not limited to:
- Beauty & fashion
- Culture (entertainment, film, music, art, books, TV & radio, theatre, opera, dance, photography)
- Life (friendships, dating & marriage, religions)
- Health (diet & fitness, wellbeing)
- Home & Decor
All of the above mentioned topics mainly, although not specifically, talk about my experience living in both Scotland and Australia. Some older posts were published when I was still living in Indonesia (just because you live in your own country means you wouldn’t get a culture shock!), and some just talk about lifestyle in general.
Beauty & Fashion
In Indonesia, Burberry is one of the most-sought luxury labels. But in UK, during the 1970s, Burberry became popular with the British football casual cult, leading it to being associated with chavs, hooligans, and members of football firms by the 1990s. In short, the brand was uncool. In 2005, BBC reported that “pubs and clubs across the country began to ban customers who dressed in the label“. This particular news has never reached Indonesia and most of other countries, so outside UK (especially in Japan), Burberry was (is) still popular. So Thinking About Buying Burberry? asks if you still want to wear the brand after knowing more about the label. Of course today Burberry has gained their popularity back, and become the UK’s leading brand again.
The Fake Trade is a TV documentary that I watched back in UK, where they revealed the bad and ugly side of the counterfeit industry. Again, coming from Indonesia, where counterfeit products are everywhere, the documentary has really opened up my eyes how dangerous it can be if we still support this industry by buying fake products. It’s not just fake handbags or watches, but imagine what happens if people get fake medicine, food or drinks.
As part of beauty and fashion disaster experience I’ve had, my most unfortunate hair incident happened when I was working in a project for none other than the cosmetic giant and hair products god: L’Oreal. Nothing is more embarrassing than having the director of Indonesian Hair Division holding your hair and telling you that your hair needs a fix, pronto! A Bad Hair Day? Indeed!
Before moving to Scotland, I got the taste of being a partner of an expat, but my observation about local-expat (the locals who have expat partners) was published when I already lived outside Indonesia. In it I talk about how local girls who become the girlfriends or wives of expats quickly adopt this extravagant lifestyle of “expatriates” (big house, personal staffs, everyday shopping and parties, everyday dinner in 5-star hotels, and first-class treatments everywhere), and think they will get the same treatments once the partner is sent back home.
Lost in Translation is a post in which I talked about Comedy Festival in Perth. Even though it’s in English, and even though I speak the language pretty well, I couldn’t understand a single word of what the comedians said. I felt so stupid, I got upset, and I walked out of the theatre after 30 minutes of torture….
I talked a lot about relationships especially in the beginning of my blog, and they’re all based on my life, naturally. The post Thinking About Dating A British Man, for some reason, is the all-time, most popular post in my blog. It still generates comment, even after 4 years.
The Caucasian vs. Indonesian Men post put me in the hot water because I found myself fighting against a lot of expat men in Indonesia who disagreed with my posting. Basically I said that stereotypical accusation is dangerous. And I honestly think that those expats with local wives can be more sensible and decently admit that Caucasians are as bad when it comes to degrading remarks towards women. It’s what jerks do. And as I mentioned before, a jerk is a jerk. Whether he’s white, brown, or yellow. Whether he’s a maid or a CEO. Whether he’s Indonesian or Caucasian. I cannot accept most of them think that local (Indonesian) men are all jerks and they (foreigners) are godlike creature and come to the rescue to sweep Indonesian women off their feet. Come on! They are so deluded with ego larger than their heads! Ugh, I got upset again just by thinking and typing about this again….
I also talked a lot about friendships. In fact, the first posting in my blog is about a friend who betrayed me so badly I was very heartbroken. It was funny though, because a couple of years later after her sudden disappearance, we met incidentally and she was so embarrassed to be caught red handed (Scottish people say caught bonnie!) with her married boyfriend. It’s worse because she was on the flight from Singapore to Jakarta together with several of her ex-colleagues who turned to me in disbelief, in a sudden realisation that all gossips about her are all true.
I have posts which I tag as ‘Men are from Mars‘, in which I talk about how weird and funny men are. I have a post titled Belated Apology from An Ass Pincher, about how a senior (!!) expat pinched my ass at a party but caught red-handed by me because of his own stupidity, and was deeply embarrassed by it because I screamed on top of my lung, threatened to kill him. We met again a few years later on a wedding, where he apologised directly to me and we’ve become friends on facebook. I hope his experience with me has taught him a lesson to never do such thing a woman ever again!!
I’m a travel junkie. I constantly plan or dream or talk about my next destinations. Being an Indonesian, though, is not easy. Indonesians must apply for a visa to almost everywhere they go. So naturally, half of my posts under travel section, are about how I constantly deal with visa officers, embassies, consulars, and so on. What A Difference A Nationality Made is one example how frustrating it is, being an Indonesian.
Being expat, living far away from home, also means we deal a lot with the homesick. I’m fortunate enough to be able to go home quite often, about every six month. One of my favourite posts is Surprises and Secrets, where I went back to Indonesian without telling my mom and a good friend who was getting married, and just turned up in front of them unexpectedly. My mother cried so hard when she saw me, feeling happy, shocked, and concerned (she though there’s something bad happened I went home ‘in a sudden’, then realised I planned it all along, helped my none other by dad!). My good friend – who is a male friend, by the way – was so shocked when he saw me at his wedding he cried as well, making everyone wondering who the hell this woman was! Seeing their faces was priceless! Although mom made me swear not to do it ever again or she’d get a heart attack!
There is a post where I complain about how Facebook Has Taken My Friends Away. I’ve got several male friends whose wives are so jealous they make their husbands deleting female friends from their lists. And I happen to be the victim, to at least 3 male friends. I found out much later, when I realised I hadn’t read about this friend for a quite some time, tried to find him on my friends list, couldn’t find him, rang him and asked if he deleted me from his facebook, and after two or three minutes the guy normally admitted that it was his wife who made him do it. The fact that I’m also married, and living abroad, doesn’t stop the wife feeling jealous and thought I might steal her precious husband. Ugh!
Being expat also means we are far from our friends. If we are lucky, we will get new sets of friends in our adopted country. But the older I get, the more I realised how picky I become and the more difficult it is to find good girlfriends. The reason isn’t just because of the chemistry. Friendship, just like any other relationships, takes time to build and energy to maintain. By being expat and socialising in expat circuits, I have a lot of friends all over the world, in every continent. But good friends? I have only a few. And my best friends are still my best friends, even though we are separated by the ocean and by the time zone. This Long Distance Friendships talk about how my best friend and I still manage to maintain our friendship, even though she was in Micronesia following her husband’s expat posting, and I was in Scotland, following my husband’s.
I hope now you get a better idea what this blog is about. To read more about specific topics, please click below link:
- Beauty & fashion
- Culture (entertainment, film, music, art, books, TV & radio, theater, opera, dance, photography)
- Food (restaurant reviews, foreign food adventure, etc)
- Gadgets, Technology & Social Media
- Life (friendships, dating & marriage, religions)
- Health (diet & fitness, wellbeing)
- Home & Decor