Culture Shock

On Sunday, July 31 I woke Sean up by excitedly proclaiming “one year from today our visas expire!” For the first time since I’ve known him, he popped out of bed with a huge smile on his face. Or well, not a grumpy frown. One year from now we will be on our way out.

The last few weeks leading up to our arrival anniversary seemed to drag on and on. Now we are past the tipping point and on the slow gradual downhill slide. Not that we are counting down already or anything. Really, we aren’t. We’ve just hit a bit of slump with life in Dushanbe.

One year in we are still dealing with culture shock.

There are four stages of adapting to life in a new culture: honeymoon/euphoria, frustration/culture shock, adjustment, and integration/assimilation. For the first four months or so, we hung out in stage one. We were so excited to finally get on the ground in Dushanbe. We were making friends. Everything was inexpensive that we were able to pay off a huge amount of debt in a short time. Sure, there were issues but they paled in comparison to the benefits in our newly-arrived minds.

Then, culture shock set in. This stage comes with sadness, anger, frustration, withdrawal, and a laundry list of other unpleasant side effects. Anger is what hit me the hardest. I was mad at everything. At Sean, at work, at the grocery store, at the pedestrians, at the cars, at the animals, at the house. You name it. Everything was on my crap list at this point.

Luckily, CLO set up a brown bag talk with one of our Regional Medical Officers out of Moscow whose specialty is psychiatry. She walked us through the four stages and gave everyone a safe space to share how we were really doing. It was one of the most comforting things I’ve experienced here. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t crazy. And I would get better. I actually made a separate appointment with her and just vented for an hour about how I was feeling.

I discovered a few things. One, I wasn’t just adjusting to life abroad and life in Dushanbe, I was also adjusting to following my husband’s career around which is why a majority of the anger was directed at him. Finally identifying the source of my anger helped me extinguish it. Obviously, we still bicker like any married couple, but now he’s not standing out in a horrible storm of anger while his irrational wife howls at him for something mundane.

I also learned I needed to take care of myself. Not just eating healthy and exercising, but doing things I wouldn’t normally do for self-care. For us, the number one thing that has helped is hiring a housekeeper. She comes twice a week and makes the house absolutely sparkle. Now we can use our free time to relax and do things we actually enjoy.

Today we jump between adjustment and culture shock with a sprinkle of integration every now and again. Most days we just live life in Dushanbe as best we can and don’t let the small things fester into a huge problem. Pretty much as long as we aren’t driving life is fine. Some days we really love it here and the thought of leaving makes me really sad. And some days we just want to run over the car who can’t pick a lane for the love of God and OH LOOK HERE’S A COW IN THE ROAD BECAUSE WHY THE HELL NOT?!

Like most things in life, it’s a process. And Sean and I are going through it together. And we will make it through the next year just fine.

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