This Could Change Your Life

OK, that was a bit melodramatic. I don’t know so much about changing your life, but it could definitely make your life easier.

For those of you in or moving to Denmark, let me introduce you to the one thing that has made all the difference in my daily life (aside from Google Translate, that is): the Rejseplanen app. It’s like the Danish Google Maps but exclusively for public transportation. And it’s freaking awesome.

Here it is, my sweet little app.

Here it is, my sweet little app.

The first two weeks after Brian and I moved to Aarhus, we did not have cell phones. For two whole weeks! Can you even conceive of what that would be like? That’s like living without, I don’t know, water? Food? Something very important to survival. Before coming over, we’d had these old school texting phones (I believe they’re called “candy bar” style phones, ’cause I’m cool) that we had downgraded to when we decided that $200 a month was just way too much to pay for constant access to a smartphone. The problem was, we bought these phones on Ebay, and they were originally from, like, 2003, so they didn’t even have an option of working outside of the US. The minute we hit international waters, they both turned into candy bar sized, navy blue paperweights with lots of buttons.

So here we were in a brand new city in a brand new country surrounded by a language we didn’t know without any form of portable internet, GPS tracking, or translating device. What did we do? We kicked it old school. We used paper maps and looked like the biggest tourists ever. We planned our trips before leaving the house. We ate at random restaurants that we happened to be passing by while we were hungry. We guessed at the Danish words all around us. (Luckily, Danish shares so many of its roots with English that we weren’t too far off most of the time.) 

One of the most annoying problems we ran into was taking the bus. I was not a bus rider before coming to Aarhus. St. Louis does not have the best public transportation, and I’d always had my own car to get around in. So I had absolutely no idea how to read or understand a bus schedule. Which one goes where? How do I tell what time it arrives at my stop? How can I tell where to get off? And forget about it if I have to switch buses. It was annoying to say the least.

Bus Meme

Then our lives changed and we got smartphones and we discovered Rejseplanen. And I use it daily. Even though I pretty much have the timing of my main bus trips down – I know I take X bus that leaves at Y time to Danish class – but still. Think about it. When I’m finished with Danish class, I can look on my little app and see when the next bus comes. If it’s not for 15 minutes, I can hang out in the school instead of at the freezing cold bus stop being snained in the face for 10 minutes. And if I miss bus 2A, I can see that bus 16 goes to the same place and leaves in just 5 minutes, so I can just take that one instead of waiting another 20 minutes for the next 2A. It’s just, it’s just so much easier.

So if you’re coming to Denmark temporarily, permanently, or for a week, I highly suggest you download this app. If you live in Denmark and don’t use this app, what is wrong with you! Download it. Use it. Love it. There’s even an Android version.

P.S. I wasn’t asked or paid (hah, paid, I wish) to write this post. I just really love transportation planning apps that much. Listen, it’s the little things that count when you’re an expat!

I Really Should Have Done My Research

So a couple of fellow bloggers – specifically Marian von Bakel and Susanne from Fit Across Cultures – have brought something to my attention about the culture shock curve. Apparently, there is actual academic research that backs up my personal feelings of frustration with the curve as an inadequate model for the normative expat experience.

Despite being widely used and acclaimed in “so you’re going to be an expat” books and training, the traditional curve has never been conclusively supported by scientific research. In fact, its applicability, relevance, and usefulness has been questioned by the academic community for many many years. Though many studies have tried to validate it as a good model for the expatriate’s experience, they have repeatedly been unable to do so. The main complaints? The model is too simplistic, it assumes one mode and method of adaptation for everyone, and it assumes a honeymoon period (which many expats are unhappy to realize that they’ve skipped right over, going straight into stress time because, duh, you’ve just moved countries and have to set up a home and a whole new life all at once).

The Berardo Cultural Adjustment and Transition Training Presentation from Culturosity.com, which Susanne brought to my attention, was especially enlightening. It tells of the history of the curve, gathers together much of the past research on this topic, discusses why the curve got so stuck in culture shock discussions, and proposes alternative ways that we might talk about culture shock. (My guess is that it’s staying power is due to its simplicity. It’s easy to use and talk about, while describing the reality of culture shock would be messier and more complicated.)

So thanks to my readers for inserting some actual facts into this rather personal discussion! Maybe next time I’ll do some Googling before I post…

 

Let’s Take a Moment to Talk Culture Shock

So in between all this holiday cheer (because I have more holiday posts coming!), I wanted to take some time to talk about homesickness and culture shock because, let’s face it, even the veteran expats are probably getting a little homesick this time of year.

I saw this video come up on ExpatInDenmark.com the other day.

It’s a good video, and I like the way it succinctly describes something called the “culture shock curve.” But ever since watching it I can’t really stop thinking about it. Because I don’t think that this really describes my experience so far as an expat. (All 4.25 months of it.)

The traditional culture shock curve looks like this:

I drew my own based on the video because I can't find a simple one that I like online.

I drew my own based on the video because I can’t find a simple one that I like online.

It’s important for non-expats – for family and friends who are left behind – to understand that there are these multiple periods of culture shock instead of just the one initial period. Because from afar the expat life can seem like one big exciting adventure. You can see how there would be an initial period of adjustment, but it’s harder to understand from afar how the more serious period of culture shock may come later after you’ve superficially adjusted to life in your new country.

However, the way it’s usually drawn makes it look like a fairly natural ebb and flow, like a steady progression through stages. But there are two things that I would note:

1. Not everyone gets to the final “acceptance” stage. Some people get stalled in one of the various culture shock troughs. I read this in a “so you’re moving overseas” book before we left the US, and I will admit that it kind of freaked me out. Because I would be just the kind of person to get stalled. But I think it’s important to note that adaptation isn’t easy.

2. My personal experience is not represented by this graph. Rather, it looks a little more like this:

You are here...somewhere

You are here…somewhere

This may be due to the fact that I’m only 4 (.25!) months into my expat experience, so I may not be seeing the big picture or larger pattern. But it definitely feels like these culture shock periods come much more frequently than just twice in your whole expat experience, and they’re not necessarily so prolonged. The whole experience feels much more up and down rather than smoothly curving through sequential stages. I feel like I go through one whole cycle of this maybe once a month.

Also, I don’t think that these two states are mutually exclusive. I can be in the throws of a serious homesick binge when we have a good day and learn something really cool about our host country. Or I can feel like things are going fine when something happens and I feel like I’ve fallen back a couple steps.

So while the culture shock curve is a very helpful graph in introducing future expats and their families back home to the fact that there are multiple moments of culture shock and that adaptation is hard and may not come easily or right away, I think it’s a little too simplified. And as an expat who’s read many many articles about this “normal” curve, it’s starting to get a little annoying.

Not every expat’s journey looks like that. Your journey and how you handle the experience of moving abroad is very personal and unique. Comparing yourself to some standard of normal – or to what other expats are doing or feeling – can sometimes be more harmful than helpful. Just have faith in yourself and your ability to grow and adapt. Know that you will get there someday in your own time in your own way. Or you will go home, and that will be OK, too, because this is your journey.

Pumpkin!

Guys guys guys guys guys guys guys guys…

We. Found. Canned. Pumpkin. In. Denmark! Woo!

Canned pumpkin on the shelf of a SuperBest

Canned pumpkin on the shelf of a SuperBest

For those who may be looking in Denmark, it was in the American/English section of SuperBest, right next to the boxed Mac ‘n Cheese and the ginger ale. We found these specifically at the SuperBest outside of Aarhus C on Viborvej up by the Bilka in Tilst.

Of course, it’s not cheap. If you can see the tag, they’re 35 DKK a can, or $6. (My family in the US tells me the same brand is selling for 4 for $5 at home.) So we bought a small fortune in canned pumpkin because we weren’t sure when we would see it again.

Our pyramid of Libby's canned pumpkin.

Our pyramid of Libby’s canned pumpkin.

(Mmm, doesn’t that look delicious?)

Now the next problem is evaporated milk. A very friendly Danish woman – who was also purchasing some canned pumpkin – heard us talking about this dilemma and said we could buy some in powder form at a store called Specialkøbmanden, which sells specialty baking items. We have yet to go, but we aren’t really planning on baking any pies until Christmas, so we have some time. The powdered vs liquid form of the evaporated/condensed milk may present some challenges, so we shall see if there are some solutions to that online.

 

Life as a New Expat

Is it too early to write this post? Sometimes, I don’t even feel like an expat, mainly because I can’t even believe we’re here. Mostly upon waking or emerging from the fog that is watching an American television show, I realize that I have completely forgotten where I am. Then it all of a sudden hits me: Oh my God, we’re in Denmark.

So let’s call this post, Life as a New Expat. Life as One Recently Expatriated.

Life right now for this expat is very day by day. All expats learn to accept this truth, and you will read about it in any blog or book about moving countries that you can find. But as a new expat, this fact is only more true. You find yourself by turns excited, overwhelmed, curious, anxious, fascinated, frustrated, proud, self-conscious. It’s a grab bag of emotions, and you never know which one you’re going to get on any given day. (Or any given hour, on some days.)

The thing about being an expat is that the smallest things start to carry such importance. Successfully withdrawing money from the bank will have you flying high the rest of the day, feeling like you can take on any challenge your new home might throw at you. The next day, a confusing and frustrating trip to the grocery store will have you brooding for the rest of the afternoon, wondering when you’ll feel at ease in your new city. Everything that you used to take for granted about just living, all those little things you used to do on autopilot like buy laundry detergent at Target or go out to dinner after a stressful week, is now something that must be considered and planned ahead of time.

And we have it good because most Danes speak excellent English. I can’t imagine what the culture shock would be like if you moved to a country where there was no common language.

So being an expatriate is all about patience, mostly with yourself. It’s about knowing your limits, reminding yourself to breathe, and letting yourself take more breaks than you may be used to. You made it through your first social event? Have a cookie. Had a tough day at work because everyone kept dropping into Danish and for some reason it just got to you more than usual? Here’s a beer and some American TV.

Eventually we’ll watch Danish television – with subtitles – and we’ll go out to eat on the weekends. Eventually we’ll be able to buy groceries for an entire week because we can think more than one day ahead. But for right now, baby steps.

Baby steps are fine.

(And also, I find that coffee helps immensely.)