It goes without saying that moving to a foreign country comes with a unique set of challenges. Foremost among them: acclimating to living full time in totally foreign surroundings, including a new language, new climate and a new culture.
During our first three days in Mexico, Tor (who has not lived or traveled beyond the US and Canada) reported that he experienced waves of anxiety that varied in intensity and duration.
On the first day, he explained that he awoke with a feeling of panic. The unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells made him uneasy and the feelings of anxiety lingered on and off for the better part of the day, finally dissipating during an outing that we took that afternoon on the moto. Over fish tacos at Zazil Ha (a favorite hangout on Playa Norte), he suddenly experienced a huge feeling of immense calm and elation, which remained for the balance of the day and into the evening.
The second day, he awoke again with the same anxiety that he had experienced on the first day. This wave seemed centered around some issues we were having with gaining a strong internet connection at the house and finally, the tension eased off after the issue was resolved and we went for a cliffside hike along the stunningly scenic Eastern side of the island. When we arrived at Punta Sur (the southern most point of the island), we ordered some lunch and again, as we sat enjoying the expansive view of the Caribbean from our table, he experienced another huge wave of peace, relief and tranquility that lasted for the rest of the day.
This pattern only continued another day or so, and by the end of the week, Tor not only felt better, but was enthused about his new environment and life in this dramatically different place.
Taking these challenging moments to heart, we later reflected on a few basic things that we learned in our first days about acclimating well on arrival, and beyond:
When anxiety was high (mostly right after arrival), the instinct was to stay in motion and do things like clean, work or walk, to eradicate the tension. But we soon found that good rest was invaluable and as is commonly known, it can heal more us than we realize. Whether it was twenty minute naps here and there or three good, solid hours of unconsciousness in the afternoons, we decided to be greedy and take plenty of time to rest. This paid off.
By discussing his feelings, Tor found that it helped release the anxiety attached to them. I encouraged him to express his anxiety verbally—even if was just to turn to me on the ferry as we approached Cancun to say, “I have no idea why, but I feel nervous.” We talked through this “nervous” feeling and he found that it dissipated soon thereafter. As other friends have reminded us throughout life: if we can put a name to our fears, the easier they are to address and conquer.
3. Just do it.
More importantly—if its scares the caca out of you: definitely just do it. This has been touted by gurus far and wide, but we have found that the advice thoroughly applies here. Due to barriers of language and a lack of general knowledge, simple, everyday tasks suddenly seem challenging: buying water, using public transportation, setting up a home office. Stumbling through the banal errands of the day in a new language and culture can be difficult and frustrating, especially if the transaction is a more complex one. But we find the more we barrel ahead and just do things, the more empowered we feel each time. And eventually, we find we are learning quickly and effectively. Everything from where to get the laundry done to getting local cell service set up or navigating the taxi culture in Cancun to FedEx a package. Somehow, it all gets done.
This has been vital, not only so that we become oriented physically, but also so that we start to mentally and emotionally become part of our new landscape. Getting up each morning and walking in a different direction has been a great way to start the day. This has also become a good way to get acquainted with our neighbors and to get used to being seen by them. On our walks, we also practice our Spanish, trying out different greetings or phrases along the way with people we meet.
At the end of each day, it has become natural to talk about the day’s events more intently than we did in the US. Every minutia of the day becomes fodder for a discussion, and in this way we are able to process all that we have seen and experienced. New questions also arise during these “downloading” discussions, providing us with more unknown variables to put on our list of things to explore, learn from and ultimately, embrace as part of life in our new community.