Great Expectations

As the date of the move
is approaching, more and more people are asking me how I am doing with the
preparations and whether I am excited about moving. I am grateful for those
questions because they make me appreciate how much I (we) have already done, which
is reassuring and brings down my stress level a bit (well, at least temporarily,
because there is also that spreadsheet with all the things we haven’t done yet, but I
won’t dwell on that). When I talk to people, I also realize that I have not allowed myself to be
terribly excited about this move. This is partly due, as I have mentioned before,
to my reluctance to leave behind so many dear friends; but it is also part of a
pattern of mine: keeping expectations low to avoid disappointment. In this
case, I try not to have very high expectations – on how smooth the transition will
be, how much I will like the city, or how nice the people will be. Some call me
a pessimist; I like to call myself a realist J.
Seriously though, I
believe that managing expectations can have a major impact on the quality of
the experience of starting a new life in a new country. Whose expectations?
Not just your own, but also those of your partner, your children – the people
who are moving with you. Expectations can make a transition smoother or bumpier,
more exciting or more frustrating. Expectations affect our attitude to a great
extent and they say attitude is half the battle when we deal with challenges.
There are all sorts of expectations and assumptions involved in a move, but
here are some of the “usual suspects” that can get you in trouble or help you
have a smoother ride:
You may assume that you know a place just because
you have travelled there before or are familiar with the language and culture
. Tourism is not real life – and don’t get me started
about business travel. Once you settle somewhere, what you thought was
interesting or cute or exotic will become your daily reality – minus the
excitement of novelty. If there were things that might have bothered you in a
place, but didn’t really because you knew that you were there temporarily, you need
to be prepared to deal with them on a regular basis.
Also, you may be fluent
in the language of the place you are moving to or you may think you know the
culture, but that does not mean that you will adjust instantly. Just
because you’ve watched many Hollywood movies and have been to New York once
does not mean that you know American culture and will have no trouble getting
used to life in Memphis, Tennessee. As a German you may assume that you will be
totally comfortable in Austria, since you speak the language, but the reality
may be different (as many Germans find out). A French national moving to
French-speaking Canada may also be in for a surprise.

You may assume that you can handle any move just
because you’ve moved before
. Every
move is different because every country, every culture, every society is
different and they present different challenges. There are, of course, many
similarities among international moves, but you still need to keep an open mind
and be prepared to do the transition work – not to mention the homework prior
to the move.
That said, there is an advantage to having gone through
several moves: you are more likely to be familiar with the stages of
adjustment (think of it as something like the stages of grief J). Roughly, there is the initial excitement and busyness
of the move; there is the “oh-my-God-what-have-I-done” phase; the homesick and
lonely phase; and finally (hopefully!) the phase when you feel settled and
comfortable. It helps to know what’s ahead and what you can look forward to.
When you are sad, missing your friends, it is consoling to think that this is
only a time-limited phase that you will get over, eventually. Knowing that
there is a curve and what part of the curve you are on helps you look forward
to the next phase.

You need to have realistic expectations about work. If you are moving because of a new job, it’s
important that you have an idea how intense your first months on the job are
going to be and how much time you will have available to invest in the
transition process. If you are moving with your family, that will make it
easier for you to budget reasonable – but crucial – amounts of time to help them

It helps if everyone in on the same page. While we are on the subject, I cannot stress enough
how important it is that expectations are aligned within the family, especially
between partners. If you’re going to be killing yourself at work for the first
few months of the move, it helps if the rest of the family knows that and is prepared –
especially your partner who is going to do the bulk of the (moving) work. Being
the latter person in this upcoming move, I find that knowing in advance what kind of
support I will (or will not) – have in managing the move and settling down helps
me anticipate and plan ahead, while avoiding tension and resentment.
If there are children
involved, it is essential to anticipate how they are likely to deal with the
move, so that you can support them as much as possible. For example, besides
the fact that children can have a wide range of reactions depending on their
personalities, it helps to know that often their reaction is time-delayed, or
that it can take them up to a year to adjust fully.
I am trying to keep an
open mind about what’s ahead. I know that I will need to work hard and I try to
prepare for that as much as I can. I know that I will have to be there for the
children and support them in their adjustment process, even if that means that
I will have to pretend to be a little less lonely or sad or homesick than I am
in reality. I also know that, if I am open to it, eventually I will feel good
in my new “home.” I am just hoping it will take me less than nine years this
How do you deal with
expectations when going through a move?

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