Like one of the Seven Dwarfs

For the past week or so I’ve been grumpy. Every day felt like a battle, especially when it came to teaching; parents were writing me notes, the Chinese teachers were asking me to do more, and my boss would come and talk to me about what I needed to do to improve. This translated into anxious scooter rides to work, frustrated scooter rides home, and flashes of anger in the most ridiculous circumstances. Many naps, copious amounts of chocolate, and outings with friends did nothing to alleviate the tension. My sister and I had a long Skype conversation one night, and I kept qualifying all my complaints as, “Well, the honeymoon’s over!”

Doc: Shh! Not so loud. You’ll wake her up.
Grumpy: Ah, let her wake up! She don’t belong here nohow!

I was beginning to agree with Grumpy.

Gretchen mentioned that a book she recommended I read before coming here said that I shouldn’t be grumpy for another month or two. I finally pulled out that book, which I had bought, but never read (oops), and skimmed through the pages. The more pages I turned, the more exasperated I became; this book was seemingly written in the eighties, and it was about as useful to me as if it were written in Chinese. I finally found a few pages about acclimating to the culture, but it was written for a family. “Indeed, the most familiar and warm thing you can bring with you from the old home is, and should be, your intrafamilial relationship. Strengthen it. Spend more time with your children and spouse, not less.”

Okay, genius, but what if I’m over here solo?

I was ready to throw the book across my room until a card I’ve been using as a bookmark caught my eye. My good friend Lesley had written in big, affirming letters, “You can do it!” I sighed, jammed the card into the book to mark the incredibly helpful pages, and turned to Google. I thought for a moment before typing in “culture shock”.

Wikipedia came first. “The shock of moving to a foreign country often consists of distinct phases, though not everyone passes through these phases and not everyone is in the new culture long enough to pass through all five.” Alright, so I’ve got different stages to go through with this move. Since I was in the gifted and talented program in elementary school, I’m sure I’m flying through them faster than normal expats.

“There are no fixed symptoms ascribed to culture shock as each person is affected differently.” Okay: first of all, Mr. Wikipedia, that sentence just rubs me the wrong way grammatically. I can’t figure out why. And second, that makes me feel better and worse. Sure, we’re all going to be affected differently, but Gretchen and I are on completely different ends of the spectrum. I can’t be THAT extreme, can I? Does that mean I’m smarter?

Assuring myself that I was being affected more negatively due to my above-average EQ and incredible maturity, I continued reading. At the bottom of the page I found a link to a company based in the United Kingdom called Kwintessential. Onward I went.

Here I found answers. There are four stages, according to Kwintessential: excitement, withdrawal, adjustment and enthusiasm. As I read the descriptions, I found myself nodding and feeling justified. I’m clearly in the withdrawal stage, in which I begin “to find things different, strange and frustrating”. The symptoms listed here, plus on another site I researched, put all the puzzle pieces into place. It explained my propensity to nap whenever possible, my quick flashes of anger in traffic (my “road rage” had quieted quite a bit in Austin, but here it was boiling), my readiness to throw in the towel at work – everything.

Last night I was able to talk about my thoughts with several foreigners, some of whom had similar experiences. Many of them mentioned that I was also working in very difficult schools. After my self-diagnosis earlier in the day, having others tell me that I was in a much more challenging situation than most expats here was a relief. It just emphasized that I was, truly, in the withdrawal stage. My feelings were justified. I felt like fist-pumping I was so happy.

When I woke up this morning, I felt renewed. As I ran my errands, I scooted around far slower than usual and walked slowly through the stores. It was like heaven was smiling at me… or sitting there, shaking its head, saying, “DUH.” Believe it or not, I actually found jeans. Jeans! In one of the stores I visited, there was one short rack hidden in the plus-sized section that had glorious sizes like XL, XXL, or, as I found out, my size: 4XL. On top of that, they have no sequins or glitter, and they were $15. That means the zipper will probably break in a couple of weeks, but I don’t care. They fit, they’re cheap, they’re mine.

I’m definitely not out of the second stage yet, but finding jeans really helps. That, and the fact that I’m becoming a pretty decent cook. The other night it was rigatoni, thin slices of beef, olive oil, basil pesto and feta cheese. Quick, easy, and freaking delicious. Now that I’m thinking about it… I might make it again tomorrow. That’ll start the week off on a good note. I get excited about my foods, man.

Chicken with pesto and garlic butter

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