Spinning in Circles & Getting Your Bearings

It’s always a pleasure to “bump” into other expats who get what you are writing about and today’s guest post comes from one such person. Janese Carstons is a transition coach whose speciality is helping expats in their first year. Here she writes about what helped her when she first moved to China.

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“When facing north, the ocean is on the right so it’s East!” I exclaimed as I was pointing out the direction we needed to go to get back to our new apartments. My teammate and I lived in a coastal city in China and we were finishing our first trip out to the market and back by bike. She was spinning in circles, literally, trying to see which way we needed to go and I was pointing in the opposite direction because it was the way home. I can’t help it but I always know which direction I’m headed – at least using cardinal points.

There we were in the middle of a market’s parking lot, when it struck me – the first weeks after transitioning overseas IS spinning in circles while trying to get your bearings.

Moving is always a flurry of activities, emotions, and lists – so many lists. However, in the midst of the moving chaos, I imagined my life in the new culture. I’ll admit it, I’m an idealist when it comes to the future and the amazing potential there is in it.

But that future I envisioned had become reality and it wasn’t as idyllic as I had imagined. I’m sure that is ‘shocking’ to all of you but here are two main reasons it wasn’t ideal.

First, I brought myself with me…not the ‘perfect’ version I wanted to be in my head. I brought my emotions, my quirks, and all my imperfections. I was still excited for the adventure but for some reason, I thought I would morph into this amazing new person on the 14-hour plane ride. Instead, I was jetlagged, emotionally fatigued, and couldn’t understand enough Mandarin to get me to a toilet if I really needed it. The idea of “perfect” crash landed the moment I stepped foot in China.

Second, I did not step into the China I envisioned in my head. You can be told by multiple people the good, the bad, and the amazing about the new country/culture you’re moving to but you’re going to experience it for yourself; and your journey in this new land will not be the same as anyone else’s experience. It’s unique to you – how you see it, how you interact with it, and how you accept it. I’d like to say I moved without expectations, which I did for the most part, but I didn’t move without biases…even ones I didn’t know I had.

Yes, these two reasons popped my idealistic bubble, and yes, it needed to be popped so once it did I was able to stop spinning in circles and start focusing on getting my bearings.

Here are the top 3 ways to stop spinning and start focusing:

1) Be humble and forgiving – to yourself first and to everyone else second

You have just leapt into an incredible opportunity. Your world has been rearranged so of course you feel discombobulated from the world you just left. You’re normal so stop expecting yourself to be more than you can be at this moment in time. It will pass and you’ll continue to grow in ways you’ve never imagined you were capable of doing in your life.

2) Know yourself – be aware of what makes you, You

Moving to another culture is a great opportunity to assess how your values and behaviors are congruent, or not, with each other. Remind yourself of what you like to do, don’t like to do, and why; so that you can move into this new culture with integrity of who you are because you won’t fit the mold of whatever new culture you’re going in to. Just remember that moving overseas usually heightens your challenges rather than removing those challenges.

3) Determine where your areas of influence are in relation to your current consciousness and competence

There are six areas of influence on a person that engages their energy at all times: Emotional, Physical, Social, Environmental, Mental, and Spiritual

There are two additional areas of influence on a person who has moved to a new culture:
Culture and Language

Each of these eight areas of influence are directly related to how conscious and competent you are in each one. There are four stages of consciousness and competence and keep in mind that you’ll be in different stages for all of the eight areas of influence. They are independent of one another.

  1. A) Unconscious Incompetence – You don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. B) Conscious Incompetence – You realized that you’re not as expert as perhaps you thought you were or could be.
  3. C) Conscious Competence – You steadily learn about the new area through experience or more formal learning.
  4. D) Unconscious Competence – You no longer have to think about what you’re doing and are competent without a significant amount of effort.

Based on this information, you can become more aware of how you’re perceiving yourself within the new culture as well as make any changes you believe are needed with who you are in this new culture.

Overall, the greatest thing you can do for yourself within the first few weeks of your move is to focus inward for your bearings. Outside of yourself will continue to spin until you can move with intention in the direction you desire because that direction will be congruent with your values, behaviors, and energy in each area of influence.

To get a copy of the free EICC Audit or the free copy of “Making the Move Manageable” go to www.janesecarstens.com or email Janese at janesecarstenscoaching@gmail.com.

 

Biography

Janese Carstens is an international transition coach who is dedicated to supporting sojourners during their move overseas and setting them up to thrive during their first year in their new country. Her clients would say that her REAL specialty is understanding them through the chaos and confusion as they stretch into their ‘new normal.’

For more information on Janese and her weekly blog go to www.janesecarstens.com or follow her page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jccoachinginternational/.

 

Memorable Journey #6: 28 Hours on the Trans-Mongolian Express

Epic train journeys – they’re the stuff of many true travellers’ fantasies. I know I have always wanted to do one of those mega-trips, the ones that you read about in the travel section of the Sunday papers and think ah, one day….But actually are they a bit over-romaticised? I’m sure if you’re willing to take out a second mortage on your house, you can still pay for one of those ultra-luxury Orient Express affairs and traverse the countryside in proper style. But how about doing one of those famous trips without the four-course dinners and the viewing lounges? What is it really like? For the latest in my Memorable Journeys series, we hear from Rachel of Persephone’s Blog – who actually wrote this half way through her amazing trip from China (where she has been teaching) to the UK. 

MONGOLIA, Ulaanbaatar, Railway station

MONGOLIA, Ulaanbaatar, Railway station

Travelling from Beijing, China, to Ulan-Bator, Mongolia, could have taken a few short hours on a plane. However, myself and the two friends I was travelling with decided that a trip on the Trans-Mongolian Express train would be a better idea.

I know it’s a long way, but I think calling it ‘express’ is being a bit overambitious.

We were picked up from our hotel at 9.30am by the tour guide and driver who had been organised by the company we’d booked our travels with. The guide seemed nice enough but also didn’t seem to pay any attention to what we said to him. He started explaining that we would have to walk to the end of the street as the driver couldn’t drive up such a narrow street; we told him we’d been there for three days and were dropped off in the same place when we arrived so we knew about walking to the corner, but he paid no attention, even to me saying, “We know. We know. We know!” In the end we just let him talk. It was easier.

Arriving at Beijing Train Station we had to queue for about 15 minutes for our passports and tickets to be checked before being allowed through to security for our bags to be scanned – just like at the airport. We then had to wait for our guide to be allowed through (as he didn’t have a ticket), even though by the time he caught up with us we had found out where we needed to go and which platform our train was leaving from. Not that difficult, really, if you know your train number and time of departure.

After picking up a few snacks and drinks for the journey, we got to the platform entrance only to find that the platform wasn’t open yet and many other people were also waiting there with suitcases, rucksacks and random boxes. So began the first of many periods of waiting on our journey.

The platform was opened after a while and we eventually found the carriage and compartment that were due to be ours for the next 28 hours or so. Luckily for us, no one else joined us in the tiny four berth compartment, which gave us a little more space. We departed promptly at 11.22am, Beijing time.

Once the train had got going, one of the guards came to our compartment and gave us tickets – for food, we discovered – lunch and dinner, which was a nice surprise. Lunch consisted of rice, cabbage and some kind of meat with carrots in a nice sauce – much better than many meals I’ve had on flights and the like. We were lucky we went straight to lunch as soon as we got the tickets as otherwise we wouldn’t have got a table. There was really not enough space for everyone that wanted food at the same time. In some ways this ended up being a good thing, as then we started chatting with some of the other passengers.

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The afternoon consisted of reading (I finished my book), looking at the passing scenery, taking occasional photos and chatting, until 5.30pm came around and it was time for dinner – which was very similar to lunch. However, this time we had wine with our meal (Great Wall wine which cost £4.50 a bottle and we had to add coke to, Spanish style, to make it drinkable). We chatted with a few more people and ended up ordering another bottle of wine (plus three cans of coke) as we watched the beautiful colours of the sky as the sun set over a vast plain.

Our conversation was only interrupted by a guard coming to tell us that we were nearly at the Chinese border and we had to go back to our compartments (in broken English, “Now, border, go,” with accompanying hand gestures). We shortly arrived in Erlian, had our passports and departure forms collected and then had another passenger told us we should get off the train as we would be stopped for hours with no available toilet. Accordingly, we disembarked and went into the main building… only to watch our train disappear down the tracks with all our luggage and passports and the doors be locked behind us. Slightly disconcerting.

I checked with one of the staff and she told us that the train would be back at 11.45pm as the wheels were being changed (due to different gauge tracks in different countries). The time then was about 10.40pm and we’d already waited almost an hour, so we decided it would be a good idea to go to the shop and buy vodka to keep us going!

The train eventually reappeared around midnight. We piled back on, got our passports back, were given another form to fill in for Mongolian customs, waited for ages then set off about an hour later on a short journey (about 20 minutes) to the Mongolian border. More officials then walked the train, checking and collecting passports, disappeared while the train moved backwards then forwards, backwards again, forwards again then stopped. We got our passports back with a small green stamp on a random page at the back. All this time we couldn’t use the toilets, and by then it was 2.40am. Sleep? Who needs sleep?! Thankfully, we didn’t have to get up at any particular time as we wouldn’t be arriving in Ulan-Bator until after 3pm the next day.

Around 3am we finally got to sleep, lulled by the rocking of the train. To be honest, I didn’t sleep that well but that was due more to the hardness of the bench I was sleeping on than anything else to do with the train.

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After a few false starts, I awoke properly just before 10am. The landscape was dramatically different. We’d been talking the day before about the changing landscapes we went through and whether Mongolia would look significantly different to China – and it was. Before we’d travelled through mountains, past lakes, through cities and past agricultural areas, all overshadowed by a misty sky the whole day. Mongolia was a vast, burnt umber plain disappearing into the distance as far as you could see, with a few cows grazing here and there, surmounted by clear blue skies with not a cloud in sight. It was breath-taking.

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A few hours later, spent mostly reading and snacking on the random junk food we’d picked up, we arrived in Ulan-Bator. We were finally in Mongolia, the second stop on an epic summer adventure. The next day we would go to visit and stay with a local family for two nights, sleeping in a ger out in the countryside. I couldn’t wait!

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Thank you Rachel for sharing what certainly must have been a very memorable journey – I hope the rest of it went well (and maybe we’ll hear about the second part of your trip in a future post!). Remember, you can check out oter posts in my Memorable Journey series by clicking on the tag below – and do let me know if you have a Memorable Journey you would like to share with me and my readers!

Survival tips for new expats

“Staying inside feeling like you may as well be on Mars is only going to make you feel more isolated. Each day you’ll gain the courage to explore that little bit further.”

Arriving somewhere new is always daunting. But if you not only don’t speak the language, you can’t even recognise the letters, how do you cope? Especially if home is a hotel and you’ve got a three-year-old daughter to entertain?

Here, fellow Expat Focus columnist Nicole Webb shared her strategy. Do you agree?