Whatever the reason for uprooting from the land where you were born and bred, whether it is for financial reasons, a change of scenery, for career progression or to escape persecution, relocating to another country impacts every aspect of life.
My MAPP research (Zahavi, 2020) looked at the lived experiences of single Anglo women over fifty, as new immigrants to Israel. Having had careers and families, I was curious about how my participants would manage the cultural change alone and what the experience would mean to them. They all described a journey which was challenging, frustrating, but also deeply rewarding in terms of personal growth.
Following in my participants’ footsteps
I was especially fascinated by the experiences of the women I interviewed, as I had always planned to make this journey for myself. After years of talking and dreaming about it, in July 2020, in a face mask and visor and with copious amounts of Covid-19 resistant alcogel, this is what I did.
Aside from relocating during a global pandemic, when nothing is as we would expect it to be, not one aspect of life; work, relationships or social integration has gone as planned. So here I am, in this land of Middle Eastern heat, hummus and blue skies, in my early fifties, learning a whole new way of being.
Acculturation can be a bumpy but beautiful ride
Kalervo Oberg’s (1958) study describes four stages of the process of acculturation: the honeymoon phase, culture shock, adjustment, and adaption. The initial honeymoon period is a time full of wonder and joy at falling in love with new surroundings, people, food, in fact, new everything. Once this initial excitement has passed, there is often a gradual realisation of the enormity of the differences to an immigrant’s old life. Language barriers, finding suitable work, fitting in socially, all the things we might take for granted in our birth country are no longer the same. Oberg describes this phenomenon as culture shock. Many immigrants experience this as a significant downward dip in the curve of wellbeing levels, often reporting distress and anxiety. Some may even return to their birth country.
Adaptation can lead to positive psychological growth
There are undoubtedly going to be difficult times, however, many psychological studies concentrate solely on the negative aspects of relocating. Yet, as Cobb et.al. (2019) found in their recent research, even when the going is tough, relocation often leads to an immense sense of achievement, increased wellbeing, and positive psychological growth.
As I have found out for myself, the real process of adjustment begins when immigrants draw on resources such as personal strengths, character traits and positive psychological interventions, to help with building and maintaining resilience and finding ways through difficulties. Overcoming challenges allows life to settle into a new kind of rhythm and the immigrant settles into their new self-identity. Life in the host country becomes the new normal as adaptation occurs and six months into my own journey, I can relate to every stage of this process.
Some tips for positive coping
I have found many positive ways of coping, which have helped get me through challenges I had no idea I would have to face, and my coping playbook includes many of the positive psychological interventions I have learned and practised; mindfulness moments, expressing gratitude and even having the courage to be able to sit in the tough stuff and know that it will pass. So, after some trials and plenty of errors, here are my top 3 tips for managing the start of a new life in a new country:
Ask for help
I, like many of us, am notoriously bad at this and have always liked to ‘do it myself’. If ever there is a time to admit vulnerability and ask for help, it is when you are navigating how life works in a new country, (particularly in the middle of a pandemic!) with little of the local language. I am grateful that by nature, Israelis are often direct and to the point, but also incredibly warm-hearted and more than happy to help. Wherever your journey might take you, if help is offered from the heart, take it, and if it is not, then ask!
Learn from someone who did it before you
Israel is a land of immigrants and there are always people to learn from, which really makes a difference. Learning how to navigate the banking system, bureaucracy, even how and where to shop, can help with getting past the culture shock stage. I have gathered all kinds of tips from lovely people who did this journey before me, and every little bit of information has helped me manage life here more easily. If there is a way to avoid struggling, then take it.
Be kind to yourself
This is perhaps the most important tip of all. I have a friend here who reminded me one day, while I was still in the ‘honeymoon phase’ that each little achievement is a ‘little victory’. Those words have helped me stay focused on making life work here, even when it has been, and still can be really challenging. So, instead of being impatient with yourself, talk to yourself with kindness. It is completely normal to have to adjust to life but being kind to yourself can help with enjoying your new surroundings. Remember to pat yourself on the back frequently.
The journey is worth it
As a recent immigrant, I am glad I made the move. I have a lot more to achieve and a lot more to learn but that is part of the joy of relocation and I can recommend it. Now that I am finding ways to navigate life here, the wellbeing curve is on the way back up. The journey is bumpy, beautiful, and probably one of the most exciting adventures of my life.
Cobb, C.L., Branscombe, N.R., Meca, A., Schwartz, S.J., Xie, D., Zea, M.C., Molina, L.E. and Martinez Jr,
C.R., (2019). Toward a positive psychology of immigrants. Perspectives on psychological
science, 14(4), pp.619-632.
Oberg, K. (1958). Culture Shock and Problems of Adjustment. Journal of Practical Anthropology, (7), 117-
Zahavi, M. (2020). Resilient relocation: The experience of single Anglo women over 50 as recent immigrants to Israel. Psychreg Journal of Psychology, 4 (2): 63-69
Read about Monique Zahavi and her other articles HERE