“Everything you think is right can be wrong in another place” – Barbara Kingsolver.
Have you ever had your plans go completely haywire, leaving you shocked, confused, and really not sure where to go next?
Well, that’s what happened to me last week. I’d say I’m usually a mentally strong person, armed and ready for a challenge. However, I did not anticipate last week’s events, and it threw me into a dark place.
As many of you know, my plan was to finish the PhD off this summer. I had cancelled clients, found substitutes to fill in at work, limited university teaching and sadly taken a few months off devoting myself to this blog. Well, despite my intense efforts, 5 days before I was planning to submit, I was bombarded with a ton of corrections. Then, I was told that no extensions were possible. (Do they tell you about the absolute maximum and sudden inflexibility when you start the program? Nope).
I’d have to follow a bureacratic process, register in a new program, and defend in a year and a half (despite being a month or two from finishing).
I almost broke.
Read on to see how I didn’t…and how I’ve managed to regroup and focus on my real priorities.
Surviving A Culture Shock (Country or Organizational)
Here’s the thing about culture shock:
When you’ve been living in a place for awhile and are used to all the minor annoyances – and then something huge happens, it all resurfaces. The anger, the rage, the disbelief – and the big, and the tiny. Tiny annoyances – like how SLOWLY amd haphazardly people walk and how LOUD everything is here suddenly became unbearable.
Well, you say, I live in my home culture – culture shock doesn’t apply! Most of us do, but “culture” can refer to values and ways of life in a group, an organization, a society or a country. Fittingly, I’m teaching Cross Cultural Management this term and have a plethora of examples of cross-cultural differences. I read a quote this week (source unknown) that we should spend time with those who have a different perspective. I like that.
The most important recognition for me this past week was twofold:
First, this is temporary.
Breathing, and looking out into the future, this is only a hurdle. Whether I have a doctorate in 2019 or 2020 will not cause a dramatic shift in my life goals.
Second, non-constructive criticism can be a source of learning, not pain.
That is, I can write about the utter importance of constructive, workable criticism – and how to deal with it when you’re given the opposite.
Now, I’m not going to say more about the PhD until next year, when I have a completed degree in my hand. Then, you can watch out for some brutally honest posts ;).
It seems so simple, yet I find it difficult. If you have breathing techniques to share, please let us know in the comments!
2. Share Your Feelings About the Culture
Tell someone. Tell anyone. We simply can’t be alone in this.
It’s so tempting to wallow, isn’t it? Even if all we have energy for is a quick whatsapp chat, it’s worth it.
Spending an hour chatting with a friend about culture shock, or cuddling my beautiful lab, Kiara, gave me some comfort this week. This is temporary, and there is so much more to my life than 3 more letters behind my name.
3. Write A Gratitude Journal Entry
Actually, the last time I did this consistently was way back in 2011, when one of my best friends sadly passed away at the age of 27. It took a long of strength to do it, but the idea was simple:
Write a page full of statements beginning with “I am so happy and grateful that…” and you’ll see how our gratitude leaps off the page. Of course, this idea was popularized in the movie The Secret – but it’s been around for ages.
It’s true – with so much to be grateful for, making a concrete list really does put our hurdles into perspective. Reading the news helps, too. While it’s a bit depressing, we can see our stress as not so bad, after all.
This week, I’ll definitely be writing in my gratitude journal – about what I’m grateful for, despite the culture shock.
Steps To Get Yourself Back On Track After Culture Shock
1. Understand the Culture & Why You’re Lost
Okay, this is a tough one. It’s not easy to understand why the process and roles we experience here in Spain are so (appallingly, to me) different from the experiences of PhD students in the UK, US, and non-Mediterranean Europe. Why students’ services and the students’ union are a complete joke here, for example.
Perhaps it’s best to accept, and not speculate. (I’m being deliberately vague here, but in a year and a bit, I’ll unleash the details).
You may have seen my post on creating vision boards and visualizing, or on truly imagining the future. If so, you know I use this technique when I goal set every six months, setting my short, medium and long-term goals.
By the way, I’ve come across a new visualization technique I’ll be trying out soon, so stay tuned for that – and a TED Talk you can use with your students!
3. Share Your Plan with Others
Again, sharing and communicating our stress is often the best way to get ourselves through it. I came across this cartoon today, posted by the Dissertation Coach Facebook page (The original source could not be found. Please update me if you know it!)
Talk it out. Turn those muddled thoughts into carefully categorized feelings we can deal with. I can tell you that I definitely spent four of those five days constantly in contact with friends who had had a similar culturally-shocking PhD experience. Maybe I don’t quite feel completely healed, but I do feel a little less lost. I know I’ll definitely be taking advantage of therapeutic conversations as much as I can this term!
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Have you tried any of the techniques above? Do you have others to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Have a lovely and productive week!
P.S. Photography fans, the photo for today’s post (and poster!) is one I took in June, in Budapest, Hungary
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