U’s and W’s

I’m 3 months into my new chapter of life in Europe.

One of my French teachers described the process of adjustment to life abroad as a “U” shape.  At first, the excitement of living in another country is fascinating and intoxicating.  After a time, the glitter and newness fades when you realize that the streets aren’t paved in gold.  You realize there are aspects of the society that bother you, the differences between this place and home become glaring, and perhaps it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Homesickness and depression might set in.  But as you learn to deal with and accept your new surroundings, you develop a keener sense of insight, you accept that which you may not like or understand, and (hopefully) find yourself at the happy place atop the “U” again.

I think that model is mostly accurate, but only when considering a shorter stay (1 year or less) in a foreign country.  My life in Japan looks somewhat like that “U” model.  But for a longer move abroad, I’d say the plane needs to be expanded to the right, to give a more accurate representation of the adjustment over time.  I think several years spent abroad looks more like “WWWW…”  The longer the period of time, the more W’s required.

Here at the 3-month point, I’d say I’m partway down the first side of the U, headed for the first downward dip.  By no means do I think I’m headed for a depressive slump—just a reality check.

There are many blogs out there with horror stories about expats discovering the uglier side of France and its maddening bureaucracy, once the novelty of baguettes and brie has worn off–that’s not what I want this blog to be about.

I believe I came into this experience with full knowledge that I’d be dealing with limited job options, frustrated fumbling for words, learning about the less enchanting aspects of French society, and prepared to stand out like the foreigner I am.  I knew I was headed toward an uncertain future with the looming possibility that I’d need to change my career.  (Not surprisingly, being an English teacher isn’t a very useful trade in a country with little enthusiasm for foreign languages.)  So when I say that I’m on the first downward slant, I mean to say that while the situation grows more difficult, I know enough to keep my eye on the next peak of the “U.”  I’m bracing for the rough impact of joblessness, while remembering that there will be an employer who will give me a “yes” eventually.  I realize there will be many more misunderstandings and awkward language mistakes; I understand that those mistakes, however embarrassing they are, are necessary steps toward fluency and I shouldn’t worry about being judged as stupid.  For every person I speak with that loses patience with me or aborts the conversation, there will be another who appreciates and respects my efforts in speaking French.

I don’t know how many W’s I’m going to have to go through in France.  But I’m glad for the U’s and W’s I’ve collected over the years in Asia, that gave me the perspective I need to approach life in France with a responsible, realistic outlook.


  1. This is so true! After more than 25 years here I think I must have climbed and slipped down hundreds of Ws. But when I’m standing on the top right-hand side of one I just love being here! Love your metaphors Larissa. Love your writing.

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