I’ve been writing a lot about the little adjustments one has to make when moving to a new country–specifically, a European country with a large English-speaking population. There may be lots of cultural, linguistic, bureaucratic, legal and social differences, but after more than three months here, I think I can safely say that life in Switzerland is fairly easy for an American to adapt to without too much culture shock. I may have plenty to write about when I can’t find my favorite brand of cereal or when I forget the meaning of an unfamiliar traffic sign, but if I step back for a moment, I realize that I am merely dealing with variations on a culture that, in many ways, mirrors my own.
My situation was put in perspective a few days ago by the following news clip, which tells the story of a California woman who moved to rural India to be with her new husband, whom she met on Facebook:
This woman has not only changed countries–she has changed her fundamental way of life. As an American who has moved to Switzerland, I still drive a car, use the internet, and speak English on a daily basis. I go to the gym and watch TV, and I go to work from 9 to 5 in an office environment where women work alongside men for a salary. This news story leads me to believe that in moving to rural India, this woman has had to adapt to a life where none of these things are readily available to her. Talk about culture shock!
When I am under stress, it is the creature comforts that get me through the day. A large cup of coffee, a bubble bath, classical music, a run, a favorite movie, a phone call with a loved one.Without these things, the stresses of being away from my family in a new place would weigh on me even more heavily than they already do. I now find myself wondering what life must be like as a new American wife in rural India.
Is she learning the language from her husband? How does she communicate with her mother-in-law? What is it like being disconnected from smartphones and commercials? Does she still have an American bank account, or does she rely on her new husband financially? Does she miss running water and mattresses, or is it something you get used to after awhile?
Of course, the woman in this news story may be a genuine traveler–not a scrappy one. Maybe she is one of those lucky individuals who has a compass in their head and a knack for new languages, who never gets sick on unfamiliar foods and who gets bored if she stays in the same place for too long.
Maybe someday I could live for three months in India. But for now, Switzerland is enough of an adventure for me!