Strike camp and get moving
Your spouse has just received a long-awaited and highly-deserved promotion. Elation all around. Success radiates like the warming rays of sunshine. (First stage—initial euphoria.)
“What warming rays of sunshine?” The ones you will be bronzing under in your glorious, fun-filled, adventure-packed sojourn in, that’s right, San Perdido en el Espacio valise (as in pack mine, I am going home to mother!). (Second stage—irritability and hostility.)
If this little scene sounds familiar, you are a survivor of overseas living. No matter how many times you have made a move, culture shock is an inevitable and unavoidable part of the process.
Some people make the transition easily and naturally, these are the few, the blessed. Or as one of those cute little sayings to be bought in tourist gift shops puts it: “If you can keep your head in this mess, you just don’t understand the situation.”
For the rest of us, the trauma will take its toll over a period of several months, even as long as a year.
Too many multinational companies are ignorant of, or choose to ignore, the vital need for preparation in dealing with the complex issues involved in living overseas. The tools needed to make the cross-cultural experience an enjoyable one are available. If you have not been given advice in this area, it is strongly recommended that you seek it out for yourself at all costs.
Where can you find assistance here in Santo Domingo?
If you are making your first move or have several under your belt, no matter, run to the offices of Cecaf and ask for an appointment with their counsellor Patricia Zwier. Patricia has recently completed a course in English entitled “Personal and Career Development in a New Environment.” She has several other courses available including stress management, Calle 27 de Febrero 363/Centro Shalom, Tel. 566-7593.
Entrena S.A. has a complete cross-cultural training program especially designed to equip the newcomer with language skills and a better understanding of the Dominican culture through a knowledge of its history, political systems, and its social customs. One of the finest antidotes for culture shock is knowing as much as you can about your host country. For more information, contact them by writing to P. O. Box 20369, Santo Domingo, or call them on 567-8990.
Gradual adjustment (third stage) eventually gives way to adaptation and biculturalism. (Bingo, this is the fourth and last stage; you are almost a native.) So unpack that valise in your assigned country—your new home—and begin to enjoy the wonderful experience that lies ahead. No, it is not exactly like back home; if it was, there would not have been any reason to leave; it is different and as someone once said... “and He saw that it was good.”
To be practical, what should you do when you get news of a transfer? First, being part of the decision to move involves all the members of the family. There is nothing worse than feeling like a puppet on a string. After all, there are choices that can be made.
Once you decide to accept a move, make sure you tell your children first, if they have reached the age of reason. This will vary, of course. They need to hear the news from you, not from someone else’s mother. They possess “radar” and will know almost immediately something is up. So the sooner, the better.
Get the atlas out. Chart routes to and from your new country, look for books with lots of pictures.
Sally Galán is a veteran mover and suggests that even if you have to pay for the children’s air fares, take them with you when you plan a reconnaissance trip. It helps them as much as it helps you. They will be most interested in seeing the school, which should be advised of your impending arrival and arrange to have any tests taken and places reserved. Take relevant documentation with you from the present school.
Study the school calendar and make travel plans accordingly. If you can defer your move until the end of the school year, this is the best choice. Otherwise, look for a natural break such as the end of the semester. It is an “ending” in itself and makes the separation recognizable and easier to cope with. Work out arrangements with your children for a goodbye party for their friends, and perhaps design a special friendship book in which they can collect photos and addresses.
The dates you decide upon will be your guidelines for the timing of the tasks ahead.
1) Contact your travel agency and work out the optimum travel days and times allowing for overnight stops on long trips. Sometimes it is possible to plan a layover of several days and give yourself a vacation en route.
2) Contact several moving companies. Many corporations insist on three quotations from movers, from which they reserve the right to choose the least expensive. Once you know who has won the bid, talk to people and find out if anyone has any personal experience with them. If all you hear are horror stories, present your case to the company. It is in their best interest to listen. Check how many days it will take to complete the job, and if they work on weekends. Then book your moving days.
3) Decide when you must inform your landlord you will be vacating the premises. Some tenants have a three-month deposit pending and you may decide to stop payment for those last months.
4) Contact the consulate or embassy of the new host country. Find out the visa and work contract requirements and if you have a pet, the relevant importation requirements.
5) Make hotel reservations in both countries.
6) Get health records from your doctor and dentist.
7) Cancel your bank account and credit cards.
8) Insure your personal possessions—jewelry and silver can be valued for insurance purposes at Joyería Charlie and Joyería Michelle in the Plaza Central (near the corner of Winston Churchill and 27 de Febrero). It is a good idea to take photographs of all your valuables.
If you are taking your furnishings and household goods, it is time to shed pounds on a slim down and lighten the baggage. It is time to go through your clothes, drawers, bookcases and dressers and mercilessly throw out all the junk. Remember, one man’s junk is another’s treasures. There will be no shortage of takers—the maids, the school, your friends, the church, the poor. This task can be repeated two or three times before D-day. You will be surprised at how ruthless you can become.
Make lists. Make one for everything. Make several. Revise them. Cross off completed tasks. But whatever you do, do not lose them. They provide you with a great sense of control. For example, the inventory list, sale items list, price list, rock bottom price list, replacement list, goodbye party list and one of all the people to send your change of address. Make a list of everything you need to sell. To decide what to charge, get an idea of prices for comparable items on the local market and figure out the depreciation.
Do remember that second-hand goods are not expected to fetch replacement prices. There is also a booming business in the reconstruction of used appliances from North America for resale. The quality and the prices are very good. Distribute the list among the employees of your company; they expect to have first choice and it works out well for you, too, if you never have to place an advertisement.
People who have lived in your newly assigned country will appear out of the woodwork. Find out how long ago they lived there, things change. Not everyone is the bearer of good news. An overly rosy picture, however, can be just as much of a let down as the person with a litany of bad experiences. Stick to facts, not opinions, by asking lots of specific questions about the schools, the climate, the lifestyle, housing, etc.
One last piece of advice before you leave: savour the things you have enjoyed the most here. Make lots of arrangements to meet and laugh with your friends. Go to your favorite beauty spot one last time, walk on the beach at sunset and be glad.