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How Our Perception of Living in a New Country Changes Once We Get There

How Our Perception of Living in a New Country Changes Once We Get There

The Construal Level Theory states that the temporal perspective from which people view events has important and predictable implications for how they construe them. We tend to think of distant events in abstract terms and of events close at hand in concrete terms. For example, when a friend asks us to help them move apartments next weekend, we say yes because we think of the situation in abstract terms (doing something nice to help out a friend). However, as the day gets closer, we begin to think of the task at hand in more concrete terms (having to wake up early and drive across town, walking up and down 3 flights of stairs carrying heavy boxes, etc.) When the event is not so far in the future, the details of what we will actually have to do becomes more prevalent in our thinking about the event.

This idea can be applied to people who move to a new country. The idea of being in a different place is alluring: getting away from it all and starting a new life with none of the baggage you had at home. It’s easy to romanticize this notion, but by doing so our brain can sometimes skip over the difficulties that may come with the change. Then when the reality doesn’t perfectly match our expectations, we get upset and worry that we may have may the wrong decision.

Even the challenges of expat life can be viewed in an abstract way. For example, we may know that the new place we’re moving to will be cold, but we forget to think about what it’s really like to lace up your snow boots every morning, to trudge through snow, to pray for the light to change while standing on a street corner freezing. These little details are brushed over when we think of the cold weather far in the future. In the case of Barcelona, we may be aware that it can be difficult to deal with the bureaucracy, but we forget what it’s really like to be standing in a government office for hours, sweaty, tired, and irritable.

Although many of these obstacles are inevitable, we can work on improving the way in which we think about them. Research has shown that the best way is to imagine the long-term abstract benefits and positive aspects of the move, then the specific details of challenges you may face. This way you’re appreciating your overall goals and motives, but also bracing yourself for the little things that may make you question your decision. For example, you can say to yourself “this move will be good because I’ll broaden my horizons, get to experience different cultures, and meet lots of interesting people BUT I have to keep in mind that I’m also going to deal with the stress of packing and unpacking, the awkwardness of a language barrier, and the sadness of being homesick.” By having realistic expectations, you’ll be better equipped to deal with difficulties and can enjoy your experience.

If you’re struggling with your move to Barcelona, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with one of our trained therapists.

By Claire Suisman

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Email: info@therapyinbarcelona.com
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