The Expat Life Stages


When facing a major change in life like an international move – or any other change in our personal or professional life – we go through similar stages someone faces when having a serious illness, loss of a loved one or divorce.
The so called ‘Change Stages’ illustrated by the Norwegian sociologist Sverre Lysgaard back in 1955 by the use of a ‘u-curve’ describe the stages associated with a cross-cultural adjustment…

“Adjustment as a process over time seems to follow a U-shaped curve: adjustment is felt to be easy and successful to begin with; then follows a ‘crisis’ in which one feels less well adjusted, somewhat lonely and unhappy; finally one begins to feel better adjusted again, becoming more integrated into the foreign community.”

It is interesting – and for some: worrying! – that the stages every international goes through when moving abroad or facing major change, are actually based on Lysgaards model, which later was adopted by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s to describe the emotional stages in a model she introduced in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying which was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients.

The five stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance were considered very useful in a wide range of situations, like when children grieve in divorce, or when grieving a lost amorous relationship, grieving a substance abuse, and many more. – What they all have in common, are that these different stages don’t necessarily come in order and don’t always apply to everyone facing major change.

You can find these stages under different names: in the infograph here below, they’re called Honeymoon, Culture Shock, Gradual Adjustment, Competence, Mastery – with a slightly different in meaning and description.

Fact is, that everyone deals with change in a very personal and unique way, which makes transition so complex in families or groups and teams. It is up to the team leader, teacher, parent to make sure that all members are informed and taken care of during the different stages.

Some develop very individual coping strategies and have a more intellectual approach to change. – In regard to the so called “expat life stages” during transition, you can find many descriptions.

Another aspect to consider with these stages is, that for those who repatriate, the re-entry can be even more challenging than entering into a new country/life. – Why? Because the expectations are much higher: they usually talk the local language, look like locals, sometimes act like locals, but may not share the same experiences, preferences, tastes etc. like locals. Also, they may not understand the local slang (anymore or not yet), which makes them feel alienated and not belonging where they once “belonged”.

In my workshops I illustrate strategies based on latest research and personal experience because my goal is to help families to go through these phases in a healthy way and to adapt to the new life or new circumstance the best possible way. 

If you want to find out where exactly you’re standing right now on this curve, please get my International Life Assessment.








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