Settling in: #5. Growing familiarity

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Our very ‘familiar’ family time is at a hotel that has a pool and cafe for treats.

Even in a short time it’s amazing how a foreign place can start to feel familiar. The school run, though only doing it for a few months, feels very familiar. Our route to language school also feels very familiar. The Khmer meals that our house helper cooks are less new and different and there are now some meals that we get very excited about when she is making them. And we’ve gotten used to living in our Cambodian house; each week it feels more and more like home.

This was brought home (hehe) to me a couple of weeks back. We managed to get out of Phnom Penh for the first time since we arrived in January. We couldn’t have done it without our good friends (locals) who helped us experience some more of Cambodia. But it was on the return trip that something struck me: We were returning ‘home’ to something familiar; familiar house and routine. We were coming home. There was a new sense in that word having left Phnom Penh for the first time and then return.

There’s still more to do and get used to in the house. There’s still much more to explore in Phnom Penh and much more to see in the countryside. Yet, its surprising how the different moves to familiar. With familiarity comes a joy and relaxedness. The stress hormones get a slight break and you’re able to function in a different way. In this sense, there’s not just joy in the new, but joy in the not-so-new as we settle into patterns and friendships that have enough history to make us feel like we’re not at square one. Things go from new to the new normal.

Settling in: #1. Newness tiredness

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We’re being very ‘Cambodian’ in combating our newness tiredness.

Overseas tiredness is different from tiredness in your own country. While being too busy is present in both, there is one major difference; as you settle into a new country everything is new.

In your own country there’s a mix of new and old. Often the old is easy to do–we do it without thinking about it. How many people driving in Sydney for 10 years get stressed by ‘the scariness of driving in Sydney.’1

In a new country, everything is new, nothing is old. Which means everything is hard work. Even the little things that you wouldn’t think about as hard, are tiring. One example is shopping. Where do you go to get food? You can’t get it all in one place. There is often one place for one thing and another place for the next thing. None of this is one stop shop; more like one thing per shop. It hurts your head just trying to figure these simple things out. So overseas tiredness could be better termed ‘newness tiredness’.2 Gradually things change. But in the beginning you’re hit with all the new.

We were told in training, ‘expect to sleep 2 hours extra each night overseas just to get by on the day to day.’ We’ve certainly experienced that. But Sam and I also employed two other strategies to combat newness tiredness (at least we did in the early days). Our first strategy was to just aim to do one thing per day. If you get more than that done, you’ve done well… but maybe too well (you’ll pay for it tomorrow). So really it’s ‘well done’ if only the one thing gets done.

Our other strategy is to think long term. We have the privilege of being here long term, which means we don’t have to try and cram everything in all at once. The result of this is that going slow is not only doable but will enable us to stay long term.

This newness tiredness doesn’t disappear overnight. Even after you’ve ‘settled in’ there’s still more ‘new’. In that sense, the newness tiredness hangs around indefinitely.

 


  1. There may be other reasons for why you are stressed while driving in Sydney. 
  2. Not only are you physically and intellectually tired, but you’re emotionally drained. Your senses are pumped full with new. Your values take a hit as you get used to a new culture and new way of living with different goals and values inherent in their way of doing.