My first taxi ride into Shanghai, more than seven years ago, was unforgettable. About 15 minutes from the airport we started to see high-rise apartment buildings and I remember thinking, “Great, we must already be close to downtown.” Then another 40 minutes passed before we actually arrived downtown. I was completely blown away by the vastness of this place. I remember thinking, “Wow, so this is what 22 million people looks like.”
Shanghai is truly an impressive city, but sometimes it can be over- whelming. Not just in terms of size, but also in terms of adjusting to somewhere that’s very different from what we’re used to. One of the first things to note when understanding cultural adjustment is that there is no “normal” reaction to living in a new culture. Some people take to it right away like fish to water, some find it a continual challenge, and some have an experience that is a mix of the two.
Embracing opportunities to learn as much as possible about the new place can go a long
way in feeling comfortable. We tend to fear what we do not know or understand, so by learning some Chinese, getting out and seeing the city, or doing a local cooking workshop, we are able to begin to get to know the place and its people a bit better. This can go a long way toward feeling more comfortable here.
Another thing that can be pivotal in adjusting is finding ways to work some “anchors” into your routine or weekly schedule. Anchors are things, places or activities where you find that you feel very comfortable and that you can be yourself; whatever gives you a sense of connectedness and calm. These anchors can be anything from a cozy café or a yoga class, to weekly lunch with new friends or spending time re-reading favorite books. Striking a balance between going in and outside of our comfort zone by learning more about this new place, but also spending time with our comfortable anchor points gives us the opportunity to stretch our limits in a healthy way.
Sometimes, however, it can happen that we feel our limits have been stretched too far, particularly when we are away from family and friends back home whom we normally count on for support. If you find that things begin to feel out of balance, for example if your relationship is feeling strained, you’re not sleeping well, or you find it hard to be engaged with your daily routine, it can be helpful to reach out. The Shanghai International Mental Health Association (www.s-imha. com) is an organization that maintains an online directory of qualified mental health professionals in Shanghai. It’s a good place to start.