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 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 find- ing ways to work some “anchors” into your routine or weekly schedule. Anchors are things, places, or activities where you feel very comfortable and 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.
Counseling for Kids
Change is hard for anyone, and our children aren’t exempt from the frustrations and hardship that come with living abroad. Counseling services can offer professional support for every member of your family, and in Shanghai there are resources geared specifically towards ensuring your little ones have a space to navigate these exciting, and potentially difficult, times. Director and Founder of The Red- wood Development Center (www.rdc-sh.com), Bobby Wang, answers some common questions about counseling for children:
What are the benefits of counseling for children?
Every child is unique, which means that you won’t find the answers to perfect parenting on Google or Baidu. Counseling services provide support for parents, helping them to understand their child’s development. For children, it provides them with suggestions and strategies to overcome barriers to success and engage with the dynamic, stimulatory world that they live in.
How are counseling services for children different than for adults?
For children’s counseling services, we look at the child’s development, the accomodations of their school life, their psychological development and what the parents identify they are struggling with. Moreover, compared with adults, children are more receptive to change. Because of this, there are a range of different methods that are used to help a child adapt to various environments or prevent inappropriate behavior. Children’s counseling services also engage the parents, caregivers and teachers, ensuring that they are receiving consistent guidance and support in all areas of their life.
How should I talk to my child about seeing a counselor?
For younger children between 1-6 years old, you can tell them that they’re going to play a game, as fun and safety are great ways to introduce a positive relationship and elicit an understanding from the child. For children above the age of six, it’s best to lead with a positive attitude, while being honest and open about the notion that they are going to see a counselor.