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Falling Leaves and Culture Shock

I’ve now been in Maastricht for six months and have seen the city pass from spring, into a moderately warm summer, and now into autumn. The leaves haven’t really started to change yet, but there are the occasional patches of yellow or brown. The trees outside my window don’t give me a lot of hope for a brilliant foliage season and I imagine the rain knocks a lot of leaves down quickly.

What has really gotten to me is how much darker it seems outside. While it got warmer and the days longer from April to August, it was unseasonably dry and I got use to the weather being a comfortable constant and the sun going down around 10 pm. Now it is dark at 7 am when we get up and grayer outside with more rain. I don’t know how, but autumn really sneaked up on me and now I’m scrabbling to adjust my brain to the new season.

I’m not typically affected by the changing of seasons. I was born in Alaska and grew up in Vermont and neither are particularly sunny locals in the winter months. But as it gets colder and darker here in Maastricht, I’ve been feeling down and thinking a lot about the stages of culture shock and where I seem to be in that continuum. I think that the change in light and rain frequency is hitting me harder this year because I am also more isolated. Here at 6th months is when the “Depression” stage is suppose to set in and I can feel that. Now that all my distracting holiday trips are over, and the simple excitement of figured out where to grocery shop or buy bulbs has faded, it is harder to avoid feeling down and rather alone.

Of course stages implies that I will eventually come out the other end into the so-called “Acceptance” stage, but they also imply a level of passivity that I’m not terribly comfortable with. If I just passively wait to move from one stage to the next, how will I learn anything? What if it never happens? I’d rather be in control.

Which is why I liked the short post from the Global Coach Center in one of my LinkedIn groups. They suggested thinking about culture shock as a collection of perspectives because a perspective can be changed. Of course perspectives can go from positive to negative too, so by adopting this concept of culture shock you have to accept that you won’t just reach a zen state of acceptance and then be a peace with your new surroundings forever.

Really, I can see where both of these concepts come together. Culture shock does feel like stages sometimes, but if you take control of yourself in those stages you can choose how to handle them.

For me, I’m forcing myself to get out for Maastricht activities more, after a long period of travel, and taking some classes to keep my brain engaged. This month I’m learning about Information Entrepreneurship in preparation for staring my own business (more on that later) and my language course will finally be starting in November. I hope the Dutch course will help me overcome my fear of starting to use Dutch in my day to day activities. And I’m still looking for work, since I’m much happier when I’m working (and getting paid). While I’m feeling down now, I’m hoping that these activities will help me change my perspective and carry me through the dark winter months of our first year as expats.

And as for the dark? Now seems like a good time to get that central fan/light fixture I’ve got my eye on. And maybe a light with a timer that will wake me up in the morning by getting brighter.

2 Responses to “Falling Leaves and Culture Shock”

  1. globalcoachcenter says:


    Thank you for linking back to my post in your post. If you ever need help with the perspectives and culture shock, let me know. I’d love to help you. I’ve been coaching people through these things for many years. But if coaching isn’t for you, the e-book I wrote on Culture Shock may help. It takes the reader through the perspectives exercise and adds two more useful tools. More info on it here:

    Good luck!

  2. Melissa says:

    I really enjoyed your post as well as the useful links you provided. I am American, my husband Dutch and we will be moving to Maastricht in Jan/Feb 2010. He grew up in a small village near Masstricht and also received his degree from the University so it holds a very special place for him…of course not to mention his large family all live within an hour of one another! SOO, we’re finally taking the leap and moving to be close to his family. I’ve been following your blog for a while as well as other American expats in NL and they have all been very useful! As much as I have loved all of our visits over the last 7 years…I also know living there will be a completely different journey…I’ve been gathering info in hopes that I will have a more realistic picture of what life will be like for us!!
    So thanks for all your blog posts and helping a soon to be expat along the way!