According to the internet (and Princeton University), there are 4 stages of cultural adjustment. The first stage is known as the Honeymoon, where everything is not only new, but also exciting and interesting and the traveler feels "Euphoric." He/she finds interest in the slightest details of the new environment. He/she is motivated to learn and experience new things. He/she feels like he/she isn't going to have any problems adjusting. I would say for Jess and me, that period is over.
We have moved into the second stage: Culture Shock. This period is marked by the traveler's frustration at small problems. Feelings of helplessness and stress pervade. He/she is homesick and misses family and friends. That's us. The past week has been challenging for us, to say the least. Issues with obtaining my visa, a lack of communication regarding important work related details, kids getting sick...and all the while, you just wish you could go hiking or get on your bike, or just not drive through clouds of blue exhaust. It all came to a head for me last week driving back and forth between my work and Jess' school and thinking about the endless hoops of visa paperwork and signatures and stamps and at the same time realizing that the one thing I did not want to happen was happening: I had recreated the same busy and stressful life I had back in Bozeman in 6 short weeks of being here. Now I need to undo what I have done. I need to say no to people and not work as much as they want me to.
For Jess, just having had her 40th birthday this weekend, I think she misses home more than anyone. Despite a nice weekend up north gazing at the Mekong River and wondering about life on the other side, the happiness was tempered by the absence of old friends and family. We are both feeling a little trapped by the language and cultural barriers that exist whether you notice them at first or not. Little things that are so easy to do at home turn into frustrating obstacles here. And in the end, you realize this is all temporary, so why stress yourself out? As I said, say "no" to people to give yourself the right amount of responsibility and obligation and enjoy the rest of your time doing what you love to do. That applies to everyone, not just those living for a year abroad.
Stages 3 and 4 in our cultural adjustment will come eventually. We will gain perspective and start to feel more at home here. But right now, the little things that we perceive as "illogical" or "inefficient" are driving us crazy. As a brief example, I have to get on a bus tomorrow morning and go to Chiang Mai, three and a half hours away, to go to the U.S. Consulate in order to swear in an affidavit that I am married to Jessica. Immigration here considers that more valid than the actual marriage certificate. Then I will travel three and a half hours back to Chiang Rai, and even after that, I may or may not have to leave the country at some point in the future, just to turn around and come back into the country as a tourist before I can get a work visa. According to Princeton University, at some point in my adjustment, I will understand this and accept it, but I'm telling you, right now it seems like that stage is pretty far off.
Until then, we will go to school and work, go on adventures, continue to meet new people, learn about our new country, and have fun; but we will also continue to miss home like hell.
The best neighbors we could ask for while we are living abroad!