Spinning in Circles & Getting Your Bearings

It’s always a pleasure to “bump” into other expats who get what you are writing about and today’s guest post comes from one such person. Janese Carstons is a transition coach whose speciality is helping expats in their first year. Here she writes about what helped her when she first moved to China.


“When facing north, the ocean is on the right so it’s East!” I exclaimed as I was pointing out the direction we needed to go to get back to our new apartments. My teammate and I lived in a coastal city in China and we were finishing our first trip out to the market and back by bike. She was spinning in circles, literally, trying to see which way we needed to go and I was pointing in the opposite direction because it was the way home. I can’t help it but I always know which direction I’m headed – at least using cardinal points.

There we were in the middle of a market’s parking lot, when it struck me – the first weeks after transitioning overseas IS spinning in circles while trying to get your bearings.

Moving is always a flurry of activities, emotions, and lists – so many lists. However, in the midst of the moving chaos, I imagined my life in the new culture. I’ll admit it, I’m an idealist when it comes to the future and the amazing potential there is in it.

But that future I envisioned had become reality and it wasn’t as idyllic as I had imagined. I’m sure that is ‘shocking’ to all of you but here are two main reasons it wasn’t ideal.

First, I brought myself with me…not the ‘perfect’ version I wanted to be in my head. I brought my emotions, my quirks, and all my imperfections. I was still excited for the adventure but for some reason, I thought I would morph into this amazing new person on the 14-hour plane ride. Instead, I was jetlagged, emotionally fatigued, and couldn’t understand enough Mandarin to get me to a toilet if I really needed it. The idea of “perfect” crash landed the moment I stepped foot in China.

Second, I did not step into the China I envisioned in my head. You can be told by multiple people the good, the bad, and the amazing about the new country/culture you’re moving to but you’re going to experience it for yourself; and your journey in this new land will not be the same as anyone else’s experience. It’s unique to you – how you see it, how you interact with it, and how you accept it. I’d like to say I moved without expectations, which I did for the most part, but I didn’t move without biases…even ones I didn’t know I had.

Yes, these two reasons popped my idealistic bubble, and yes, it needed to be popped so once it did I was able to stop spinning in circles and start focusing on getting my bearings.

Here are the top 3 ways to stop spinning and start focusing:

1) Be humble and forgiving – to yourself first and to everyone else second

You have just leapt into an incredible opportunity. Your world has been rearranged so of course you feel discombobulated from the world you just left. You’re normal so stop expecting yourself to be more than you can be at this moment in time. It will pass and you’ll continue to grow in ways you’ve never imagined you were capable of doing in your life.

2) Know yourself – be aware of what makes you, You

Moving to another culture is a great opportunity to assess how your values and behaviors are congruent, or not, with each other. Remind yourself of what you like to do, don’t like to do, and why; so that you can move into this new culture with integrity of who you are because you won’t fit the mold of whatever new culture you’re going in to. Just remember that moving overseas usually heightens your challenges rather than removing those challenges.

3) Determine where your areas of influence are in relation to your current consciousness and competence

There are six areas of influence on a person that engages their energy at all times: Emotional, Physical, Social, Environmental, Mental, and Spiritual

There are two additional areas of influence on a person who has moved to a new culture:
Culture and Language

Each of these eight areas of influence are directly related to how conscious and competent you are in each one. There are four stages of consciousness and competence and keep in mind that you’ll be in different stages for all of the eight areas of influence. They are independent of one another.

  1. A) Unconscious Incompetence – You don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. B) Conscious Incompetence – You realized that you’re not as expert as perhaps you thought you were or could be.
  3. C) Conscious Competence – You steadily learn about the new area through experience or more formal learning.
  4. D) Unconscious Competence – You no longer have to think about what you’re doing and are competent without a significant amount of effort.

Based on this information, you can become more aware of how you’re perceiving yourself within the new culture as well as make any changes you believe are needed with who you are in this new culture.

Overall, the greatest thing you can do for yourself within the first few weeks of your move is to focus inward for your bearings. Outside of yourself will continue to spin until you can move with intention in the direction you desire because that direction will be congruent with your values, behaviors, and energy in each area of influence.

To get a copy of the free EICC Audit or the free copy of “Making the Move Manageable” go to www.janesecarstens.com or email Janese at janesecarstenscoaching@gmail.com.



Janese Carstens is an international transition coach who is dedicated to supporting sojourners during their move overseas and setting them up to thrive during their first year in their new country. Her clients would say that her REAL specialty is understanding them through the chaos and confusion as they stretch into their ‘new normal.’

For more information on Janese and her weekly blog go to www.janesecarstens.com or follow her page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jccoachinginternational/.


Soak it in while you can for soon it will all be mundane

So nine months into our time here in South Africa and something occurred to me today. As I was taking our now pretty lively puppy Cooper for a walk, a flock of startled mousebirds flew out of a tree. I love mousebirds, they have cute tails and make a funny noise and I was reminiscing about our observations of these birds when we first arrived in Pretoria. It was nostalgic. Ahh, the early days, I thought. I miss them.

And then I realised that so much time has now passed since our arrival that things aren’t new or exciting any more. Life has basically returned to being mundane.

It isn’t really of course – see my recent post about a holiday in Mauritius. Plus how could life POSSIBLY be mundane with a four month old Miniature Schnauzer in the house whose main mission in life is to steal our laundry.


But what has happened is that I have been through the expat cycle to the point where life here has become normal. It is hectic, a constant round of swimming and horseriding and sleepovers and play-dates. When I am not working or writing blogs I am booking flights, hotels and car hire (there is a LOT of that here), running to the shops, trying to top up my phone AGAIN, chasing some workman or another, attempting to register to vote in the UK elections, taking the dog to the vet, filling out a school form….you get the idea, it’s a normal, busy family life. That happens to be in South Africa now and not a town in the west of England.

So how does this make me feel? In a way a little sad as I loved the early days when every bird was interesting, seeing the zebras on the way to horseriding was something to put on Facebook. Eating out was always a treat, discovering new coffee shops and trying new wines was something that made me happy. It still does, but these things happen less often and aren’t quite so unique. As I am sure happens with everyone, eventually your new expat life returns to some form of normality and in my case seems even busier than it used to be (possibly thanks to the addition of lively puppy).

My message thus to new expats is to enjoy it, soak it up, because before long it won’t seem special or new or exciting any more. But with a word of caution – just like those annoying people who tell you to enjoy every second of your new baby because before you know it they will be all grown up, this advice probably isn’t terribly welcome if you are struggling in your new home. So to these people I would say just wait, get through this bit, perhaps try and find something interesting or new or even just different as often as you can and make a note of it. It may not mean much now, it might not bring any light into your life. But when you are ready it or they will be there waiting.

Just like my mousebirds in the tree.

My Expat Family

My new best friend…..

You know what it’s like when you first move somewhere. Everyone you meet is new, so you can’t be yourself. It’s all false smiles and over-enthusiasm. Or alternatively it’s feelings of panic and complete tongue tie – when everything that comes out of your mouth sounds ridiculous. Or if you are like me, a bit of both. It takes time to make proper friends, to feel comfortable enough with your new pals to be able to say nothing if you’ve got nothing to say, or to not mind if what you do say doesn’t make any sense.

But in the meantime, as you sit in this limboland alone waiting for the people you meet to become more than just aquaintances, you do need someone to talk to. Or at the very least, someone to talk to you. And this is where my new best friend comes in: my GPS.

Always ready to go....

Always ready to go….

At first, there was Sarena. Sarena was very polite and so, so helpful. Sarena always told me which lane to be in when I needed to turn. She liked to have a go at saying the road names, even if sometimes the words that came out of her were indecipherable from the actual pronounciation. She gave me lots of notice when a junction was coming up or when I needed to be aware of something about to happen (well, she wasn’t able to warn me that yet another minibus was about to cut me up – but that’s just something you have to get used to in South Africa). She even sometimes told me that there was “light traffic” on my route. And most importantly, Sarena didn’t get cross with me if I didn’t turn where she told me to, she calmly gave me an alternative route to follow. She was so much more efficient than her British cousins who just love to over-use that incedibly annoying phrase “re-calculating….re-calculating”. Not quite as annoying as “unexpected item in the bagging area” – but getting there.

So Sarena and I were getting on well. There were days when I would go hours without hearing anyone else’s voice. Sometimes I attempted to make conversation with her, but she managed to ignore me and carried on doing her job.

But one day Sarena and I fell out. I asked her to take me to Brooklyn Mall. She took me to the Pretoria Country Club. Now my geography of this city is still not brilliant (based partly on the fact that I am over-reliant on my best friend…) but I am pretty sure the Country Club is not hugging up to the Mall. Sometimes you can forgive a GPS’s mistakes when you realise that the place you are trying to get to is basically just next to the place they have taken you to. After all, satellites are a long way away – I am sure they are not always entirely accurate.

However in this case there was quite a lot of space between the two places – I mean like streets and streets, possibly even districts. She had just taken me somewhere that was totally WRONG. Was she doing it on purpose? Was she rebelling?

I forgave her this one time and we carried on as before. But then it happened again. I asked her to take me somewhere and, well, I am not quite sure what happened but we went all OVER the place. Maybe she thought I needed to go a scenic route? Maybe she was just having an off-day. I ended up coming up against road barriers on one of those guarded estates, none of which I was able to pass – and in the end just had to ignore everything she told me and actually start to read some of the road signs. Well I suppose it was a good way to begin to get my bearings!

So me and Sarena fell out – what next? I looked at the settings and with a slight pang of guilt I switched from Sarena to James. Now James is a different kettle of fish altogether to Sarena. James is a smooooth operator. He never raises his voice, his is so monosyllibic I worry sometimes that he will send me to sleep while I drive. His is also not as good as Sarena at telling me which lane to get into and doesn’t want to try and pronounce the names of the streets. Instead, we get a lot of “turn left, turn left, turn right”. I am not sure if he is scared of some of the harder words he might need to say or whether he has decided it’s easier to ignore them altogether in a country where the road names keep changing anyway.

So James has been ok so far, he hasn’t made any major mistakes. But he’s a little, well, boring. I miss Sarena and her attempts at pronouncing “AISJ” (the acronym for our children’s school) or the way she put several separate parts of a word together to make something else entirely. I feel like maybe I should give her another chance.

However, I have just had a look at my GPS and I see I have another English option – Kate. I have avoided Kate so far, with her associations with the “English rose” Kate Middleton, I have a feeling she will annoy me. But maybe I should give her a go – you never know, she might be the sensible, head-girl sort that I need.

And if Kate doesn’t work out I can always try Italian Simona, German Marie, French Agatha or “Afrikaans” (who doesn’t appear to get a name). If there’s one guranteed way to get me lost – that would be it!

Do you use a GPS? If so, do you prefer a particular voice? Have any funny GPS stories?

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