Part of the reason why I am experiencing culture shock is my attitude and the unrealistic thoughts and high expectations I set for myself, Dakar, and Senegal as explained below:
“This is like an extended vacation”
I’m almost certain that even expatriates in Paris would call this thought unrealistic. Yet, I thought I would absolutely love living in one of the frequently visited cities in Africa.
In reality, moving abroad is not just about checking out beautiful sights or taking pictures on a beach, in front of a pretty door, or at a colorful market after work. The stress of being in a different setting shouldn’t be
“I will love it here like my friend/ acquaintance/ family member/ favorite blogger”
Truthfully, I did not prepare well my move here. Aside from over-confidence in my travel and life experience in Africa, anecdotes represent 95% of my “research” on Senegal. Social media influencers, people who came here on business or leisure trips, and those who lived here in college influenced my thoughts on Dakar and life here. They told me I would love Dakar and I did not ask about their negative experiences. I disregarded the differences in our background, reasons for being in Senegal, habits, personality etc. as well as the saying that “one man’s heaven is another man’s hell” and both accounts are good to know. As a result, I handle rude awakenings (read: reality/ real life) poorly. I also feel like people presented a false image of Dakar.
“New country, new me”
Some of us think that we are the best version of ourselves when we travel. However, it is neither guaranteed nor automatic to discover or display appealing aspects of one’s identity and personality abroad.
As I previously shared, I am starting to realize that I am an introvert. As I am also becoming a homebody, it is a challenge to leave my house (or hotel room), even to meet people I like. For some reason, I thought I would blossom into a social butterfly upon arrival in Senegal. Instead, I still prefer watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or This Is Us with a plate in my lap in bed to dressing up, arguing with a taxi driver to pay the “locals’ fare” to my destination and doing small talk for a few hours. I came here with the same problematic behavior, traits and attitude I dealt with at home (duh!). Some are even detrimental to my growth and wellbeing here: I realize now that constant solitude is bad for my mental health and social network.
“I’m basically a local since I’m not a tourist”
This is incorrect.
I came to Senegal thinking I was different; I was expecting to feel at home from Day One. Instead I am constantly humbled, even when I am mistaken for a Senegalese woman, because foreigners always stand out. It helps to learn the local or most widely spoken language, adjust one’s diet and clothing, embrace cultural habits, develop a routine, and make friends. But your accent will still sell you out. The friends you make will sometimes discuss topics you cannot relate to. Your sleep and digestive system will need time to adjust to the new sounds, bacteria and other things in this new environment. And that is normal.
“I’ve done it before so this time will be easier/ better”
This is possible, but it is not a fact.
As a French speaker with life and travel experience in West Africa, I felt well prepared to relocate here. I was certain Dakar would be unlike Dodoma. But one can feel lonely, homesick or frustrated with differences between home and abroad anytime and anywhere. There is an uncomfortable adjustment period to go through regardless of age, maturity, and experience in similar settings.
I am learning these lessons the hard way so they will be harder to forget. Above all else, I am learning to be patient with and take care of myself.
(If you live outside your home country-) What did you learn when you moved abroad?
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