CROSS-CULTURAL CHANGE : Getting to "belong" in Grenoble
Article that appeared in "The New Anglophones" No6 Nov-Dec 2000
(Editions Jean-Louis PONS)
One seldom finds oneself living in Grenoble, whether it be for a year or two, or longer, without some pretty good reasons at the source of it all.
The paths that lead here are all so different , but mostly we set out with the wonderful optimism and confident enthusiasm that only the ignorant of what to expect, can so cheerfully sport! These geographic, social and cultural upheavals start off as an adventure, and so they should! Living in a French university town that has become an International hub of scientific research and development, industry and technology, with the Alps in its garden , is surely a privilege
Making our home somewhere new, because we've chosen to live and work there for a while, is very different though, from the tourist's experience. This is not just passing through, savouring the sights and culture, ignoring what doesn't please and then returning to a 'base' again. It implies the dissolution of what was built up before and it takes us out of the comfort zone where everyday life is familiar and fairly predictable.
Catapulted into a new environment, the first few months are so 'crazy' as to be stimulating. Our energies are ploughed into establishing an effectively functioning household and responding to the administrative and organisational demands of the new situation. The head must stay above the water and it does! Adrenalin levels are high ! Only once a relatively stable routine has been settled into, do we have time again to begin to wonder what on earth we are doing here.
" Where do I fit in ? "
And this is when we must learn to be kinder to ourselves. The measuring stick by which we evaluate ourselves needs to be recalibrated. The roles that defined our social identity may no longer exist. Sometimes sacrifices have been made in favour of one partner's career and it may not be possible for the other to resume a professional activity , because of language, legal or family constraints. There may be great concern for school going children in an entirely new language and educational context.
A positive attitude must be nurtured in order to survive this adaptation phase, but this doesn't mean having to like everything in the new situation. We are coming to terms with cross-cultural change, often doing battle with a new language too, but we are still 'ourselves'. Value judgements based on our own life experience and what is important to us, remain valid. They do not need to be brought into question, even though so much has changed and all at once.
The social network of friends, family and other folk that form the rich fabric that is also the 'safety net' of our way of life has been left behind, but there will be a new one. It will certainly be a different one. It takes time to be woven and the first threads are already meshing..