Yep, you read that right. Transplant shock isn’t just for plants!
If you aren’t a gardener, transplant shock is when you uproot a plant and move it somewhere else, where it fails to thrive. In some cases, the plant will even die.
Like plants, we humans are rooted into our environments. Our roots may be less literal, like our social networks, family, and habits, but it doesn’t mean we are any less deeply rooted. Just like plants, our bodies have also acclimated to the environment around you and the food you are eating. A move can have physical and emotional impacts on your wellness.
When you uproot yourself and move to a new country, the shock can be just as traumatic as it is for plants. For me, it was almost tortuous to go from the Sunshine state to Eastern European winters. Wow, talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder!
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
What I am saying is the a move takes foresight and strategy. If you want to thrive in your new home, you need to make the effort to do so.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to help people like me avoid the mistakes that I made when I moved abroad. So if you want to really commit to your wellness and making your move successful on all levels, I seriously recommend follow these tips.
1. No Trips Abroad for 3 Months
So I know you moved abroad because you want to see the world, but when you first move to a new country, you need to focus on settling down first to avoid transplant shock. In other words, you need to let your roots ground in so you can thrive in your new home long term. Taking trips to other countries right away will not only be disorienting, but will also get in the way of forming an intimate relationship with your new city. Depending on your visa situation, you may not even be able to leave the country for the first few months anyway. Focus on really getting to know your new city and don’t leave until it has started to really feel like home.
2. Time in Nature
One of the most important things you can do to diminish transplant shock is to get out in nature. I believe every country and every city has its own energy. When you’re moving out of one energy and into another, it may be a shock to your system. Going exploring in nature will not just help you fall in love with your new home, but I believe the subtle energy of plants has profoundly healing effects. Get out into nature anytime you’re feeling homesick or disconnected and you will acclimate much more quickly.
3. Move in Summer
If you’re moving more than a few time zones away, your circadian rhythm is going to be totally fucked. This impacts people to different degrees, but for me, it’s an absolute nightmare and it can take weeks before I feel like a normal human again.
One of the best ways (maybe the only way!) to align your circadian rhythm and get your sleep schedule back on track is sunlight. If you are moving to a place that experiences winter, you should really move in the summer. Otherwise, you will not have access to the kind of sunlight that will align your sleep cycles. This can cause insomnia, fatigue, depression, and MAJOR transplant shock.
When I was in graduate school, I spent 6 weeks in the US for winter break and traveled around the US while I was there. This was such a big mistake. It disrupted my process of settling into life abroad and totally fucked up my circadian rhythm. When I got back to Hungary it was the dead of winter and there was almost no sunlight. I got sick, depressed, homesick, and exhausted. And I don’t mean a little sad or a little sluggish. I mean full blown depression and an inability to get out of bed and go to class.
I totally understand the desire to want to go home and see your family over the holidays, but it can set back your process of acclimation back in a lot of ways. It may be worth it to skip your first year or to have them visit you instead.
4. Study the Language
Not only is this a practical tool that will make your life easier, but I believe that each language has its own vibration. Practicing the language will help you acclimate more to the energy of the country and help you form that intimacy you want with your new home.
5. Limit Contact with Friends Back Home
I know this makes me sound like a hardass, but it is totally necessary. I don’t mean you should ghost all of your friends, but you should be mindful in your contact when you first move.
When you have those difficult moments, you’re going to want to reach out to something familiar. But the more you rely on your network back home, the more you are going to want to go back.
Right now, you are trying to make a new home for yourself, so it is vitally important that you push yourself to develop a local support network as soon as you can. This is where having an expat coach can really help you. It is someone familiar you can turn to when you need support, but not someone you had a pre-existing relationship with that is going to distract you or tempt you to give up.
6. Connect with People Before You Move
Friendship might be the biggest tool towards helping you feel more rooted in your new home. Connecting with people and organizations before you get there will help you a lot. Join local expat organizations for events and support in finding an apartment. Join local Facebook pages and post in the groups introducing yourself. Having someone you can reach out to to ask questions before you get there and knowing you will have chances to socialize as soon as you move will be such a balm for your anxiety.
One group I’m a part of Women of Budapest, is a support network for Hungarian and expat women living in Budapest (obviously). They host social events, travel together, post jobs, and answer even your most embarrassing questions (where can I find an English speaking doctor that does paps?). Having a support network like this before arriving will change your experience.
7. Get Your Own Space ASAP
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is taking too long to find an apartment. You should have all of your basic research on apartment hunting covered before you even move. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend signing a lease before you get there, but you should already have showings booked. The longer it takes to get into your own space, unpack, and start to build your nest, the more stressed you’re going to be and the less it will feel like home.