When Shanghai challenges expats

By Ida Relsted (Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2006-11-24 09:46

The commonly held view of expat life in Shanghai is one of fast and exciting times, but the community centres and psychologists of the city can testify to a less rosy picture. Tales of bumpy landings and sudden culture shock are rife. Language barriers,unfamiliar social norms, and the absence of a support system can make the challenges of living and working in Shanghai seem almost overwhelming.


A bridegroom unveils his bride during a Chinese style wedding ceremony held in Shanghai Nov. 18, 2006. [Xinhua Photo]
Often, the results can be serious: anxiety, low self-confidence, and emotional confusion.What should be an exciting opportunity to experience Shanghai in all its colour and glory can turn into a depressing or lonely experience. Culture shock, which many go through when settling into the big city, is both a mental and physiological condition. The body is in a transitional phase, but for some this transition can be punishing,even painful. Expats may feel they have no one to talk to,or nobody to share their experiences,but during the last few years several much needed offers have surfaced for those in need of help and support.

Annemieke Esmeijer, a business psychologist and marriage and family therapist, has helped expats cope with the many different pressures and circumstances that come from moving to Shanghai. Certain truisms, however, seem to exist. They are:

1. Pressure on marriages and families: how to stay as a team, how to manage a hectic working life, and how to manage at home. One spouse may be under severe pressure to perform in the workplace, while the other spouse may be under pressure to get the family up and running smoothly.

2. Depression or isolation: how to cope in the city that never stops, how to stay afl oat,and how to cure loneliness.Some may fi nd it diffi cult to make friends in such a dynamic environment. Others may feel depressed, even lost, by a city that waits for no one.

3. Children and teenagers: international schools are only now starting to look into the number of students who need more academic or emotional support. Some also feel there are limited choices for eenagers to go out 'safely' on the weekends.
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