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Many retirees change country of residence, attracted by a better quality of life and by a more dignified and respected life. It happens, however, that some time later they suffer a crisis and, if they can not overcome it, they return defeated to their country of departure. What are the problems that arise and how can they be addressed?

The maze of problems

We arrived in our new country, full of courage and enthusiasm, and we passed with great enthusiasm the initial problems. We are satisfied with ourselves, because they were not small difficulties, and we prepare ourselves to live to the best our daily life.


... however a nagging thought creeps in, that at the beginning we try to dodge not thinking to it. But it comes back in moments of rest or mental fatigue, maybe when we are lying on the bed and we can not get to sleep. At the end we give up and we begin to mull over:

"Was I right? But who made me do?"

Man in trouble

We become more unfriendly, frustrated, minimum setbacks trouble us and one fateful day, treacherously, there is the thought: "What if I went back for good?"

Alt! Let's stop for a moment, take a deep breath, calm down and examine the situation. The first step to overcome the problem is to understand what is happening to us.

Talking with friends, we discover that we are not alone and that most historians expatriates at some point asked the same question, which is a normal symptom of nostalgia for the old house, the affections, the old habits. For many people critical time is after three or four months of residence, when the novelty of change has lost strength and the integration process is still long.

Hierarchy of needs

Maslows hierarchy of needs 500px

To analyze our needs, we make use of a model known as "Maslow pyramid" which establishes a hierarchy of our needs.

Maslow argues that needs of the lower levels must be met before thinking to those of a higher order. For example physiological needs (hunger, thirst, shelter from bad weather, etc.) must be met before those of belonging (friendship, affection, love etc.)

Does it remind us of something? If we read the article on 5 criteria we immediately realize that taxes and cost of living (ie economic security), health, safety, climate all belong to the first two levels that are often called "basic needs" or "hard needs". It's time to revisit the analyzes made at the time, to be sure we have not overlooked any important element, in which case we must assess the consequences for our choice.

If it does not emerge anything significant, we turn our attention to the last three levels, namely the upper needs or "soft needs". Living day by day in a foreign country, we realize how "hard" are the "soft" problems generated by this needs. When in the Iene's service an interviewee, even very satisfied of his resettlement, says: "Here there is a beautiful people, but it's not my home, here I am a guest" he is simply pointing out the importance of re-building a sense of belonging.

Cultural shock

uomo che scalaPerhaps we did not realize, but we suffered a real culture shock, that is, the "feeling of insecurity, confusion or anxiety that people feel when they reside for a longer or shorter period, even for work, in a society [. ..] different from their own [1] ". The phases which we encounter are "honeymoon", "crisis", "recovery" and "adaptation" [2].

During the crisis phase, the most delicate, we become aware of growing anxiety due to the loss of reference points in interpersonal relations, communications, attitudes to be taken in every day life.
We lack the affections that we have left behind, who are often children, grandchildren, old friends.
We feel alone because we have learned the local language just enough to meet the practical needs, for example to buy bread, but we are far from being able to express more abstract feelings, like the sense of loss, the sadness that surrounds our heart.
We need to pay attention when we do the most daily and instinctive gestures, like saying "yes" or "no" with our head (which is expressed in exactly the opposite way in Bulgaria and Italy), and having to put this constant attention to everything and everyone is unnerving and frustrating.

For a form of self-defense, our mind takes refuge in denial ("I will never understand this people") and regression ("In Italy I was living so well"), forgetting all the negative aspects and keeping only the positive memories. We feel disappointed, irritable, frustrated, helpless, frightened.


Finally one day, if we were able to hold on and not to give up, we find that we are accepting the new situation and see the new customs in a positive way. We maintain a certain attitude of superiority ("Italian food is much better than this stuff") but when we realize it, almost by surprise, we can do irony on ouselves; above all, it is over the constant irritation that has haunted us so far!

The final stage is the adaptation, in which we feel ourselves part of the local culture and appreciate all or most aspects ("In Italy these genuine taste of Polish cuisine is unfortunately lost"). We note with fun, the few times we return to Italy, that we suffer a "reverse culture shock" and we find difficult to adapt ourselves back to our native culture.

Applying the pyramid model, we note that we were able to reconstruct the levels of Belonging and Esteem. We have perhaps a new life companion and definitely new friends, often local people: in the interview of the Iene mentioned before, one interviewee says: "A Bulgarian friend lasts forever." Our language is improved and allows us greater socialization, leading to a greater mutual respect and a growing self-esteem.


[1] Urmila Chakraborthy, Shock culturale, in Serena Gianfaldoni (a cura di), Lessico interculturale, FrancoAngeli, 2014, ISBN 8820433125. Pag. 206
[2] (EN) Bruce La Brack, Theory Reflections: Cultural Adaptations, Culture Shock and the “Curves of Adjustment” (PDF), Association of International Educators.

Mitigate shock

mediatrice aiuta nella scalata

To mitigate the impact of culture shock, we must be aware that it is a natural phenomenon and not a leap of faith. Even in the darkest moments of the crisis, we should remember that this experience happens to everyone and usually ends after a bit of months.

Let's dig into our motivations: it is true that originally the reasons far more important are the negative ones, such as lack of security and dignity, but we should try to find a positive one, however small, that help us to move towards the new life, not only to escape from the old one. Just for example, if we love taking long walks in nature, let's organize ourselves to explore the most beautiful corners of the new country.

If possible, it helps a lot to have close to us a cultural mediator, which allows us to slowly and gradually approach the new culture. The mediator is a professional present in some international organizations that have many employees abroad; in our case it is enough a friend who cares about our welfare and who would bring us gently to new customs and habits. Aid is not only practical but also psychological: to know that, in case of difficulty, we have someone to turn to for help and advice, it is often enough to decrease anxiety. The ideal would be if that person were of the place and did herself an effort to get closer to the Italian culture, perhaps learning a few key words in Italian or learning to cook our two or three meals.

Some people, who had not a friend of this type, found beneficial to write a diary, but this is a very personal solution that depends on the tastes and character of each of us.

"Never give up, because when you think it's all over, it's time where it all begins." - Jim Morrison

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