In September, I celebrated my 4-year anniversary of living in Mexico. Anyone who has considered moving abroad has probably heard of the four stages of culture shock. Stage one is the honeymoon phase. In my case, I found that it lasted about 3 measly but wonderful months. I wanted to eat tacos from Tacos Raul every night for dinner, go out salsa dancing every weekend, and listen to Latino pop and banda music 24/7.
The next stage is the frustration stage. This stage lasted nearly 3 years. It included, but was not limited to, an interrogation at my former workplace by immigration officers, being accused of shoplifting a soda at Walmart, having the front left tire of my Honda civic fly off the car in the middle of the highway after a mechanic botched a repair job, and being told I looked “chubbier.”
Thirdly is the adjustment phase, and it lasted about 6 months for me. Most of this stage happened while I was pregnant, curiously enough. With a baby on the way, I consciously tried to stop taking things so seriously (including myself) and looked for ways to incorporate my culture into my daily life in Mexico. I joined a weekly English Bible study with other expats and started baking regularly. I listened to podcasts dissecting the latest episode of The Bachelor on my daily walks. I spent quite a bit of time in Texas for doctor’s appointments, and each time I was there, I missed Saltillo more. At the time, I was doing all of this so I could be my “best self” when Sophia arrived, but looking back, everything I did helped me to culturally adjust.
The fourth and final stage of culture shock is the acceptance phase. I spent 2 months in Texas for Sophia’s birth. When it was time for us to drive back to Saltillo at the end of May, I was admittedly nervous. I wondered if I was physically strong enough to care for Sophia on my own. Without my family nearby, would I cave under the pressure of being a 24/7 mom? Would I be able to keep the house clean and the three of us fed?
There were a few low points (read: me letting Fitz out, forgetting about him, and him not coming home for 48 hours), but overall, I couldn’t believe it when the first month passed and it was actually easier than I expected. I couldn’t figure out why, because being a stay-at-home mom with a part-time job in a foreign country is not easy. But this feeling of ease continued. I was getting Sophia and I out for walks most days of the week. I was making crock-pot meals that I was proud of (cooking is not my strong suit). We even took an overnight trip with a group of friends when Sophia was 2.5 months old, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The ease had come because my attitude had changed. Even though I had known, in theory, that this acceptance phase would come at some point, it still felt like a miracle when it did. The biggest, most timely gift and blessing from God.
I went to immigration in late September to renew my temporary resident visa. It was going to be my last renewal, because I would be able to apply for permanent residency the next year. As usual, I was missing some of my paperwork and had forgotten to fill out a form online. I rolled my eyes, frustrated with myself, and apologized to Carlos for dragging him along with me and wasting his time. But then, the next sentence out of the immigration officer’s mouth was, “You know you’re eligible for permanent residency, right?”
My math had been off and I didn’t have to wait another year!
Becoming a permanent resident is just the icing on the cake. Practically, it means that I will no longer have to pay the annual visa renewal fee, nor make the numerous visits to the immigration office and worry about what paperwork I’m missing. But personally, it means so much. It signifies the end of my cultural adjustment process and the continuation of the “acceptance” phase, something I prefer to call “contentment.” Contentment doesn’t mean life is perfect or that I’ve stopped missing Texas or wishing that drive-thru pharmacies existed here. It doesn’t mean that I’ll never be accused of shoplifting a soda in Walmart again. What it does mean is that I feel at home in a place that once felt completely foreign. And that, a few weeks ago, I ditched my plan of making an American meal in the crock-pot and decided to pick up Tacos Raul for dinner. Things had finally come full circle.