Meet Olivia Charlet! Olivia is a TCK and the founder of TCK Dating, a blog where she explores how multicultural backgrounds influence relationships. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and meet up with her in London.
How did you get into traveling?
I was introduced to travelling at a very young age: the very first flight I took was at 2 months old when my mom took us from Tokyo, Japan to Paris, France. The reason for all of our travelling was my dad’s job in a multinational company. He was asked to move from Paris to Tokyo. We later lived in Dusseldorf, Johannesburg, Vienna, and Hamburg. As a result of travelling growing up, I learned to love discovering new places and cultures. At 18, I moved on my own to Boston for university, and found I was restless after only two years. I decided to study abroad in Auckland, New Zealand and finally moved to London, where I’ve settled down for now.
What was your most intense culture shock experience? What did you learn from it?
My most intense culture shock experience was moving from Europe to the US. As a result of living in a French and Belgian household and spending my teenage years in Austria and Germany, I’d picked up European customs. When I moved to Boston, I felt really different to anyone there. I wasn’t able to connect with them on a deeper level. We didn’t have the same knowledge bank in terms of movies, music, comedy, and sports. Whereas I’d grown up around more reserved individuals, I was suddenly surrounded by more outspoken and outward-driven people. When I walked into a Gap store in the US, I’d have someone rush over to me to welcome me into the store and ask me if I could be helped in any way. As soon as I’d move to looking for a pair of pants, someone would come over to ask me what size I was looking for and if they could put my items in the changing rooms for me! I learned, yet again, that each culture has its own ways and customs, and it’s all about spending time with locals to further understand how they do things and why they do things a certain way.
Any tips for someone going through culture shock for the first time? What helped you?
It takes time. As much as I’d like to say it takes 6 months or a year, I would say that really to feel fully and completely absorb a culture, you need more than that. I would say that it’s important to spend time in clubs, activities, events whereby you’re spending time with people from that country. However, what also helped me was to spend time with people who were ‘my’ people in that I felt at home with them. It’s important to have a certain level of comfort when you’re experiencing a high level of change. If that means expats or people from your home country or even people who for some reason just click, you need to make sure you’re spending time with them too so that you’re ready to face the challenges on your own.
What has reverse culture shock been like for you?
Reverse culture shock was going to France for a summer or two in my early twenties. Even though my parents are French, Belgian, I never felt fully French-Belgian because I had never grown up there. I’ve never felt like it fit for me (even though I spent every Christmas and summer there growing up to see family). It doesn’t match who I am and who I’ve become after attending international schools and living in many different countries around the world.
What is your favorite travel learning experience? Anything that triggered a profound shift?
My favorite travel learning experience was spending 6 months in Auckland for a study abroad program. It was the biggest shift for me. It’s the first time I realised I have to live my life the way I want to live it, not the way others think I should. By going to this new country where I knew no one, I was free to truly be myself and explore what that meant. I left feeling refreshed and having a much stronger sense of self.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Travelling is worthwhile in many ways, but I will also say that travelling can be extremely challenging. You can spend a lot of time on your own whilst you try and figure out who your friends will be, which customs you will incorporate. Finally, it will make you question the way you currently live your life.