Why did you decide to move? What emotions did you experience when deciding to move to another country?

I studied abroad a lot, starting from my school years, and I never felt limited to living in any one country. I always felt comfortable both at home in Russia and abroad. And when my business started to grow (a bilingual preschool), and expansion became necessary, I realized that we needed to explore other countries. I planned to expand to Germany because I had graduated from university there and had good investment offer. Again, my plans were not limited to a specific country. It was always clear to me that I would move wherever my business expanded. I got divorced when my son was 1 year old, and I realized that besides me, no one would take care of the child. Later, I met my future husband, who lived in the USA. We began to consider my move to America, which I had never really thought about before. The USA have never really attracted me before, since I always felt more like a «European person», closer to the old world rather than the new. I felt that neither the values nor the lack of some rich architecture or a long millennial history appealed to me. Or so I thought. And god I was wrong.

What difficulties of relocation do you consider to be the most common for most people?

When I realized that we wanted to be together and understood how to make it happen, I began to organize the business in a way that would allow it to function remotely. I planned to expand in the States, and I started a part of the educational project here. It was a time of inspiration and anticipation, but when I moved, COVID-19 hit.

The initial feelings were clouded due to the full lockdown. Seeing people in gas masks, closed stores – it all created a sense of a chemical disaster. The adaptation was, to put it mildly, smeared.

But when life began to return to normal, I faced a wave of frustration, as is typical in the second stage of adapting to a new place of residence. I didn’t like how the country was handling the COVID-19 situation, closing schools and creating difficulties for parents across the country. Plus, there was a new business where I had to deal with all the organizational work, accounting, etc.

I plunged into life right away and faced the need to solve many problems. Differences in education systems, healthcare, and bureaucracy were unfamiliar to me. Some things I considered elementary turned out to be unavailable in the USA. All these difficulties required me to mature quickly. This is essentially what happens to any immigrant – we are required to «settle in» or «grow up» in a new environment literally within days.

This created a huge burden, and I realized that no one can go through this without stress.

Could you give advice to those who face language difficulties in a new country? Did you know the language when you moved?

I studied for some time in Brighton, UK, so I already knew English. Although, of course, when I arrived in England as an 11-year-old, I could barely say «how do you do». But the need to participate in all school processes pushed me to learn quickly. And after a month or two, I was more or less fluent. That’s why I always recommend to my clients to actively engage in various social activities: join clubs, groups, socialize with neighbors through social networks or local apps, as well as participate in volunteer projects. This not only helps improve language skills but also helps find new friends, which is one of the main difficulties and supports when moving. Many people feel insecure, thinking, «I speak poorly, I make mistakes». To which I usually reply that locals only speak their native language, while you are mastering a new one. You’re cooler because you made an effort to learn the language. No one will point fingers or laugh at your efforts. By continuing to practice communication and attending language courses with native speakers, anyone can overcome language barriers and successfully integrate into a new culture.

What cultural differences can be most challenging when moving? Tell me about your experiences.

Cultural differences should not be underestimated. These differences can be diverse and sometimes shocking or amusing. Each culture has its own peculiarities, including movies, music, art, political events, and other aspects. All of this represents a kind of cultural code to me. It changes not only from country to country but also from generation to generation. It’s like a cloud of contexts in which a person grows up.

Even if I move to a neighboring country with similar cultural roots, my cultural codes may differ from the locals. This can manifest in different movie preferences, quotes from films, as well as in a general sense of humor. Understanding cultural codes plays an important role in communicating with locals. For example, some cultures may have characteristics that are considered normal but may be shocking to foreigners. There are also differences in what topics are acceptable for discussion in public places and which are not.

My first experience of encountering cultural differences was when I attended a wedding in Bali. At the wedding, they slaughtered newly hatched chicks in front of everyone as part of the ceremony, which was shocking and contradictory to the general perception of beauty and festivity. However, it is important to remember that each culture has its own values and norms, which may differ from those we are accustomed to. Therefore, it is important to study and understand the cultural codes of the environment in which we find ourselves in order to successfully adapt and build new social ties. This allows us to feel more comfortable and integrate into the new environment.

How have you used your personal experience of relocation to develop methods to help clients adapt to a new environment? Which aspects of your own experience of moving to the USA have been most significant in working with clients?

In my work, I often use my own experience and observations to determine which methods and approaches are effective. I study what works for me personally, as well as for my clients and friends. In our community of immigrants from the former CIS countries, there are a huge number of adaptation stories that help understand what can be useful in the relocation process. In the USA, I noticed that the attitude towards immigrants is different from what I saw in other countries. Here, the country as a whole is a country of immigrants, and the idea of being «local» applies only to Native Americans. This creates a more tolerant attitude towards immigrants, which I have not seen before. In my experience of adapting in Germany, I encountered the fact that, despite my fluent language skills and knowledge of literature and history, it was still difficult for me to fully integrate into society. Perhaps this is because in Germany, the culture is more closed, and immigrants arriving in Germany still stay within their own communities. In general, in the USA, I noticed a special friendliness and willingness to help people to each other, which made my adaptation experience here more comfortable. Americans are an open culture and open people.

Understanding the surrounding environment and identifying the positives are important at the initial stage of immigration, when many face a depressive mood due to unmet expectations. It is important to remain objective and find positive aspects to rely on.

Every country has its unique advantages. For example, in the UAE, I appreciated the high level of safety for both adults and children. It is important to be aware of and appreciate these advantages for oneself. Maintaining an objective view of the situation is important to avoid disappointment. Focusing on positive aspects helps to discover many opportunities and prevents the maximization of negative aspects. In the USA, for example, the job market is huge, and the opportunities for earning money, even without knowing the language, are enormous. Immigrants may encounter high salaries and a wide range of job opportunities. Free education in public schools is also a significant support. Neighbors who bake pies to welcome your arrival.

Such an objective evaluative approach greatly helps in adaptation. By considering various aspects, I can guide clients in the right direction and help find positive solutions.

What difficulties in adaptation can arise for children, and how do you work with families moving to another country?

You know, from my experience, the biggest difficulties for children arise because of their parents. If families initially approach the move positively and see it as an opportunity for growth and development, children find it much easier to adapt. When families work together to solve problems and focus on finding positive aspects, adaptation becomes more successful. The family atmosphere plays a key role. If parents constantly argue due to a negative attitude towards the new country, it greatly affects the children. In such cases, adaptation becomes more difficult because the child feels a lack of support and security.

One way to facilitate children’s adaptation is to create routines and stability for them. This can involve establishing specific times for dinner, sleep, reading books, and other daily activities. Even if you have a very busy schedule, try to stick to this routine because it helps children feel confident and secure. When children face difficulties, it is important for parents to support them and solve problems together. Avoid criticism and blame, and instead try to understand what exactly is hindering adaptation. Working with parents to help them change their attitude towards the move often leads to an easier adaptation for children.

What was your goal in creating the course? What key principles do you implement in your psychological practice to support people in the process of relocation?

I decided to create this course to help a much larger number of people than I can help in private practice. I can personally take only a limited number of clients, but the number of people in need of help with adaptation is much greater. Many people face difficulties after moving, such as depression and stress. They feel lonely and don’t understand how to cope with the new reality. It seemed to me that I was already in the final stage of accepting my status as a resident of a new country when one of my clients said that I should «package all this into a course». I thought it was a great idea. One of the key support points in therapy during relocation becomes support – from people who have changed their entire lives overnight and are facing difficulties.

I explain that the process of emigration has a certain structure, including inflated expectations, confrontation with reality, and a phase of indignation. But it is important to understand that from this indignation, you can come out by focusing on positive aspects and creating a familiar, initially small routine for yourself and for children.

One step before the final stage, I recommend to my clients, if possible, to go home. This usually happens somewhere a year and a half to two years after the move. This is especially relevant for those who do not go back and forth but moved and live in a new country permanently. After this time, if your adaptation is going well, when you return to the country you used to call home, you realize that home is no longer here. You are out of context. You remained in the time when you left, while all your former environment continued to move along its trajectory. This completes the circle of adaptation, returning to the new country with the feeling that home is here. It is important to understand that everyone goes through this process. One of the key principles is unity. Try to find support, share your difficulties, and receive words of support.

Before moving, you need to be mentally prepared to organize your new life, find new friends, engage in leisure activities. It is important to believe in yourself. Moving can be an opportunity to start over.

What aspects of mental preparation before moving turned out to be most useful in your case and in the case of your clients?

When it comes to adapting to a new country, learning the language is the first step. Prepare for this by immersing yourself in cultural codes through reality shows and comedy programs. As strange as it may sound, watching stand-up comedy will help you more than BBC or National Geographic because the people you’ll be interacting with don’t speak like BBC correspondents but rather like characters from ordinary comedies or unfiltered reality.

This will help you mentally and morally prepare, communicate successfully, and find common ground when obtaining documents or interacting with locals.

Curiosity and interest in the new also help me and my clients. Imagine yourself as a scientist studying a new species of organisms. Don’t judge the cultural peculiarities of the new country but approach them with curiosity and exploration. Think of your new reality as a show you’ve never seen before. It can be daunting, but remember that it’s your chance to learn and grow. Awaken your childlike curiosity and thirst for adventure to successfully adapt to your new environment.

Do you have success stories in adaptation that you use in your practice?

I have many successful adaptation stories. Many people who decided to start a new life and turned to me for help at the right moment received the support that helped them overcome difficulties. Although I know that on average the «return rate» is about 20%, personally, I don’t have a single story of people who went back. I think this is because when a person comes to a therapist for help, it already indicates their strong motivation to stay.

All my clients who came to me for help in adaptation reached their «Happy End». They were able to successfully blend in, even if they initially faced dissatisfaction. Many of them have been living in other countries for 5 or more years. They found their place in the new environment and are happy. These stories confirm that the decision to start life anew requires adventurousness and willpower, especially if you have a family. And although difficulties may arise during the process, it’s important to remember that they are surmountable.