Two Years

IMG_2228Two years ago yesterday Brett, our three daughters and I arrived on Kaua’i to start a new chapter in our lives.

Two years ago our daughters did hold back and let us know again and again how angry and miserable they felt about our move. They left behind everything they knew, including life-long friends, boyfriends – everything – to come live on an isolated little island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They were profoundly unhappy with us, but Brett and I did our best to reassure them. “Give it time,” we said, “and then see how you feel.” We explained over and over that it had been time for us to make our move.

Last week, at dinner, as we were talking about some topic I don’t remember now, WenYu said, “I hope some day I can raise my children in a place like Kaua’i.” She went on to say how much she has grown to love our little island, its calmness, beauty, and friendly people. She said that moving here had been the best thing that happened to her. She still greatly missed her Portland friends, but coming here pushed her out of her shell and challenged her to take chances both academically and socially that she would not have taken back in Portland. She said she didn’t think she would be going to Wellesley College if we had stayed in Portland.

YaYu has blossomed here as well. She has made many friends, is doing very well academically, and is also taking chances that she doubts she would have taken back in Portland. Brett and I believe the move was harder in many ways for her than for her sisters, but YaYu now says she too is thankful for the calm and beauty of Kaua’i, and is glad we moved here. She has relied heavily on WenYu these past two years for company and support, but says she is ready to step out from her sister’s shadow and spread her own wings.

Meiling has built a solid independent life for herself back in Oregon, and is doing better than either Brett or I ever expected or hoped for. She did not want to stay on Kaua’i, and it was with great sadness and misgiving that we let her return to the mainland. She has told us though that she doubts she would have become as strong and independent if we were still in Portland, where she could have (and would have) called us to “come fix it” if things were not going well. We talk and text with her frequently every week, and offer advice when it’s asked for, but are so very proud of our daughter these days and the independent path she has chosen.

It has been a good move for all of us. Brett and I are more relaxed and far less stressed than we were back on the mainland. We worry less, hustle less, and let things happen as they will. We’ve made friends here, and are recognized more frequently as kamaaina, residents versus tourists. I absolutely love being called “Auntie.” With a couple of exceptions, we moved just the right amount of stuff along with us, and every day we appreciate our simple life more and more. We’ve figured out where and how to shop here, to find the best bargains, and we focus more on need versus want. We still get to travel. To know that the girls are now happy too about our move to Kaua’i is just the icing on the cake for us. While there is still lots for us to learn about our new home, we have a wonderful life here, and we are content. Our son has sometimes hinted that he wished we had moved to Oahu because of the medical facilities there, but both Brett and I are so glad we decided to settle on peaceful and less congested Kaua’i. It’s a great fit for us.

I’ve read that two years in Hawai’i marks a turning point (believe it or not, most new residents don’t last a year). If you can make it here for that long, then it’s said you’ve truly adjusted to the island way of life and will most likely stay forever, or at least for a very long time.

I know we’ve crossed that threshold. Kaua’i is home, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

The Second Dip


I’ve been feeling rather sluggish and unmotivated lately. I have had little to no energy or interest these days in things I typically like to do, like read or cook. I have been feeling very blah most of the time, and sometimes have had to make a real effort to even do basic tasks.

Yesterday I began to think about what’s been going on and why I’ve been feeling so off about so many things these days. Was I perhaps suffering from depression? Or is the current round of heat and humidity to blame? We’ve been on and off here all summer with storms threatening (and yes, there is another one on the way), so maybe the current ennui is from stress, subtle or otherwise. The news about the house day before yesterday was certainly discouraging, but I knew it wasn’t the cause of these feelings, just something to add to the rest of the malaise.

I know this may sound strange because we’ve been here on Kaua’i for over a year now, and because Hawai’i is part of the United States, but I think I am still suffering from culture shock. Coming here was in many ways like arriving in a new country. Hawai’i is very different from the mainland in so many ways, and besides coping with those differences I’ve also had to deal with the loss of friends and other familiar things. Introvert that I am, it’s also been hard for me to get out and meet people and make friends.

The culture shock experience is sometimes graphed as a “U” or a “V.” There’s an initial euphoria or high where everything in the new location is different and exciting. Soon frustration or annoyance with everyday activities sets in, and the initial high plummets. Eventually though adjustment takes place, a positive attitude returns and all seems well.

A more realistic graph of culture shock, however, looks more like a “W.” That is, there is a second dip that follows the first. The initial acceptance of the new location (the middle peak of the “W”) actually occurs only on the surface. Eventually one has to confront deeper issues, both cultural and personal, that start to bubble up to the surface, and which typically cause feelings of discontent or depression. As these issues are dealt with, feelings of satisfaction and belonging in the new location eventually return, creating an upward swing in one’s mood and motivation, and leading to a true acceptance of one’s new place and situation.

The more I thought about it I realized I’m definitely deep in the second dip of the graph. We’re going through another hot, miserable summer. Much as I love our house, I’m honestly tired of having to wash dishes every day and go up and down to the garage to do the laundry. I deeply miss my Portland friends. I still haven’t figured out my place here or where I belong, and I still don’t know what I want to do. I’ve reacted by shutting down and by doing nothing.

I know this will pass. I remember going through a similar stretch when Brett retired from the navy and we moved to Portland. For a long time I didn’t know where we belonged or if I would ever fit in, but I found my place, made friends and Portland truly became home.

I know the same will happen here. I truly love living on Kaua’i, and have never even once felt like we made a mistake coming here nor have I ever thought about leaving. I know I just have to give myself time to find my place here.