Why Are Transitions So Difficult?

“I’ve been through this so many times before; why is it still so hard?”

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Angie* has served overseas for 11 years. She has lived in three different countries and changed roles and cities more times than that. Friends and teammates have come and gone. But this latest move, prompted by unexpected visa issues, has left her floundering.

“I should be used to starting over by now, but I’m just tired. I miss having community, people I can open up to and just be myself with. I don’t have that here yet. And now I’m starting all over again learning a new language, new cultural norms. It’s hard for me to even get up the energy to reach out and try to make new friends, put down roots here. What’s wrong with me?” Angie wonders.


Global workers are no strangers to transition … but sometimes we believe a myth that having gone through it a few times makes it easier. While we may get better at logistically handling transitions, the cumulative toll on our emotions as well as our sense of settledness and belonging generally has a diminishing effect. In other words, we may learn to do transition more efficiently, but each time it takes more out of you.

As our counseling director, Erik, explains, “I often liken transition to grief in the sense that we can be experts in understanding all about it, but when you're the one going through it, there's unfortunately no way to escape the harsh realities of it. The knowledge helps lend perspective and may help you come through it with less residual damage, however it's a fire that must be walked through; there's no way around it.”

While starting something new can be exciting, every transition involves losses of what we are leaving behind. If we haven’t grieved the losses along the way, they can build up and then “overflow” when we least expect it. Like Angie experienced, we may hit a wall when one more new beginning suddenly feels like one too many.

We also sometimes forget to factor in that we are usually going through multiple transitions at once. Maybe we are rocking it in our transition to a new team, but struggling with the transition to a new culture. Or our transition to a family of five is consuming so much energy there isn’t much left for the transition to a new leadership role.


As Angie wrestled with her latest transition, she opened up to her team leader who told her about GRC. She started meeting with one of GRC’s counselors. Her counselor was able to normalize and make sense of Angie’s experiences. She also identified some unresolved grief from having to abruptly leave her previous country of service, and they worked through that together. Eventually Angie was able to engage in her new home with renewed joy and energy.

If you are a global worker struggling with transition or any other concerns as you serve cross-culturally, GRC would be honored to serve you. During the month of August, we are offering a free initial assessment. Register Now!

* Names and some details have been changed to protect the privacy of those we serve.