Adventures in Vanuatu: Settling in

Port Vila Vanuatu

I can’t quite believe it, but we have been in Vanuatu for a month today. Obviously a lot has happened in that time, but I think I can’t say we have finally settled in.

You may think settling in to paradise is pretty easy to do but it’s been surprisingly different than I imagined it would be. After barely seeing me for three weeks, my kids went completely feral for the first few days after I joined them in Port Vila. My hubby and I could barely hold a civilised conversation and I felt an underlying current of anxiety for at least a couple of weeks.

Much of this was to do with starting work and the uncertainties of my volunteer assignment. If there was one message we got loud and clear during training, it was this: what you actually do in-country may bear no resemblance to what you think you’re going to do. In other words, accept what comes and prepare to be flexible.

Fortunately, I have a great support network here that includes a great bunch of fellow volunteers, neighbours and friends working in development and, of course, my mum. One month in, the fog has cleared, we’ve settled into some kind of a routine and we all love each other again.

In training we learned about a thing called the “W-curve of adjustment”, which basically means you go into a new country (or any new experience for that matter) full of high expectations and enthusiasm, quickly plunge into the despair of reality, which spirals into a kind of blackness where all you can see is pollution and challenges and language barriers ahead. With the right attitude, this grumpy phase is quickly dispatched and replaced with an upward lift. Eventually it all flattens out in a realistic happy place where you’re neither frighteningly optimistic or soul-destroyingly cynical. And that’s the W-curve of adjustment, sometimes referred to as “culture shock” and yeah, it happens, even in Vanuatu.

So here’s a quick Q&A of the top questions I’ve been asked by peeps at home. If there’s something else you want to know, ask in the comments!

How are the kids settling in?

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They absolutely love it here and never want to go home. Not only is there Grandma on call, but we are living in a compound of four houses with kids in each home and one massive communal backyard. They love their school, an international school with kids from all over the Pacific, Asia, Australia and New Zealand and are busy growing gills from all the swimming and snorkelling.

What’s it like where you live?

Of all the capital cities in the Pacific, Port Vila is one of the best with a bustling, small town centre, a colourful central market, French pastries, lots of resorts and a handful of places where you can swim in the sea without paying a small fortune. We live walking distance from town and my work is a 15-minute bus ride away (although this can easily turn into an hour as there are no fixed bus routes!).

Is it expensive?

Yep. Vanuatu is probably about 10 to 15 per cent more expensive than Fiji, largely because so many things are imported and we’re not on board with root vegetables and reef fish for every meal. But, when you’re counting your pennies (vatu) to see whether you can afford another Tusker (local beer), it’s worth remembering that your volunteer allowance is probably two to four times more than the people you work with earn. So shut up and eat the taro.

What does your hubby do all day?

Oh, you know, sits around drinking cocktails and working on his tan. But only after he gets the kids to school for 7.30, shops at the market for my morning coconut smoothie, picks the kids up at 1.30 and does homework, makes dinner, gets the kids in bed and asleep by 6pm and then makes our dinner…

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How’s work going?

Good, I think. I’m still not sure where I fit in in the production team of the Curriculum Department but I love the people I am working with – a team of five writers and a fantastic,  former editor. I went in thinking I would be training people in how to edit English but I’ve been solely working on texts in the local pidgin, Bislama. I’m super excited to be helping pin down this new language that until recently kids were banned from using at school. It’s fascinating and fun… oh and completely frustrating at times too!

Vanuatu

 Are you enjoying it?

Yes, yes and yes. In addition to work and family life, I am reclaiming my fitness, running, yoga, swimming across the harbour. I joined a choir, dusted off the ukulele, been to a kava bar (another whole story in itself). Life is rich and rewarding but real, know what I mean?

 Interested in volunteering? Find out more here.

Have you ever experienced the “W-curve of adjustment”? Share your experiences in the comments!

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