Explore & Stay Curious: Live As If You’re Living Abroad|
Say you’ve just moved to a foreign country. Exploring and discovering your new home seems like a bit of a no-brainer, doesn’t it? After all, adventurousness sort of comes with the territory of being a globetrotter. The trick about really learning about your new home is to keep that curiosity once you’ve found a hairdresser and a decent place to get birthday cupcakes.
When you’re moving to a new country, the first few weeks can feel like a vacation: you arrive, unpack your comfortable shoes and start trying to figure out which direction to go so you can see as many sights as possible. You do touristy stuff, pay too much for everything and take as many pictures as possible.
After a few weeks, the charm of being seen with a camera or standing in line to enjoy the view fades. You’re no longer a tourist, not yet a local; what you are is someone keenly aware that locals do not really mingle with tourists, and probably someone with no clue how to make the transition. Here’s how it works:
A few weeks into residence in a new place, your neighborhood has started to feel like home. By week 3, you know your way around-you have a short list of decent restaurants, and (depending on the degree of your caffeine addiction) your local barista knows how you want your coffee. If you’re ahead of the curve you might have found a shoe store that has decent sales. This is the point at which things start to seem normal. There’s a certain routine that makes you feel secure and comfortable. Mission: Assimilation feels underway.
But it’s not yet accomplished. You may know enough about alternate routes the cab driver can take, but now it’s time for the a whole new world of exploration: the fine-tuning and the search for the really good stuff. My advice on how to get there quickly? Partner up-preferably with a local. And don’t be even remotely hesitant to Google your way out of your rut and into good taste. Finding a good content partner that can give you insider knowledge on your new area is a great way to expand your knowledge base.
My experience moving from Europe to America is that in order to assimilate successfully, it helps to think of yourself as a part-time tourist. It’ll make it easier to take a step back and observe without becoming completely immersed.
One advantage you’ll always have in your new home is that you have experienced a different culture, and know that there is at least one slightly different way to do pretty much everything. You have the ability to look at the little details, compare, shake your head, and smile. After a while of “watch, learn and repeat” you can let it all sink in and look at the subtle and obvious differences. Eventually you can pick the best of both worlds, slowly add the pieces of the cosmopolitan puzzle and understand the people around you.
One of the things that I didn’t understand when I first moved to the United States was the idea of taking a “box” with my leftover food after having dinner at a restaurant. Back home, we don’t have doggie bags. We have smaller portions and we eat it all. Why would I want to eat cold food that is piled into a Styrofoam box? In time I learned the general response to that question: because leftovers rock, because I paid for it and because I (Ameri)can.
Just because you are used to doing something in a certain way does not mean it’s the only acceptable way. Those differences and new experiences are part of what brought you to this new place. Since my arrival in the US, I have become a big believer in “right on red” even though my first response was, “Wait, what? I can run a red light?” I’ve also learned that a layer of chili flakes and hot sauce on my pizza is delicious, even though it’s something I would never have been seen doing back home.
Moving to a new country is hard work. Everything seems to take longer and more effort. But that hard work will eventually pay off: You become more sensitive and understanding towards people. You know how the tourists feel and how annoying it is to have to use a map to get anywhere. But you also know that priceless feeling when you call your new home “home” for the first time or when someone accepts you as “one of them.”
Not every relocation comes with the same helping of culture shock. However, certain things will be very different – but that does not necessarily mean they are worse. Enjoy being at home in two cultures. It’s a luxury. And girls who can read maps kick butt.