First of all, there is a huge difference between moving to a country where the first language is also your first language. Or to a place where the culture is similar to yours. Or moving to a super developed country where you have an app for the bus schedule. You should always take this into consideration… For instance, when I moved to Egypt without being able to read or speak Arabic I had ups and downs. Barely anyone spoke English, and the simplest things were difficult. Several times I wanted to get out and never look back. But I didn’t, and in the end I had a great time… I’ve learned a lot about myself, my limitations, and questioned several of my beliefs.
Moving to a country where you don’t speak the language, sometimes that has a different alphabet, and with a complete different culture (religion, costumes and etc) is a whole different experience. You will be challenged every single day. From the moment you get to the airport you are suddenly more vulnerable to a range of things: be overcharged for a coca-cola, get lost since you can’t read the bus signs, eating things you don’t know what it is, being judged because you said ‘hi’ to a man in improper way and etc. Isn’t it fun and exciting? Yes, it is fun in the first few weeks… and then you get into a routine. That is the moment when getting lost can ruin your day, being overcharged kills your mood, and the only thing you want is a normal Mozzarella pizza. These are the moments when you face the real challenge, when you start getting overwhelmed, homesick and tired. But that’s also where the beauty of living in foreign lands begins, and you need to enjoy it.
You will explore your own limits and be challenged every single day. You will be tested, and it is exhausting. But then you will learn to chill out about everything. You will find ways to keep your good mood no matter what the conditions are. It is 40C and I don’t have air conditioning? Deal with it. I need to wear long sleeves under a 50C sun because of the local culture? Yes, put a smile on your face and enjoy the beautiful places around you. You need to get to the other side of town, but no taxi driver understands where you want to go? Oh well, I am sorry. You hate fish, but the nice family opening their home to you is eating fish…. You will eat it and say thank you. Before you live in certain places and under certain conditions, the little things would trick a scene, “destroy your day,” or make you lose it. But suddenly, after being tested every single day, you realize that it needs a whole much more for you to get irritated. Your tolerance gets higher, and your sense of humor improves. What else can you do besides deal with it, and try to find a reason to laugh? So…
Your idea of living comfortably will change. If before you needed hot water, air conditioning and a queen size bed to be happy and ‘live well,’ when you move to certain countries your priorities are being safe and finding a place with a bed and a kitchen. So you adapt to the environment and the setting you are in, and then you laugh at your needs from the past.
You will put everything in perspective. Your costumes, life, entitlement and opportunities. It is normal to question who you are and your opportunities when you move abroad. But suddenly you will realize that you were pretty damn lucky to be born in a certain country, that you had (and have) opportunities you would not have anywhere else. (The opposite is also true; all the opportunities you didn’t have because you were born in a certain place…)
You will realize how “world history” changes depending where you are. The way you are taught in certain areas will be different, and to talk about this differences are simply amazing. You will come to the realization that everything is a matter of perspective. In some parts of the world they might not even know who discovered Latin America. In some regions they might not mention parts of history you’ve learned in school. For example, in the USA you will learn that the US won World War II, in other places you will hear that when they entered in the war “the winners were already settled.” Enjoy the differences, be critical about it, and learn new things!
You will realize how little you know about the world, and how ‘westernized’ your ideas are. To be humble and admit this is crucial, and to be open to what else you have to learn will make a difference. Be open minded to new perspectives, study a little more about the history of your current place, explore a new religion, explore new costumes. The most important part of living abroad is to realize that every culture, every country, every religion has some beautiful points and a beautiful side, and this makes living abroad amazing: you will have the time, the means and hopefully the willingness to explore every singe part of a culture, so do it!
Some tips when you don’t speak the language, can’t read the alphabet and are in a country with a very different culture:
- When you need to go somewhere you can’t pronounce it, ask a local to write down the place/destination you want to go. You can simply show the paper to the taxi driver and hope for the best.
- Observe, observe, observe. Observation is key. Pay attention to the people around you, how they say hi, how they say bye, how they behave in a group, where they carry their wallets, how they dress, and etc. Sometimes this is good so you can “fit in” and be respectful, other times this will be relevant for your own security.
- Learn a few words, and sentences. Nowadays it is easy: download an app and practice the basics
- Learn the numbers: this will make a huge difference, believe me
- Be extra-careful! Depending where you are, touching someone from a different sex might cause you a lot of problems. So don’t do anything you are not 100% sure it is legal and acceptable. If in doubt, ask, google it, study…