Overseas living is like playing an old familiar game of life, but the rules are completely changed. How do I gain competence? How do I progress? How do I “play fairly?”
Here are the most important habits to develop in your new game of overseas living. Rehearse them regularly, so you will flourish and succeed in your new “normal.”
1. ADJUST EXPECTATIONS. Keep your expectations realistic. How much can you realistically accomplish in a day? What are sensible expectations of your teammates or co-workers? Unrealistic expectations can lead to disillusionment. Disillusionment is a feeling of disappointment, when we realize life is not unfolding as we thought it should. If you sense your mood going sour, ask yourself if your expectations need re-adjusting.
2. LAUGH OFTEN. Be prepared to feel like a baby. In other words, brace yourself — you're going to look silly and incompetent at times! Communication mishaps and interpersonal misunderstandings abound. It's healthy to laugh at yourself. Share a giggle with a friend over a funny episode. A friend of mine, just learning the language, asked for "meat" in his coffee instead of "milk." A bit embarrassing, but it won him some friends at the café. Welcome these innocent imperfections, and have a good laugh.
3. EMBRACE HUMILITY. Realize you actually don’t know everything. You could maneuver life well in your passport country, but each culture functions differently. It’s much better to start out humble as a learner than to be a “know-it-all.” The more arrogant and confident you are about all you know, the harder the fall will be!
4. BE A LEARNER. Watch and observe the culture, seeing how they do life. Notice interactions and mannerisms, and register them as significant. Learn local proverbs, watch how families function, and attend a wedding. Small clues give us greater understanding and appreciation of a culture.
5. LISTEN. During the learning process, as you ask questions, focus on listening. Fight the temptation to give a pat answer or a quick response. If you haven’t really listened or understood the meaning behind a particular practice or thing the locals do, you’re likely to misinterpret the situation.6. FOCUS ON LANGUAGE. Make learning their language a priority! It’s going to take some time, so get serious about doing it. Don’t overload yourself with other tasks until you can communicate well. Having relationships within the culture is life-giving and also leads to greater understanding and thriving.
7. IMMERSE YOURSELF. Jump in to the host culture. The deeper you immerse yourself into the culture, the more likely you’ll understand what’s happening and why people do what they do. Get into the habit of having a tea time in the afternoon, shop at your local corner store instead of driving to the big supermarket, celebrate with your neighbor. Try to look at life through their eyes.
8. BE YOURSELF. Don't lose your own identity as you immerse yourself in your adopted culture. What set of gifts, interests, and values do you bring to the culture? How can you encourage others? Remember who you are, and live it out.
9. EMBRACE FAILURES AND MISTAKES. The fear of failing strips us of the courage we need to live each day with purpose. We all make mistakes — how do we react to our failures? Do we try to hide it? Do we pass the blame on to someone else? Or do we acknowledge it, ask for forgiveness if needed, and move on? Embracing these uncomfortable moments promotes learning and growth. Avoiding them holds us back from what we can become and accomplish.
10. BE THANKFUL. Each day has gifts. Some days they'll seem hidden, but they're still there. The consistent sunrise, the contented squeal of your neighbor's child, the assistance of the parking attendant — look for the big AND little things. Journal them if you want. Taking time to thank God and others throughout my day, helps me stay more positive, even during the tough times.
Wherever you are right now, how can you boost your ability to flourish?
About the Author: After living in Morocco with her family for 9 years, Alicia and her family now reside in a Chicago suburb, where she is working on her MA in Counseling. Alicia loves time with her grown kids, hearing people's varied stories, collecting scarves, and writing blogs for See Beyond (an IDEAS Associates' business). Click here for the original blog posting.