I needed to address this lesson today. It was one of my first major hurdles and things I grasped within my first year of living abroad.
Why today? Because I keep getting “slapped” in the face with this lesson from others who haven’t gotten it yet for themselves or view it differently. I refer to it as the “Comparison Game” for my love immigrant clients. And it is my own growth being challenged because I find it angers me. Not helpful to anyone. It partly angers me because I expect others to grow from their experiences like I have – and yet I KNOW that each person finds their own path and self awareness and grows at their pace.
So yes I am human too. That is part of what has made my journey so amazing. That thankfully, eventually I remember that!
So I will share something that may help some of you tighten your learning curve if that sounds good.
Other cultures I have found do things “differently” than the way I was brought up in the mixed culture I experienced. Mine was influenced by Southern California in the 60′s and 70′s with Canadian Immigrant parents and a Grandmother who was raised in London, England.
So when I moved abroad to the Netherlands in 1998 I found a lot of things shocking, silly, stupid, ineffective and down right rude. There were also things I fell in love with, made sense, excited and inspired me and rewarded my wanderlust needs I had since I was a wee “Jule” on my Dad’s knee.
In that first year I met expats who had lived abroad for many years and were bitter, hateful and miserable. I did not want to be like them. I met immigrants, like myself, who wished they had never left their homeland. I didn’t want to be regretful either. I studied what worked and didn’t for others and examined what worked and didn’t for me.
I quickly learned that in the beginning our whole world and values and beliefs can be shocked (no new term there) but for me the key was to understand that it was just different and not wrong.
Also, I was constantly being “told” my first year that what “You American’s” do is wrong, stupid, prudish, fill in the negative adjective, I heard it. Thanks Mr. Clinton for your sex escapades for a lot of that!
Those judgments from Dutch people and other expats living in the Netherlands was an opportunity for me to realize that how I was viewed was often totally incorrect and messed up by the locals perception of Americans by the misinformation reported on the news. No I was never a member of a California gang, nor had I shot anyone or had family members beating each other up on a Jerry Springer show.
WHAT AN AWESOME LIFE LESSON I WAS GETTING! At the time it just made me feel defensive and annoyed at how ignorant I thought a lot of people were. Ultimately though it helped me grasp something to my core that I think I have always known and frankly hoped for! YES, hoped for. What makes other cultures magical to explore is the fact that they ARE different!
Now I don’t agree with some things. Abusive and violent practices in my opinion (often directed at women and children) have no place in any current day culture.
The creme de le creme crowning moment for me was to realize that it is OK, normal even to go through a period of “WTF” thinking and judgement and confusion and reality checking. BUT and this is a big one… at some point acceptance that different is not wrong needs to take place.
It needs to for your sanity and most important your enjoyment of the new culture. And if that can’t happen. If you can’t accept it and live in it with an adventurous and fun spirit than I strongly encourage you to move somewhere where you can.
And you know what. That’s OK! It’s not about failure. It’s about understanding there is a new journey ahead for you. Not everyone is meant to flourish in every culture or continent.
I have had the greatest pleasure in helping many clients see this. Return home with self respect and dignity and find great peace in their decision. I have also helped clients flourish where they were, building a magnificent life in a new land that made them laugh with joy and excitement.
So figure out where you are on your path and ask yourself, “Am I judging because it is easy to do or is something really bothering me?”
And avoid those miserable expats and immigrants who may never be happy wherever they are… (and call me asap if you are one of them so we can get you off that unhappy sinking boat!)
Thanks to those who have helped me remember this today. I mean that. It softens my heart and helps me be grateful for the lessons I have learned and the ones I know that are coming as sure as the weeds in my backyard will continue to spring up!
Find them. Pull them. Smile. Move on.