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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Expat Diaries: It's just different.

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Pass on some useful advice or information you learned and always remembered.


When you first move abroad, there are so many emotions inside of you. There’s excitement and apprehension, joy for new experiences to come and sadness to let go of known things. It’s a rollercoaster and sometimes you’re on a high and sometimes on a low. There are moments when you love everything about your new home and moments when you detest the very ground you walk on.

When I prepared for my exchange year in Canada in 2008, the sentence above was frequently told to us and to this day, I think it is the best advice for impending expats that I have ever been given.

We are all used to a certain way of life. I am used to driving on the right side of the street, lecture halls with hundreds of people, old cobblestone streets and wide-spread Public Transport. Had I grown up in Canada, I would be used to taking the car everywhere, having a much more relaxed relationship with my High School teachers and driving one hundred kilometres to the next really good dentist. The point is: There are things that are completely normal to the culture we have been raised in, but they might be quite different in another region of the world.

When you move abroad, you are leaving behind the comfortable world you have known before. And you realize that some things you assumed were the norm just aren’t. Sometimes you encounter things that you will love, sometimes you discover things that you think are strange. On occasion, you will think ‚Everything is so much better here!’ and at other times you will think ‚Everything’s so much better at home!’.

These feelings are natural and if you’ve ever lived abroad you probably have encountered this before. But sometimes, feeling this way can be dangerous. If you keep on holding on to the things you have known before and dismiss your new culture’s ways, you close up your heart. It will be incredibly hard for you to ever call this place home.

But if you continually dismiss the ways of your home culture, you’re doing the same thing in the opposite direction. Not all of us who move abroad do so infinitely. Most of us will probably return to our home countries one day. Maybe we are just abroad for a year, maybe for a decade, but reverse Culture Shock can be a mean thing.

When I came back to Germany from Canada, I missed everything. I missed the big Walmart that would be open for 24 hours leading up to Christmas. I missed the classes at my local High School, I missed the North American TV program and I missed the way people in Canada seemed to be so much less closed off than in Germany. There were so many things that I appreciated about living in Canada, that coming back to Europe was a bit of an anti-climax. And it was in part due to me internally bashing my home country and thinking how much better things were in North America.

Six years later, I feel comfortable telling you that life in Germany is not better or worse than life in Canada. It’s really just different. In some ways more than in others, but for the most part, life in both countries is pretty great.

So whether you are heading abroad for your job, a study abroad stay, love or even just for a shorter vacation, it is always helpful to keep in mind that while life is different in every culture, there is not one that does it better or worse than any other one. 


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5 comments

  1. Hi Melanie. I had a similar experience coming back to Mexico after my exchange year in Switzerland. Everything felt so much dirtier and rushed, but at the same time friendlier and warmer (not just the weather). Now I miss some of the Swiss stuff that I didn't like then, like the quiet, the orderliness, the picnics at the parks - no parks in Mexico. But you're quite right: one country is not better or worse than another, they're just different and how you remember them really depends on your experience.

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    1. Hi Yali, thanks for commenting! It's interesting that our experiences matched up so closely even with different cultures involved! :) I think every country we visit will have some things that we love and some things we don't love so much, but it's easier to enjoy the moment if we try to not be judgmental. :)

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  2. So true! It's hard not to compare places, but I really love just finding the differences and noticing them before I forget the little things that I found fascinating at the start. I think that as much as traveling is wonderful, it also has the potential to "Ruin" us if we constantly compare places, because then we'll never be happy where we are. Such good advice!

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  3. that is so true! I completely agree with you! felt exactly the same while living abroad in England :)
    anyways! Canada has always been my dream country. Definitely it's different then here, but somehow it now looks not only different, but better! :)
    Great advice of yours!!!

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  4. Great post :)
    Im from Argentina, and I studied in Tennessee. It was ok, I adapted really fast and did not feel homesick at all! The same happened while in NY, and other places.... but now I moved to Austria. And I hate it!!! It is too different!!!
    xoxo

    novelstyle.blogspot.com

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