Have you ever thought of living abroad?
Living abroad is one of the most exciting experiences I've had. I remember the day I flew to the United States for the first time. I was stunned by what I saw and couldn't believe my once-American dream had come true. But...
Like everything else, it wasn't easy in the beginning, but it was worth it.
One of the best parts of it was meeting and living with people from different cultures. So, if you're up for this challenge, let me tell you some of the big lessons I learned along the way.
When you're living with people from other cultures, you'll encounter customs or traditions that are very new to you. Looking at things from their side will help you understand where they're coming from.
Do I welcome their ideas?
Am I considerate of their beliefs, traditions, or customs?
Do I give them empathy when they're struggling with something?
Do I listen to what they have to say?
You noticed your classmate Smita doesn't talk with people in your class. You found out today that your instructor has assigned both of you to finish a particular project. How would you resolve this issue?
Don't Hesitate to Ask
It could be awkward to ask sometimes but remember, it's not your culture. Asking and listening with an intent to understand could help you keep up your relationship with others. At other times, it gives you clarity and accurate information on how to respond.
Here's how you do it:
Ask with intention. The culture is new to you and you want to know just as much as possible about the culture without invading the person's privacy. In my experience, I often ask about:
the language they speak
things that are disrespectful or respectful in their culture
Listen attentively and emphatically. Make eye contact and nod to affirm the person's statement, if possible.
Hold off on making judgments, giving answers, or offering ideas. Wait until there is an opportunity, or you may not need to respond at all.
Cultural differences are real! And there's no universal formula for genuinely reaching out to someone and meeting them where they're at. If you want to be a friend, be intentional with your motives.
It means being:
Respectful. Great friendships require respecting boundaries. For example, respecting people's space and privacy, and having yours respected, are important across cultures.
Honest. Imagine friendly relationships built on honesty. It's rewarding to have friends who are honest with you.
Appreciative. Let the person know you appreciate them. For example, thank them even for a small favor they've done for you.
Forgiving. We can't be perfect at all times. The chances are we'll offend others, and others will offend us.
Spend Time Together
You can’t get to know the person behind the culture if you're always in a rush, afraid to make mistakes, or reluctant. However, spending time with them could be worth it as you form a friendship that could last forever.
Activities you could do together:
Watch movies both of you are interested in, whether it's a fantasy, romance, documentary, religious, or science fiction.
Cook a meal together. Share delicacies from your country. I often volunteer to cook and share my spring rolls. Not only do they like it, but it opens a way to communicate culture and a time for bonding.
Play indoor games like chess, table tennis, and word puzzles.
Tell stories that are worth sharing.
Enjoy The Culture
Life is too short. Getting to know people from other cultures is one way to enjoy it. I've gained friends mostly from foreign countries that I consider my family here in the United States.
Attending a cultural event near you. This way, you can meet with different people and increase your exposure to their cultures.
Trying delicacies from different countries, if not allergic to them, or learning a foreign cuisine.
Learning a new language and speaking with a native speaker. For instance, learn Spanish and speak with someone from Mexico.
Living with people from other culture is hard work! But it brings a lot of benefits that could last forever. You can start with: