Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kept My Sanity While Living Abroad

When I was living in foreign countries (at one point living with a husband and two kids) even the simplest tasks can become the greatest endeavours. One must be prepared for this, and above all else, have the ability to laugh at themselves and to always keep on going.

I am no expert at this feat, by all means. Honestly, my time in England and in America was not a problem because of its English speaking country but living in Austria has been my first experience living in a country where I don’t speak the language or fully understand the culture.

While in Salzburg, I realized what an asset it was (if only) I was able to speak an additional language. I know, I know, you will say that I can always fall back on English (when I speak to a younger generation) there, but it’s just not the same. And I can’t have a translator walking around with me everywhere I went (though I really should download an app for that). Aizad, you must show me how to do this on my iPhone. (NI HI SEN SEE) lol lol (do you remember?)

And yet, while I had no real answers for how to conquer embarrassing times in foreign countries, I can at least offer to share some stories of my life there. I was always modest, kind and realistic when setting goals for myself. I kept it simple. Cos I remember it took me an entire week to figure out where to buy envelopes, stamps and mail letters home. At that time, there was no internet or skype yet. I succeeded.

While in Austria, patience and humour are necessary for daily chores, such as grocery shopping. Really, it was a humbling experience when I had to send multiple texts to my husband asking what the difference was between such and such bread and what the word was for butter or garlic.

I know I had not given up easily. If at first I don’t succeed, I would try and try again. Just because something did not work out well the first time, it does not mean it will never work out at all. I told myself I was in a different place and was trying to do some things in a different way. I could not insist on being stubborn, because it was hard to change things in order to adjust in our new homes.

I gave myself a lot of time. As I hinted at before, grocery shopping (Abbie used to do it) and cooking (Norbert was the cook) are still a challenge for me here. I still end up paying more than I know I should at the store because I am not familiar with brands and products. I didn’t know yet what a good deal was there. Also, it was very difficult for me to find the familiar ingredients that I had at home. I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, all week to make one, awesome dinner for my husband, (he wanted laksa) and each time the seasoning or the flavours or the sauce is just not right. I don’t know what it is! But I am determined to become an awesome chef but never got there. I can’t blame my husband for the fact that it took me 45 minutes to find the store instead of the normal 20. It’s not his fault that the fish I cooked was too dry. Of course, I was there for him and that I loved him, and no matter how hard and frustrating that experience may be, it was worth it, and I knew there would be challenges going into it.

If I ever move again anywhere for the sake of love, I am determined to keep the relationship with whoever it is and the relationship with the new country/city separate. I will try not to totally depend on my significant other—but be independent instead. I used to be scared to go shopping or do laundry on my own, because, god forbid, something would happen and I wouldn’t understand what was going on and then I would ruin everything. Well, I got sick of waiting around for him to do things real fast and just bit the bullet and went out on my own. And what do you know! I didn’t ruin anything….so far.

Sad to say, in Salzburg I didn’t find anyone like me — although I was I guaranteed I’d find similar people like me in America and England and they are out there. There are expats all over the place, and while I should be trying to assimilate and integrate into the culture of my new home, it feels so good to get together with others in the same situation and just cry and bitch about everything. Really, there are other people out there having the same struggles and feelings as I did, and they offered a shoulder to cry on or at least a friend to help explain how something works in a way that I finally learn to understand.

I kept myself happy, healthy and looking good. When everything else fails around me, just focus on ME. Eating right, sleeping well and exercising can make all the difference—really. I was in an uncomfortable setting and situation being a foreigner far from home. I did what I needed to do to make myself feel good and feel like me. Treat myself every now and then, maybe with a day shopping, or a day inside watching movies in English language with a tub of ice cream —whatever floated my boat.

I learned, and loved it. This was an experience—an opportunity to be learning new things every day. How incredible was that?! And when everything turns to shit and comes crashing down around me, know that this is going to be one heck of a story I will be able to tell my friends and family later. Hell, now I am blogging so everyone knows.