For the past few years I have chosen a word to be my theme for the year. Gone are the list of resolutions. Instead, I just choose a word. This year it is THRIVE.
Since I’ve chosen this word about a month ago, I’ve been spending time thinking, “How does one thrive in a country not their own?”
Here is what I came up with – though it not an extensive list, it is a start.
Get out – Maybe you just arrived, or maybe you are stuck inside with your kiddos, but either way you have to open up the door and step outside. Go to a local park or a playground to let your kids run around. Take time with your ipod and go for a run/walk by yourself. Sometimes we just need to unplug, and we know that exercise is good for the mental health, too.
I’ve found that living in the city has taken a toll on us. We need to get out of the city regularly, so we’ve planned times to go to the mountains or the beach every few weeks. Being in nature is just good for the soul – so even if you can’t get that far away, be creative and try to find some place where you can be outside and get some natural Vitamin D. Plants don’t thrive without some sun – and neither will you.
Get connected – Find friends. Be proactive (and this is very difficult for this introvert to do). The reason you have to be proactive is that most likely, they will not find you. They have their circle of friends, their needs are met. I have found that this circle of friendship is open to others, but the outsider has to break in. Ask someone to go for tea or a coffee. Ask them over for a dinner. Meet up to go to the beach or to the mountains. Either way, make some friends – local or expat, but really a mixture of both is even better. The locals can teach you so much more about the country you are living in and the expat can relate to your blunders and heartaches. The catch to thriving in this connecting way is to make sure that your connections encourage and strengthen you, not bring you (or the country) down. Most of the time, these friends end up being extensions to your family tree.
Get positive – This can be tagged to the last thought. It’s easy to find the negative in a culture you don’t understand completely. Sure maybe the people stare, touch, want pictures, or maybe the country is dirty, smelly, just a hard place live. Try to look past all of that to see the beauty in the place. Find others who know the beauty of the people and places and connect with them. If you really despise the place you are living in or agitated with the people, you won’t connect, you won’t go out, you just won’t thrive. Something has to change – either your location or your attitude. You attitude is a whole lot cheaper – just saying.
Please note that you will have days where things are hard – this is normal. It isn’t your culture, and you won’t understand and will get fed up, but DON’T stay in that place. Don’t let those days become weeks and then months – you will find yourself wilting. And a wilting flower is not very pretty to look at…
Get the language – I put this last because, well you can get out and start to get connected before you “get the language” like a pro. Trust me, charades and mime like gestures has gotten my cabinets filled with food many of times. And though smiling and nodding to the neighbor and her toothless grandmother can begin a connectedness, it isn’t going to go any farther until you learn the language. And this takes lots of work, but so worth it. If you have kids, it’ll amaze you how fast they pick it up and end up being your walking translators – but don’t let that become your crutch. Sign up for a class, get a tutor, have a language exchange with another mother – just get out there and learn the language. All this to say, if you can understand and be understood you will thrive – but just as a seed takes time to bloom, so to will language. So be patient with yourself, but keep pushing yourself forward.
It’s not easy to thrive in a country that is not your own, where your comfort food from “home” can’t be found, or where you find you can’t be understood at the local market – but it can be done. And though I’ve lived overseas for some time, I still have to work on the above list because well, to be honest, I do slip back into old habits once in a while – and my kids do make very good translators these days.
Your Turn: What has helped you most to thrive where you are? Please share in the comments below.
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Todays posting was inspired by Velvet Ashes, The Grove.