Living abroad: are we really strangers?

charles-darwin-quoteIt’s 8.30 o’clock in the morning and I am in the office. I have already interacted with people in 3 different languages (4 if you include my kids childish wording).
I speak with my kids and my hubby in our native language Italian, then I bring my kids to the Hirschhorner Kindergarten where I talk to the german teachers, and finally I arrive in the office and start my normal working activities in English. This is my life and like me, everyday millions of people do the same, struggling between difficulties and happiness, jugglering between Sadness and Joy. Definitely we all push ourselves out of our comfort Zone very often. I’m lucky enough that I could chose this life and I was able to make it (thanks to the great opportunity my company gave me). But I can image how hard it must be for people that have no choice but going away and have to escape from where they live. And here it starts the new life as a “stranger”.

My question today is: What is stranger at the end? Borders are only inventions of humans. If there were no boards I would had lived closer to Heidelberg than to Roma. Without borders people would have had much more connections and probably we, as population, would have been closer. Maybe conflicts could have been avoided. I realized that similarities are much more than differences within us humans nowadays and globalization is bringing us acting more and more the same way. We eat the same food, we drink the same cokes and smoke the same cigarettes. We live with Smartphones in our hands and take the same planes to travel. We work in the same way, using the same tool and many customer are even the same ones.
So why are we still much talking about differences and yet nobody talks about how much do we have in common? Is it something more like an habit than reality? Are borders these days changing their meaning? If I can go 600 km far away in an hour, would that impact my sense of distance? My believe is YES, absolutely. And it is impacting in a good way. The more we connect, the more we know each other, the more we unify. Migration is not about invading, is about connecting.

I could see though that despite the good willing, some people can’t adapt to what’s new anyway. Maybe they don’t have the strength or they are not motivated enought, but many strangers keep themselves “strangers” in the real sense. Thus I can understand why, I don’t agree.
Once I have met a 50 years old man who has been living in Germany for 25 years and still is not able to ask one single question like “how old are you?” in German! Not surprise if he also complains about how “cold” Germans are, of course you don’t understand what they say! Plus you don’t even engage yourself a little in learning the language of the country you live in, what do you expect from the people around you? I must say I hate this attitude so much.

So far in my life I had lived two “integrations” and I would like to share what has helped me to make it working. My 5 Tips for an Expat to facilitate his integration in the new hosting country:

Learn the local language: absolutely the most important factor. No matter what language it is, learn what your neighbors, your colleagues, your doctors and your surrounding speak.

– Study the history of a country: not, you don’t have to take a degree on historical matters, just a little knowledge. It helps to understand what you see and hear everyday

Eat local and at the same time. Ok, not all and not always, and yes you can personalized recipes. But try to immerge as much as possible in the food culture and habits. Which could mean to eat early or very late. (I personally find a little stupid keep other eating hours that the standard of the country you live in, because you won’t find any restaurant serving food when you’re used to eat then).

Dress up like the others. Just be clear, I come from Milano (the capital of fashion) and I’ve always cared a lot about what I was wearing. But since I move I realized that all those so pretty things would not fit my life now. Shoes with high hills or very delicate bags doesn’t meet the need of walking in the woods or climbing the hill to pick up my kids in Kindergarten. Plus I’d be way overdressed in the office. At frist I was skeptical, now I feel much better, more comfortable and I found there are also nice clothing more “easy style”. Of course I kept all the nice Outfits for my Italian vacations.

NEVER criticize. Most of the things you find awkward are just habits, often without a logical explanation. Does it make sense to be critic about it? To me absolutely not. Thus It makes sense to wonder why and ask. But don’t expect a logical answer, in many cases there is any. Example: in Italy it is usual that salad comes after the hot meal (which is normally pasta), in the rest of the world the vegetables are eaten before. I personally like this way and I had no problem adapting to it but my husband absolutely can not eat vegetable before his pasta! Does he deserve a critic for it? No way!
As long as he does not compain about it…

Starting a new life in a different country is a roller coaster of emotions. Everything is amplified, from the lowest sadness to the highest joy.

Happiness assumes a new meaning and important values change. No more importance is given to material things but relations become the Lymph of everyday life. It is somehow like coming back to our childhood but at the same time become wiser.