“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
That is Newtown’s Third Law of Motion and is an all-encompassing axiom which, unsurprisingly, transcends the boundaries of physics. When it comes to relocating to a foreign country and getting to know the new people in your environment, it dictates that every ‘Hello’ (more often than not) is accompanied with another ‘Hello’ and is later concluded with a ‘Goodbye’.
This inevitable parting of ways is frequently neglected, sometimes forgotten altogether, in many mainstream relocation stories. There seems to be a glorification in the entire relocation journey, namely the unique opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with a diversity of people. While that can most certainly be true, it ignores, rather conveniently so, the other crucial fact that these relationships face the risk of dissipating when the expat relocates to a different country.
“Having lived in four countries, I got the wonderful opportunity to make lifelong friends,” says Julie Mitrovic, a 30-year old French expat who loves to relocate, for both her studies and career, because she treats it as a chance to explore various cultures. “But, it also meant saying goodbye to way too many of them. And I don’t think it ever gets any easier.”
However, the purpose behind Julie’s honest recollection is not to act as a disincentive to relocate. It is far from it. Rather, her story is to be read as a practical guide on how to face the challenge of establishing real connections with people who matter to you, and subsequently maintaining these relationships long after you have embarked on yet another relocation journey.
Here is Julie’s story.
It’s hard to say ‘Goodbye’.
Even till today, I’m not very good at it. Whenever I part with my friends, we’d say to each other, “I’ll see you soon”. But, in actual fact, we don’t know when we’ll get to see each other again. Sometimes it can be for months; sometimes it can be for years. I guess this is the price you pay to live this kind of mobile life. You make this choice to live far away; you learn to cope with the consequences.
Nevertheless, technology is a lifesaver. Now, with WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime, Messenger, it’s super easy to keep in touch, as long as you put in the effort to. I remember when I was back in high school, my best friend moved to Australia and we wrote letters to each other to stay updated. Can you believe that? And I still keep those letters!
I’ve learnt how to cherish the time I spend with people, because I never know when any of us will have to relocate again.
What I’ve noticed, and what also came as a huge surprise to me, is that when I reconnect with old friends, we seem to pick it up right where we left off. It’s as if nothing has changed. For example, my friend who’s lived in the US for 10 years, we’re still able to talk and laugh for hours whenever we reunite back in France. I think this is something really special that bind us expats together. So, sure, saying goodbye doesn’t get any easier the more times you do it, but you learn to trust that good friends will stay good friends no matter the distance between you guys.
I think this experience makes you realize how special your relationships with people are. I really cherish and appreciate the time I spend with people because I never know when either of us will have to relocate again. So, when I am in the same country as my friends, I invest a lot of time and energy in catching up with them because I know that the time I spend with my friends, no matter how little, matters. And in this process, I was really able to develop a genuine relationship with the people around me.
That being said, I think the key to truly immersing yourself into a foreign country is to learn to speak the local language. I was fortunate that when I moved to Poland, I was already able to speak Polish fluently. It was also great because I was able to help many foreigners in their daily life by being their translator. This is the best access you can have to people, and this completely changes how people treat you when you’re able to speak in their mother tongue.
Even if you’re not very fluent, people understand and will respect your effort. And this speaks volumes towards your reputation as a curious learner.
And this, right here, is truly a game-changer. For example, my husband is Serbian, and he’s able to speak Japanese fluently. He’s currently in Japan on a business trip, and when locals hear him speak Japanese, they’re always so impressed and really respect the effort he puts in to learn their language: they immediately feel a strong connection towards him. Because this isn’t so much about learning a new language as it is about learning a new culture and history.
Here’s the best part. Even if you’re not very fluent and it’s still very choppy, people understand and will continue to respect your effort in trying. And this says a lot about you. It shows that you’re not just a consumer in a foreign country, but also someone who’s truly curious about a new culture.
For me, learning a new language isn’t difficult because I’ve gotten used to studying multiple languages in school and in university. I’m used to it. But then again, what you’re taught in school doesn’t at all live up to what the real world actually is like. When you converse with someone, there’s so much nuance and colloquialism in the language that you’re just not taught in a classroom setting.
Therefore, the most effective, and perhaps the only way, to progress in a language is really to put yourself out there, interact with the locals, and not be afraid of making mistakes. Of course, going to class helps (this is also a chance to meet new people even before moving), but it’s so important to apply what you’ve been taught into a real-world situation.
Moreover, the really interesting thing about being able to speak multiple languages is the ability to think differently, depending on the language you’re using. This helps to shift your perspective on reality. And what they say is really true, language constructs your reality. Hence, the way a language is spoken influences the way people think and behave. I think that’s what I love most about speaking in different languages: it challenges what you think you know about this world because ultimately, language is how you express your thoughts, opinions, and ideas.
When relocating internationally, you’re putting your whole life into a box. Signed and shipped. So, take care of it. But more importantly, unbox it, and then make the most out of it.
This article is part of an ongoing project to share relocation narratives. We are collating first-hand accounts of expats’ relocation experiences in the hopes that it will provide you with valuable tips.
You can play your part in this story by sharing a page from your life with us. Reach out to us today
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