… and no, even if China and hacking is a hottish topic, I’m not talking about that. Geeks, go away, check out #geekhumor. Rather, recent events have made me wonder just what it means to be successful – or maybe rather, successfully be – in a foreign country. Since my writing is evolving in the direction of what it means to be “at home,” in places near and far, in this world, it seems pretty relevant…
We are looking for some kind of success, to make it, in our lives and especially when we take the plunge and go abroad, aren’t we?
Business travel oftentimes involves going abroad, but except where it involves the outcome of negotiations, learning about your relevant opposites culture is hardly necessary. On the other hand, success is easily measured in this context.
Tourists have their own measure of success, too. The way it’s often seen – and often seems to be – relaxation and the allure of the exotic hold their sway. If it’s not just all about the tan, maybe booze, and the beach, many want to encounter the Other – mediated by a camera’s lens, from a safe distance. There tends not to be time for more.
When you go to live in a country for some time, things are different. Or not.
Judging by many people I’ve seen, there are many who are quite content wherever they are – as long as there’s booze and parties to be had and they can pride themselves on having lived in *that* far-away land. Interactions with locals may or may not be strong. It all depends on daily life. Or the party locations.
The image I paint is quite a straw man, I believe. Most of the time, this is the sort of people living a normal life, having a day job – simply normal people. It is us. We are the reason I’m writing more and more about what it means to live, be “at home in“ this world. Because much of the time, we are not. Whether at home or abroad, we are like tourists on this planet, just passing through.
Clearly, many other, also ordinary, people are not looking for that surface encounter alone. Many look to become a part of their chosen “other” society (and finally realize how much they are of theirs – at best), or at least to find a place where they like to be. They look to feel, at least, that they got something out of their stay.
So, you travel, you take pictures (but respectfully so), you stay longer, find a job, try and learn to language… maybe even get into a relationship. Yet, you may encounter just why recent immigrants to Western countries tend to stick to their own: you stick out as someone who is not naturally of the host society.
It all boils down, problematically, to what you make of your experiences. There is no need for the others to accept you; there is a need for you to see whether you like the total experience or not. Some will head back immediately, happy to be safely ensconced in their well-known world. Some will find that they can live where they chose to go, but grow not to like it and go on. Some will find that their own society has enough problems, too, and the change is doing them good.
The most interesting case, to me, are those who are enamored of a foreign culture, study the language as their major, then finally *make it* in going there – and find that they hate the actual experience of living in said culture. We all tend to live in our expectations and ideas. Living in the real world, accepting that a foreign culture (just as our own) will have lots of different people, some kind, some ugly, lots of good sides – and bad, kindness and crime, fascination and repulsion… it seems to be a lesson that more and more people need to learn. It also seems to be a lesson that fewer and fewer are willing to learn, as you can feel competent in your world of compputer games and the daily grind, enclosed in online news showing you the world just as you know it to be.
What does not work is judging other’s success by your own criteria, for they will have their own feelings, experiences, and reasons. And rationalizations, as well. The experience of being in a different society with a different culture, learning a new language, is good – if not necessary, in this interconnected world of ours – anyways. You certainly will learn something. Even if it is that it’s time to move on.
Good luck, Ellis, I’m looking forward to your (culinary, not least) adventures in Europe.