Published in TIE, The Marketplace for International Education, September 1st, 2013
Although you have just arrived, over time, you will discover that there are very few experiences as transformative and broadening, while at the same time as perplexing and frustrating, as teaching and living abroad. That makes sense. With the exception of physical growth, very little in our lives contains the intensity and vitality of life as an international educator. You live walking the cultural tightrope of the unfamiliar. The only safety net is resiliency, a sense of humor, and perspective: multiple ones.
The cross-cultural life is not for the lighthearted or the inflexible. In Bogota, I got fleas. In Mexico City, I learned how to negotiate traffic violations on the spot. And in Barcelona, I acquired the taste for cafe life and the key to living in time, without measuring it. Cross-cultural living is a graduate education in life.
In the spirit of preparedness, here is a list of some of the unexpected and culturally foreign experiences that you might encounter. And when you do, pause, and remember to breathe:
In short: expect the unexpected, be mindful of difference, and suspend judgment. It is not only a new language and culture you are immersed in, but a worldview. Read the Iliad. Read the Odyssey. Or read the Golden Ass. Part of the adventure (and it is an adventure) is getting lost, being taken, and becoming transformed. Anything worthwhile can be perilous. And finally, when the siren for home calls (at least 5 years later) that you come back with broader perspectives, another language, and the first hand experience of what living globally means. The educational world is desperate for global citizens like you. And oh yes. Drink lots of water the first 24 hours, if you have not already. It’s a good antidote for jet lag.