After spending 23 years of my life in India I moved to a new country after marriage. I relocated in Belgium. My first trip on international airways, I was very tensed, excited, apprehensive…. It was a mixed bag for me.
After approximately 8 hours journey I landed in Belgium. A whole new world awaited me. Nothing was same for me, the weather, the people, the language, the culture, even the currency 🙂 I had two choices in front of me either embrace the change and move along with it or locking up myself in a shell and make things miserable for myself and my family. I chose the first one of course.
To begin with I used to feel homesick, missed everything back home. But as it is rightly said home is where you are I had to understand this pretty quickly. As a wife of expat working in a foreign land with long “do nothing” hours at my disposal my only way to adjust in a new place is to understand its culture. By understanding culture I don’t necessarily mean learning its history though having knowledge of history of one’s resident country is an addition only. I mean understanding people, their ways of work, celebration, reaction to certain issues and so on. To simplify I would like to quote an example here. Here in Belgium public display of affection is never considered wrong but to the land which I belong to, being a conservative society any such display of love or affection is still a taboo.
Learning the local language gives an edge in understanding the culture better as it gives a chance to mingle with people around giving an insight into their perspectives. At this point I would definitely confess that even after seven years I am not that well versed in French. I am embarrassed to say so. I still write “intermediate” knowledge of French in my resume 🙂 But I can easily get into a conversation (I am not confident with telephonic conversations though), can write mails to my landlord, fill in basic applications. That’s it. There are reasons why I am not fluent but nothing justifies my inability. So leave it.
So coming back to how to understand culture of a new place, the only way is through people. When I was new here in Belgium I used to take long walks into the markets, parks just watching carefully surroundings. Always tried to greet with a smile if ever had an eye contact with someone. A smile costs nothing but can win hearts and I believe that firmly. I made myself familiar with basic words of greeting and other very basic words in French. That helped me a lot.
After seven years I am home, in love with Belgium and its people. Understanding and respecting cultures bring harmony and definitely can put an end to all the chaos world is facing today.
Hope you all agree with me.