I would like to share my personal experience about the arrival in a foreign country. Everybody is feeling things different but some feelings might be universal. The following article might ring a bell or not at all…but both will be a way to exchange! The purpose of this article is also to help future volunteers to cope with the dizziness of the first days abroad!
Moving abroad is a unique experience which leads to a lot of feelings. It is difficult to picture it before having experienced them. At the beginning, the main feeling is dizziness. The most important thing to keep in mind is that dizziness won’t last forever and afterward this experience will, for sure, make you growing up!
Arriving in a foreign country may make you lost all your main points of reference. For instance your mother tongue becomes useless. When I moved in Sweden or in Greece at the beginning the different languages made me confused. It was difficult and frustrating not to understand conversations, advertisement, written road signs, TV programs… When the language of the host country is not related to yours the difficulty is more important. During my first days in Greece I realized I had (temporary) lost my social intuition. I was hearing a conversation between two women and I was not able to identify if they were talking or arguing. It was harrowing to be confused because the social intuition is very helpful to adapt yourself to the environment. Another example is about the habits. Your daily habits you might consider universal turn out to be only related to your country (or hometown or region). Of course some countries have similarities and you will be happy to find them (it will be reassuring). For instance in Greece I was surprised by the « nap break » during the afternoon. Even the way people are acting/walking in the streets might surprise me when I am abroad. The new climate, landscapes, architecture will really make you feel abroad. At the beginning you might feel really tired. This is normal, because you have to adapt to everything.
Feeling « home » is a comforting feeling but when you arrive in a new country it’s difficult to feel « home » even at the new place you are living in. Some days/weeks are needed to find reassuring references which leads to a new feeling of « home ». Your daily habits will be changed, some things you are doing mechanically might become daily concerns at the beginning. Unexpectedly my main difficulty when I am moving abroad is buying food at supermarkets. My first reflex is buying what I’m used to eat in France but either it is really expensive (for instance buying cheese in Sweden or in Canada) or the products are not selling. The second alternative is buying local products but, moreover when you can’t read the language, it’s « blind purchases » and you might have bad surprises (or really good!). The accommodation come progressively. To me it become a mix between the french and the host country habits. Of course, afterward in France I’m lost because I can’t keep my french-host country habits (this point is another topic).
The danger of being daily lost culturally, spatially (you don’t know your address, the town seems huge, your neighborhood is a labyrinth…) and socially (the temporary loss of social intuition) is to judge the host country and believe yours is better. This is called ethnocentrism, which is defined as «the belief that one’s own culture is superior to all others and is the standard by which all other cultures should be measured. »[i]. Moving abroad is a good way to step back in order to understand what in your behaviors are coming from your culture and open yourself to the other ways of life. Moving abroad is also a wonderful way to become more tolerant and open-minded: seeing other ways of life helps to accept differences. It helps to reduce racism about foreigners because abroad you are the « stranger ». It also helps to reduce stereotypes because you will hear stereotypes about your country and will not identify with the most of them, so then you’ll realize the clichés you have about others countries cannot be accurate either !
Moving abroad means being far away from your beloved ones. Of course now with social medias the feeling is reduced but you will still experience the loneliness. To comforting yourself you might use a lot social medias but it is important not to be addicted to them in order to open yourself to the new country. Having a real social life in the host country is one of the point of moving abroad. Being away from beloved ones allows to get on well with new people. You will experience sharing. You will discover the power of solidarity and kindness because (of course don’t worry about it) you will meet wonderful people, local and foreigners. You will enjoy learning from others in a non-formal way. I am always surprised how we quickly make good friends abroad. Being alone is a also good way to gain confidence because you will realize you are able to do things by yourself.
Going abroad will make you go out of your comfort zone and at the beginning it might be scary. The comfort zone is a concept very well explained by inKNOWation[ii], I will try to sum up its presentation. This is what you know, what you are used to (habits, routine, skills, knowledge, daily life, attitude, behavior…). Going abroad makes travelling into the learning zone (where you learn, compare, experiment, observe) but also into the magic zone (I see it as personal development and growing up…). It is difficult to leave what you’re used to, to go jump into the unknown. You will experience « up and down » on the road but it’s totally worth it! You will become more confident and mature. You will better know what you want for your future, you will know yourself better and so much more! According to the social life it’s also an amazing experience because you will get on well with people from all around the word (all around Europe, all around the host country…) and they will give you a lot: new habits, new ways of seeing life… and you will also give them a lot!
Socializing with local people, meeting international people who had experienced the dizziness of arrival, not being afraid of asking for help (people are always ready to give you an hand, as you will certainly be with incomers when you will feel more comfortable), keeping a contact with family and friends, having a schedule, create a new routine, visiting the town, sleeping enough…are things that help me to adapt myself and start enjoying host countries I moved in. Maybe it will help you too or maybe you will have your own way to deal with the dizziness but be patient you will, for sure, enjoying your new life and having a meaningful experience!
[ii] « Would you dare to dream » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhFxQlDPjaY