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Expat Advice: Cultural Assimilation and Why You Need to Adapt

Article Summary:

Moving abroad brings you more than a new country but a new culture as well; take some time and listen to seasoned expats, and they will tell you why it’s so important to adapt first to your new homeland’s culture rather than its climate.

Photo Credit: Times Gerogian

Original Article Text From Times Georgian:

Expat Notebook: Learning and experiencing different cultures

When Andrew Gordon of Carrollton first moved to Honduras, he couldn’t figure out why everyone seemed to want to kiss him.

Only later did he learn that Hondurans use their lips to point to things or people. “I was told later that they were not, in fact, blowing kisses, they were just pointing in my general direction,” he explained.

Gordon’s experience in Central America was not uncommon. Expatriates — people who live outside of their own country — often experience confusion and some embarrassment as they adjust to another language and culture.
Speaking of embarrassment, one has to be careful when learning a new language in another country. While many words in both English and Spanish have the same root and therefore are easily understood, others have a very different meaning.

I have heard many expat men trying to speak Spanish in Latin America say, “Estoy embarazada.” They think that they are saying “I am embarrassed,” but they are actually proclaiming to the world “I am pregnant.” Now that’s embarrassing.

Or, try to make the transition from huggy, friendly, kissy, back-slapping Latin Americans to staid, no-touch Asians. I hug and blow a kiss by the cheek of most Latinas I know — it’s part of the culture. But when we moved to Central Asia I actually had to keep my hands in my pockets to keep from even shaking hands with another woman. That’s a no-no.

Andrew Gordon stated that the best part of living overseas is meeting new and different people. He said he also enjoys “having new, exciting and sometimes other-worldly experiences, learning a new way of life, new cultures, new customs, new history and trying to find my place in it all.”

Gordon has been a teacher and coach at the Mayatan Bilingual School in Copán, Honduras, since August of 2012. Prior to that, he spent part of 2011 in Madrid, Spain, in a study abroad program.

Why does he live outside of his native country and so far from Carrollton?
“I studied Spanish for some years and I was searching for an avenue which would allow me to continue my journey with learning the language and culture,” he said. “I was very attracted to the idea of living and working somewhere in Latin America. I feel that it was and is crucial and of the utmost importance to see and learn as much as possible.”

Most of us who are expats have much the same drive — to experience and learn other cultures, to become more globally educated and globally conscious and to enjoy the stimulation of new and different places.

Growing up with an American mother and British father who were interested in faraway places and world events gave me an interest in people and cultures on the other side of the world. Later when my father obtained a shortwave radio I started to listen to the BBC and other stations from afar and to learn more about different people and places.

When the opportunity arose to relocate to Panama with our two young children in 1974, we jumped at it. Later we learned Spanish in Costa Rica, worked in Christian radio and teaching English as a Second Language in Ecuador, taught at a university in Costa Rica, and since retirement have been involved in limited three- to twelve-month opportunities in several other countries.

What are some of the highlights of living abroad? For us they have included celebrating the 4th of July with other American expats at U.S. embassy parties, seeing how Christmas is celebrated in different countries, walking with expats through difficult homesickness, illness and culture shock, helping intensely lonely young adult singles adjust to life outside the country, hearing ESL students talk about their own country and culture and a variety of other involvements that have touched our lives.

All of us expats gain a wide perspective and learn so much. “My time abroad has demonstrated to me that we do live in a global world,” Andrew Gordon reflected. “Over the past year I have witnessed the gray area in life, the struggle some families go through to scrape together a meal, the miles some children walk to attend school, the heartbreaking reality of much of the world.

“But I have also witnessed the contagious nature of a smile, the comfort of a needed hug and the unmatched power of the human spirit,” Gordon said.

“I believe we are all called as humans, to help our fellow humans. Whether it is in one’s backyard or abroad, it is our duty to help our brothers and sisters.”

Amen, brother. Amen.

Link to Original Article:

From Times Georgian

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