For most of my life, I’ve been a foreigner in some way or another. I was born in Australia, and moved to England when I was four. Then when I was 10, I moved to Holland, where I lived up until I went to university two years ago. Living abroad was unusual at first. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know anyone, and the food was, well, different; raw herring? No thank you! I also had to get used to the Dutch traditions, culture and ways of life, but being a 10-year-old who was eager to learn and try new things, I didn’t find this too hard.
However, this was partly because I had the safety blanket of an ‘expat’ community to fall back on. An ‘expat’ is usually defined as someone who lives outside their native country, and the expat community in Holland became our life support. The community was made up of people from all around the world, but we had one thing in common; we had all needed to build our lives again in a different country. This community helped me and my family find our feet when we first arrived, find us a house, and find us a dictionary as we struggled to mumble: ‘sorry, I don’t speak Dutch!’ I went to an international school, and made friends from all over the world. I had some amazing experiences, but the one drawback was that I didn’t truly find that I was able to integrate into the ‘real’ Dutch culture.
This autumn, I’m doing the same thing as I did 10 years ago, except this time it’s different. I’m going alone, and I don’t have a pre-prepared community ready to help me through the difficulties of starting again in a different country. I’m going to go to Bellac, in Limousin, and whilst I am lucky enough to be accommodated by the school I’m teaching in, I still have the daunting task ahead of finding my way around, establishing myself here, and making friends, all in a different language. Yet I’m actually looking forward to this; it may be more difficult, but in the end I will have a deeper understanding of the French culture, I will feel more integrated into the French way of life, and hopefully will speak better French! I’m ready to take on the challenge.
Have you ever lived in a foreign country? Do you think it’s better to have people from your own culture to help you start up in a new country, or to do it alone?