This week was exactly one month since my current overseas move. One month out of my country. After this stage studying and working in Palermo, I believe I am able to draw some conclusions about my experience.

Travel certainly enriches, culturizes, opens the mind, strengthens social skills, helps to be more organized and a better planner, but is somewhat mythicized and overrated as something that greatly influences personal development. Something I have to recognize, even though I am an inveterate traveler.

Adapt to other ways of living and working, learning from other ways of understanding life, human relationships, work, business organization and time management, appreciating more aspects of life to which other cultures give more importance, are just some of the multiple benefits of living and working in another country.

In Borgo Vecchio I see many immigrants and that let me thinking of their situation. It generates many frustrations and involves great efforts. And not just at the beginning of one’s experience, because many difficult situations appear over time. They begin with language, then continue with bureaucratic issues, bank duties, health problems. I was fortunate to be helped by an organization which gave me all the comforts I needed, but what about the people who leave their country looking for better opportunities without nobody to help them?

On another level, intercultural relationships are very interesting, enriching and often fun, but they are not easy: they can generate enormous challenges in the professional life as well as in the personal sphere. Misunderstandings and lack of understanding are frequent. The language is here the differentiating element. Not understanding the local language, having difficulty learning the local language quickly, or not being able to communicate in English can generate a lot of stress, nerves, frustration and huge waste of time.

Different aspects of your personality come to the surface and you start to make your own attributes, gestures and opinions of the new people that surround you now. There is nothing wrong with all this! You open your mind and you’re out of the small world in which you were living.

It’s many time you don’t see the people you love and a very long distance between. New technologies allow us to feel closer and keep in touch with the reality of these people, but each one lives in his own micro-world, in his routine, his relationships and his friends, his daily life. I used to talk with my family about having more space on my own, and now that I have it, it’s hard for me get used to that.

Living abroad means that you have left your family, your friends, your life habits and have to adapt to a completely different reality and sometimes you feel alone in a place where you can not even communicate.

You walk alone, you go to dinner at restaurants where you sit at tables for one (maybe with a book, or maybe not) … For hours, even days, you are alone. Only your thoughts accompany you. You start talking to yourself, asking questions, responding to them and, never happened before, you feel delighted by everyday actions and occupations. When you are completely alone in a new exciting place and with the extra of the unknown language, something as simple as making the purchase becomes a fascinating task. The fact of having to start from scratch and to rebuild everything or to return to learn to live and to carry out the more normal tasks as if you were a child causes you an extreme change. Yes, it is true, the country and its people will have their own effect when it comes to define who you are and how you think, but there is something a little more profound than being forced to start from the beginning and trusting in oneself to build a whole new life. When you move into that new place and start from the beginning, you acquire a certain level of comfort and confidence with yourself, as well as the assurance that, no matter what happens in the rest of your life, at least once you were able to hit the jump and fall standing.

One of the things that bring me the most joy in this journey is to learn from the children of Borgo Vecchio, their innocence, compassion, solidarity and empathy; there is always one that captivates with his/her smile, with his occurrences, creativity and imagination. They are always full of energy, impetuous and honest with their feelings. They have a strong will, a strong sense of their own self-esteem.

Being in another country strengthens you but at the same time it hurts not to be with your own people. Particularly for me this experience has been special; learning to be alone has been one of the hardest and at the same time enriching challenges. It strengthened my confidence and allowed me to find the happiness in the loneliness.

I want to take the liberty to interpret one of the graffiti that most caught my attention in Borgo Vecchio. It is a man whose head has an octopus on top, representing several things. It made me reflect that being alone could be scary, because you think you always need someone, but you are never alone because we are made of various persons and experiences, like this octopus with people, places and feelings inside it.

Still, is it worth living and working abroad? Definitely, you learn from other ways of understanding life, become another person, finds yourself and your way.

 

Mariel