CBC recently had an article about Canadian teachers moving abroad for teaching opportunities. With an incredibly limited job market for teachers in Canada, more and more teachers are exploring alternative options. Some go purely because it's a job offer, others desire the challenge or change, and many want the experiences of culture and travel. Teaching abroad has certainly been the best adventure of my life! I have come to understand and appreciate that living abroad means not always having things be familiar. It means stepping outside of your comfort zone and learning to adapt. Things are done differently, foods taste different, there are language barriers, and different approaches to living life. Although at times the unfamiliararties may become overwhelming, they are part of living abroad... and frankly why move to a foreign country and have everything be the same as it is back home? If that's the case, why not just stay home? I've always found that the people who don't stay abroad very long are the ones who don't embrace the differences. It's a lifestyle that isn't for everyone, but it's also a lifestyle that is so enjoyable when you decide to let go of the comforts of home and embrace your new environment for all that it is and all that it is not.
After living in the Bahamas and the UK, it was Jakarta where I learned the hardest lessons and the true meaning of being somewhere foreign. Because of my time in Indonesia I feel extra fortunate that moving to Italy has been such an easy transition. A country that is so rich in culture, yet has such a sense of familiarity. I absolutely love living in Italy and the opportunities that present themselves. I wouldn't change it for anything. But there are days when I miss the excitement of being somewhere completely foreign and so drastically different. I am fortunate that Milan has many of the comforts of home. It has been an easy transition and other than not speaking the language, it is a city that is easy to live in. It is clean, friendly, entertaining and has excellent public transportation. At times, things may not be as efficient as in North America, but with this being my fifth year abroad, I am becoming much more adaptable with accepting that time in North America is wildly different to the rest of the world, and despite being an inconvenience at times, is totally okay! I really have no complaints.. but I do long for more adventures that bring to me places that shock my senses and reveal things that I hadn't previously known existed!
I traveled to foreign lands, adapted to new work ethics, mixed and mingled with people of all walks of life, forced myself to go out alone and meet new friends, spent time traveling third world countries alone, and pulled myself away from comfort foods to try eating more exotically (even after many horrendous episodes of food poisoning). My point is, it wasn't easy and I did make complaints along the way (part of being human, right?). But, I did it and my life is richer for having these experiences and doing my best to embrace it! I met friends I will never forget, taught children who made me a better teacher, and saw sights that words cannot give justice to.
The sights of Jakarta were enough alone to overwhelm anyone's senses. The city hosts some of the most intense traffic in the world. Mix in some goats, cows and street vendors crawling in and around the vehicles and look out your window to see a tiny human being holding their hands out and begging for money, food and hope. Add in the the cultural differences and you really realize you are no longer anywhere close to home. In my experience I often felt a major cultural divide in daily life. Being a "bule" (meaning: Caucasian person) meant constant stares, giggles, and being approached on a regular basis for photos or by someone hoping to practice a little bit of English with you. As silly as it may all sound, it became exhausting. A simple outing to buy groceries could often leave me feeling insecure and wondering why I must get so many stares and giggles. It was probably in these moments I missed familiarity the most. I sought after being somewhere so different, but was unprepared for the fact that I was what was different in this city. My Indonesian friends often tried to reassure me that it should be taken as compliments, but it wasn't always easy.
Despite the challenges, heartaches and stresses - I do not for a second regret my time in Jakarta. I met people who have had entirely different upbringings from mine, who view the world so differently and value things that I hadn't before. I learned from these people and became richer because of them. I was a guest in their country and learned to adapt the best I could.
Being abroad: It isn't home. It isn't always easy. Things are different.