Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What Type of Foreigner Are You?

Moving to a different country can be a decision originated by many different reasons. They can go all the way from people who have to leave their country for political reasons to people who just do it for the fun of traveling and getting to know other cultures and other customs.

Many of us expats are just looking for a place that offers better opportunities and a better future, once we find it, we are willing to settle down in our new home and stay there for a long time (if not for the rest of our lives).

There are others, however, who are forced to live abroad and who are just waiting for the time to come when they are able to go back home. They see their adoptive country as a temporary place for them to live but never see it as their new home.

But then, there are other people who live in many different countries throughout their lives. they are the true culture lovers who enjoy experiencing different customs and meeting different people. They consider themselves citizens of the world and "home" for them is a suitcase, a camera and their laptop. These are the foreigners I admire. They have a great capacity to adapt and they don't need a lot more than themselves to be happy. They are not bound to any institution and are not involved in local political issues, they see the world from the spectator seat with a limited participation. They are like the old travellers who would carry the news from town to town. They are the true intercultural experts.

In the end, it doesn't matter what kind of foreigner you are, once you decide to leave your country you become a part of this group of people for whom the concept of "home" has a completely different meaning. Your community narrows down to your family and you get used to saying good-bye a lot. You start to plan your vacation days very carefully, having to stretch them as much as you can to be able to take a real vacation and visit your relatives and friends back in your home country. You have to get used to missing important events and seeing the pictures weeks later. You find that as time passes you are missed less and less, while maybe you miss them just like the first day you were away.

I thank whoever invented Facebook, MSN and Skype because they shorten the distance between my two worlds and make feel like I can have a piece of my old home in my new Canadian reality.   

Friday, December 18, 2009

If the Flame Could Talk...

Yesterday and Today, the Olympic Flame is travelling through different areas of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and the event has drawn lots of people. A coworker is even taking her daughter out of school to take her to see the torch. Undoubtedly, the Olympic Games and everything around them is one of the international happenings that brings the whole world together and breaks any kind of cultural barriers and differences.

However, each of the organizing countries, from Germany, to Japan, to Australia and Brazil, has tried to imprint thier own cultural mark to the Games they have hosted.

I was reading today that the relay of the flame in each case is meticulously planned so that its route from Greece and the torch bearers convey a specific message of the culture and history of the host country. In Mexico (1968), for instance, they wanted the relay to retrace the route Christopher Columbus followed when he discovered the New World. In 1996 (Atlanta), the flame traveled in an Indian canoe and in 2000 (Sydney) it traveled under water through the famous Great Barrier Reef .

In regards to the bearers, at first it was mainly athletes, but gradually the general public began to participate as well. This time in Canada 12,000 people will have the chance to carry the torch as it travels through 1,000 communities covering more or less 45,000 kilometers.

Imagine the trip! Imagine all the stories it would tell us if only the flame could talk!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Mexican in Australia

As promised, I am sharing in this blog Jorge Loredo's experience when he moved to Australia:

Apparently there are not many Mexicans who dare taking the chance to settle “down”. Perhaps that explains why people raise the eyebrows as soon as they know where I’m from, and ask right after, why I decided to move to Melbourne?!!?... I’m still trying to get the right answer to that difficult question.

I’m a Mexican guy, (raised in a middle class family in a southern suburb in Mexico City), who decided to let go and explore what life is about once you hit the mid thirties. Australia happened to be the place to start and so far my life in Melbourne has been a great everyday experience. I love it just the way it comes... with its ups and downs.

And I reckon I was blessed to be raised into a strong, well oriented and progressive family who gave me enough confidence to put myself together and achieve my goals in life.

The decision of coming back to school after so many years has been a terrific experience to me, and quite frightening as well. It’s just that it never crossed my mind the idea of having to sit in exams, or being a student again. But I’m really happy about it, mostly for having the guts of doing it in a different country and totally outside of my comfort zone. That’s a personal challenge that I have accomplished and I’m proud of it.

“The Best Experience of My Life, Ever”
by Jorge Loredo

It has been two years and four months (roughly), since I arrived into my “new home”, and I’m still coping with my new reality. How distant I am now from that six month period I was expecting to settle down and start all over again. Actually, by then, I had already began to believe that it would be more complex.

All of a sudden my life just changed. Everything happened too soon, too fast. I didn’t have the time to adjust myself into this journey regardless the fascination with the idea of doing something different with my life. After all, it was the main purpose of all this, to do something new and different. Indeed, I reckon I never gave myself the time to rethink my own decisions, whether they were right or wrong. I simply followed my heart and guts letting intuition take control and become my guide....and didn’t see all this coming.

With plenty of anticipation I organized, planed and redirect my life (personally and professionally speaking) to accommodate a dream life into reality. More than a thousand times I questioned myself how much I really wanted to go through this experience, and how willing I was to turn around the page and leave all which for more than three decades represented my entire world. But in just a matter of weeks what I always thought was my special place God meticulously planned for me in this life, was completely gone.

The blast was blatant, and the expansion wave reduced my “happy life” into crumbles... with no mercy.

In a matter of weeks I found myself emotionally defeated, sad and depressed. I was trying really hard to keep a smile in my face pretending that everything was cool and alright. I mean, after all the fuss I did, the least thing I wanted was letting my parents and close relatives know that what I thought was the best idea ever, had turned out to become a total nightmare.

In retrospective, and analysing this transitioning part of my life in Australia, (which by the way I guess is far and distant of seeing an ending soon) I ended up realizing how attached I was to my life in Mexico. The fact of stepping out of my comfort zone, regardless my desire of changing my life became a strong confrontation with many feelings, all happening at the same time: fear, excitement, confusion, hesitation, and even anger for putting myself into that situation. – and those were the most common emotions that I constantly experienced during some months, feeling my life as if I were in a constant roller coaster , but without the certainty of a nice ending.

...My blurry recollections of those first six months are still fuzzy but, at the same time I was experiencing for the first time in my life the great sensation of being free to do whatever I wanted. It was scary but exciting at the same time.

Now I know that all the frustration and anger that I experienced during that stage of my life was due to my lack of ability to articulate thoughts, ideas, words or even expressions in English..... yeah!! and all these years I thought I was totally bilingual.. yeah right, !!! ...

The shock was so powerful that even trying to think or organize clear thoughts in my mind in Spanish became a nightmare. Wow!! I was so embarrassed with myself about my poor performance that I couldn’t do less than close myself to the rest of the world. All my insecurities popped out immediately and all of a sudden I was in panic and totally overwhelmed.

It took me quite a few months to overcome that weird stage of my experience, along with many embarrassing moments, needless to say, but fortunately ever since I managed to go over it, my life started to change...and it did all for good!.

I’m a new person now. I’m more flexible, very adaptable to any situation, and actually quite stronger than ever. Everything seems bright and clear now. (not that now I’m in wonderland), I can say I have overpassed the shock and overcome my own fears and insecurities, the ones that probably I was denying and running away from in Mexico. Now I’m totally in sync with my partner, my life and myself.

I would dare to say that now I am a happy person; the sort of guy who considers himself well sorted and stable, who can carve its present life with no hesitations. And I already started working on my future... that beautiful dream that did make all the sense in my head when I decided to come here.

I want to finish this story sharing a quotation by George Shinn that I read and liked very much. It constantly reminds me that not being afraid in life is so worth it. It pushes me to challenge myself every day.

“Growth means change, and change involves risks, stepping from the known to the unknown..”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Have We Become Braver?

In Mexico, the idea of living abroad has changed a lot in the last few years. I remember when I was younger, it was not common to hear about someone moving to another country, and when you did, it was something people spoke of a lot, just like a hero's prowess or something like that.

More or less three years ago when I discovered Facebook and I started looking for old friends from school, I realized how many of them already lived somewhere else (including myself) and how much things had changed.

Is it that we are more thirsty for international experience, is it that our country is not offering the opportunities we search for anymore, is it that we belong to a restless generation always looking for new challenges and adventures? I don't know. However, we all now share the experience of what it feels like to be an expat and everything you have to go through...

For this reason, I started asking my friends to write about their own experiences and share them in this blog. Hopefully they will want to participate and we can hear interesting stories about Mexicans (mostly) around the world.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

International Christmas Menu

Food is a very common aspect that identifies different cultures, and even though the preparation and ingredients that make the dishes can be totally different from one culture to another, the fact that people get together around the table to celebrate is common to all.

Here, I put together a menu with dishes from around the world to celebrate Christmas, it would be fun to try something new this year. I think this is also a great way of raising awareness of culture sensitivity among all the family members.

To start:
  • Vánoční rybí polévka - Christmas fish soup from the Czech Republic and Serbia
  • Barszcz or borscht - vegetable soup with red beets from Poland
  • Moros de guandules con coco - rice with pigeon peas and coconut milk from Dominican Republic
Main dishes:
  • Reindeer (in northern Finland) (poro) from Finland
  • Weisswurst - sausages with veal and bacon, usually flavoured with parsley, lemon, mace, onions, ginger and cardamom from Germany
  • Hallaca - rectangle-shaped meal made of maize, filled with beef, pork, olives, raisins and caper, and wrapped in plantain leaves from Venezuela
Side dishes:
  • Romeritos - small green leaves of a particular type mixed generally with mole and potatoes; generally accompanied with "tortitas de camarón" (shrimp bread) from Mexico
  • Rødkål - sweet and sour red cabbage, as a side dish from Norway
  • Janssons frestelse ("Jansson's Temptation") - warm scalloped potato casserole with anchovies from Sweden
  • Cougnou (with various like cougnolle), sweet bread in the form of the infant Jesus from Belgium
  • Bûche de Noël from Canada, France (and other French speaking countries)
  • Christmas cake - Different from a UK Christmas cake or American fruitcake, the Japanese style Christmas cake is a white cream cake, often sponge cake frosted with whipped cream, topped with strawberries and with a chocolate plate that says Merry Christmas.
To drink
  • Cola de mono - Chilean Christmas beverage, with aguardiente, milk, coffee, and flavoured with vanilla and cloves from Chile
  • Julebryg - Christmas beer from Denmark and Finland
Enjoy!  Bon Apetit!  Buen provecho!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The 2-Hour-Party Culture

Now that I am a mother, I have discovered the world of children's birthday parties in Canada. The custom here is so different than the one in Mexico that I think it is worth giving it a space in my blog.

I will start with a short recap of what parties are like in Mexico, of course there are different factors in place, but normally, they don't last less than 4 hours. If the parents have rented a party place, it usualy goes for that amount of time, however, it is very common for the closest guests to go to the parent's house afterwards to continue the celebration. If the party takes place at a house, it can last for hours and hours. It is also common to have alcohol for adults, so it can become an adult party that can sometimes end far beyond kids bedtime.

I guess that is why I was so surprised when I heard that parties here were just two hours long. Even though I think we Mexicans exagerate this whole celebration thing, I don't think 2 hours is enough for all the anticipation a birthday party generates in a child. I know it is a lot of work for the parents (mostly if kids are just dropped of and then picked up) but it is just once a year and I believe it's worth it.

Furthermore, if Mom and Dad see it as a good opportunity to spend some time together while their kid is at a party, I definitely have to say that 2 hours is not enough!

If I take this 2-hour culture a bit further, I think, in general, parties and reunions here in Canada are just that long... for instance, I was invited to a cookie swap that will last for 2 hours; I invited some friends for lunch the other day and they only stayed for 2 hours... holiday parties, company get-togethers... 2 hours! When you have lived in a place in which time is not an issue when you are having fun, it is very hard to keep an eye on your watch!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Can You Experience Culture Shock When You Get Married?

Someone once told me that when you got married you experienced something very similar to the Curve of Cultural Adaptation.

According to this curve during the first few weeks you find everything very exciting, people treat you nicely, there is a lot to learn and to see... you are in a state of euforia.

After some time, you start to get used to your new routine and you start to notice the imperfections of your new world, people are not so forgiving of your mistakes and you start to feel frustrated about unexpected behaviours due to cultural differences.

After that culture shock you start to learn more about this new place and the underlying aspects behind music, cuisine, language, etc and you start to understand the behaviours, attitudes and customs; you start to adapt to them and you begin to feel that you belong to this new culture. Your vision of the world becomes more objective and you are able to appreciate the good things just as they are and you accept the bad things.

If we were to compare these stages to what you go through when you get married, I think you will agree with me that the experience is very similar. Getting to share your whole life with someone with a different educational background, with different beliefs and who has travelled the world through a different path can be compared to moving to a totally different country. You also go through that period in which everything seems perfect until you fall into a routine and start noticing the imperfections. Coming out of that difficult stage is also a matter of adaptation, understanding and flexibility, and being successful is also dependant on how open and eager to learn from each other both parties are and how much effort you put into making it work day after day.

So, if you are married and planning to relocate, or if you are an expat planning on getting married, think about it this way... you have already experienced the stages of cultural adaptation, so it won't be too hard to do it this time around.