Living Abroad,  Thriving

Accepting Others’ Journeys

Dear Christine,

It sounds to me like you’ve been having some frustration with others who don’t share your affinity for learning the Spanish language and immersing themselves in the local culture. While I totally get it and think it’s okay for you to feel that way, I also think it’s okay for those other people be on a different path and it is important for you to understand that we are not all taking the same journey.

The next time you find yourself judging another for their way of going about studying/living abroad, I encourage you to stop and reflect for a moment. These feelings may say more about you and where you're at than about them...This reminds me of a time I met a fellow guiri who was living in a village of Málaga. She was not traveling; she had been living there for a few months already. She seemed like a lovely human being, but I could not, for the life of me, get over the fact that she kept saying Málaga incorrectly―as “Ma-LAG-a” instead of “MAL aga” as the accent on the ‘a’ clearly indicates. It was so annoying as this is something a beginner in Spanish would understand and, even if that was not obvious to her, surely she must have had hundreds of opportunities to hear the correct pronunciation while she was living in the place! Why was she not interested enough in her city, the country, and the language she was surrounded by?

Unintentionally, I began to judge her as ‘disengaged’ and ‘ungrateful’ for this amazing opportunity she had to experience the Spanish culture and (c’mon now!) at least learn the proper pronunciation of where she lived. Over time, however, I came to realize that those judgements were very unfair, leading me to some deeper understanding:

First and foremost:

Everyone is on their own journey. We’ve heard this a million times and so it may sound cliché but it’s true! My journey in coming to Spain was inspired by my study of the language, but not everyone else’s journey is. Some come to discover different cultures, foods, education systems, etc. Others are on a more personal journey of self-discovery or spiritual connection. Some just want to party. And that’s okay.

Don’t let yourself forget:

No one journey is more meaningful than the other. I hope that whatever journey you’re on here in Spain feels meaningful and unequivocal to you. It should! You are the creator of this reality and I hope that you feel inspired and compelled every day to grow in your quest of whatever it is that is driving you. Still, it is important to remember that your purpose will be different than the next guy’s and that’s just fine! Your purpose is not superior to anyone else’s. You never really know what someone else needs to work through or how they need to do that.

You may be surprised by how much good can come from taking time to consider things from a different perspective.How do I handle this now?

I now realize that I can be little presumptuous when I hear someone has been living in Spain for a while without seeming to learn any Spanish. Since the language is so integral to MY experience I have this tendency to think “What have you been doing with your life!?” However, instead of thinking that in a snarky voice in my head, I now take it as a reminder to seek understanding of others and grow from learning about their unique experience. I will ACTUALLY ask (with openness!) “What have you been doing here in Spain?” or “How is your experience going?”

In doing so, you allow the other person to open up about what is important to them, instead of feeling like they need to defend why they may not be pursuing what is important to you.  I have thus learned about so many different approaches to time abroad and also many great opportunities here that I was previously unaware of. When you take a moment to recognize that your way of approaching a situation is not the only one, you will be pleasantly surprised by all the other ways of ‘doing life.’ And who knows, you may be inspired to learn more about them―taking the person up on their offer to include you in a project, volunteer event, class, religious service, etc. And isn’t life better that way? Since I’ve opened myself up to the possibility, it sure has been for me!


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