I have been living as an expatriate in Latin America for 5 years. It’s been a blast. I’ve met an extraordinary group of like minded individuals with great stories to tell, managed to escape the daily grind and learn to live on far less than I would have back home. But more important than any of that: I think I have developed “cultural intelligence” and a far better understanding of how context shapes our perspectives.
And that’s an important lesson.
Context is everything when you move to a country with a different culture. People are different because of their context and past experiences. Without living those same experiences it really is not fair to judge other people. There is often no right way or wrong way; it depends on context and perspective.
In my first few months of living abroad some cultural habits and quirks that I would encounter day-to-day would grate with me. I’d get annoyed and frustrated. At times I’d disagree so strongly with something that I’d try and influence it.
But now after some hard lessons, and some deep immersion in the the local way of life, I find I disagree less. In fact now my goal is not to influence but to extract as much learning as I can from every situation that I experience – especially if I disagree with what is going on.
I suppose I’m looking for opportunities to learn.
I think I’m also a more rounded as a person. I can now speak reasonably good, conversational Spanish. I’ve got a few great ‘traditional’ recipes that I can rustle up. I know most of the festivals and traditions (and more important what stories they retell in the living culture). I am also getting more knowledgeable about the local history – this mainly via a dedicated effort to read books written by local authors. I’ve run a business (probably the best way to learn about a new country) and bought real estate.
I may move home eventually, sell my international real estate, and leave some of my new found friends behind. But I’ll be taking my new found cultural intelligence with me. And that’s priceless wherever I travel in the future.