Be a learner. Many times when a person heads to an overseas appointment of some kind, that person goes in order to offer something to the overseas culture. So there is often a sense of pride, or even patriarchal benevolence toward the culture from the beginning. This can be a hindrance in building meaningful relationships, whether they are business, humanitarian, or personal relationships.
There truly may be something you can offer which your new home needs. Otherwise, you might have been better off staying home. So this is not denying that you can contribute. However, do not neglect to realize that your new home has things to offer you and teach you, as well. Be humble, and learn what you can!
I knew that my husband had earned respect from many in our home of Kolkata, India, because he was a learner of people and the culture. But on a train trip a couple of years ago, I saw firsthand one of the reasons why. We were traveling with a large group of people, so there was a lot of milling around and visiting among the group. One of the young men came and sat down with us for a time. My husband, who was old enough to be his father, began to ply him with questions; not the type of questions meant to badger, manipulate, or force an agenda, but the type of questions that respected the knowledge and expertise that this young man had of his own culture and people. We learned from his insight and his sharing of his knowledge and experiences with us. I was thankful to be married to a man who genuinely wanted to learn, and who was not hindered from doing that by focusing on “bestowing his own great knowledge.”
Other ways that you can be a learner include learning the music, how to cook local foods (or at least enjoy them!), how to make local crafts, and how to use the language effectively (I didn’t always do too great in this area). You will find yourself greatly enriched if you place yourself in the role of a student of the culture.
Guest author: Joan Perkins