torstai 29. syyskuuta 2016

The Challenges Of An Expat

I know this blog has started quite heavily with stuff about cats, but today I want to talk about being an expat.

It's not the first time that I'm living out of my own country. I did an exchange year in Japan in high school so I do have some experience of the challenges of living abroad. This time still does feel like a completely different case for me. 

In Japan I had a clear purpose and plan laid out for me for my year. I had a school to go to and people helping me to navigate my way in the new culture. It is still one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I did manage really well to integrate, feel at home and learn the language in Japan. Even though I had support, I was essentially alone there. This put me the very heavy but helpful pressure to give my absolute best to fit in. I simply could not fail since I would have been sent home if I wasn't doing well enough. Also I did have more chances to put myself out there since the school environment offered plenty of them. I started the japanese archery (kyudo) and it played a great part in my integration and in making friends.

In France it has from the beginning been different since I have my husband to rely on at all times. Also, this time it is not for a year but for years that I need to find my place here. This is not a vacation; I need to be able to work. This means the need to acquire a considerably better level in the local language than in Japan. And so far french has proven to be much harder for me than japanese. For a finn even learning the proper pronunciation is a big challenge. If you asked any french person I know if I can speak french, they would tell you that I do speak very well. But I'm not perfect and I am insecure. When I get nervous, I make mistakes and it's hard to pronounce properly. There's times when I speak seemingly effortlessly and times when I question everything and I end up speaking like a total beginner. I was expecting to learn the language much faster since in Japan my progress had been so extremely fast. I know it is amazing that I do understand and speak french without ever really learning it from book, but the length of the process is still frustrating when your life is on hold meanwhile. 

I have the need to be needed, to have my own friends. From what I have done research on the subject, it seems to be typical for the expats to have the need to meet people but at the same time have the fear of rejection which makes the matter much more complex and painful. I have been in France now about half a year and I have tried to connect with people, but no solid friendships have been born from those efforts. Some of the people have been expats themselves, but for whatever reasons I haven't been able to befriend anybody. One of the reasons is that I do not want to insist if the person her/himself doesn't seem interested. Maybe I should insist, but I prefer to try to guard the little self confidence I have left. Because a fact is that, when you enter a country and its culture as a total stranger, you end up feeling insecure, lost, out of place. Expressions are different, people laugh at different jokes and you need to master language well to be fast enough to take part in conversations. People don't understand you and you feel like nobody understands you. Being here as a married person with no job makes my situation different from those who are here for example for erasmus. They have their group of erasmus students to share their experience with. I haven't been able to find someone who would be in the same situation as me and would like to talk about it. You know, have a coffee and talk about things. I'm a person who looks for depth in people so I'm a difficult one as I don' want just the first person who I meet as my friend.

Then there is the aspect of finding a job. Working keeps the mind healthy and so on. Being the whole day at home with nobody needing your skills is not healthy. I have been in a slow process of getting there, but it is all too easy to get impatient. The first step I took was to contact the local employment services who got me an intensive french language course. Next step was to get me more experience and competence in the job that I wanted to pursue. I succeeded in getting accepted to a receptionist course which includes a three week training in a local hotel. The course starts next Monday and at least it will make me feel more purposeful and give a chance to meet people.

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