Moving to a foreign country is a big decision, one that inevitably comes with a lot of silly “complications”- it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. You can prepare for some of them, but I’d be lying if I said I ever did- where’s the fun in that? Embrace them, deal with them, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and laugh it off. The challenges are all part of the adventure, and they also make for a hilarious story back home.
1. The first and most obvious? The language barrier. This can be overcome in time and with some studying, but in the beginning it can be a little intimidating. In Western countries, you can sound things out pretty easily, and many words have similar roots to English, especially in Germany. However, I live in Asia now, and until you learn to read the characters, you don’t stand a chance. Even then, it’s not very helpful except when attempting to figure out when to get off of the bus. If you can say it, but you have no clue what it means, you’ll find yourself in a pickle, like accidentally ordering a large plate of meat as a vegetarian.
2. Getting anything at a pharmacy without a prescription. In this situation, you’re going to need to accept thoroughly embarrassing yourself by acting out what is wrong with you. The readily-available things might display pictures, which could be your saving grace. With anything over the counter, however, you’re pretty limited to a detailed charades performance.
3. Bartering at markets. If your physical appearance gives away that you don’t belong, you’re probably a bit screwed. It happens everywhere, and you just have to accept that you’re going to be ripped off- these people are in business to make money, after all. I usually panic in these situations, and have given in and overpaid many a time. My advice is to never show that you have big bills. Take control of the situation and act like you know how much those carrots should cost, offering up a small bill and some coins. Also, try going to the same person for most of your produce needs. If they recognize that you live there and are not just a tourist passing through, they will be more likely to charge you fairly. I developed a rapport with an old woman selling fresh vegetables in my market, and I’m now lucky enough to get a free head of cabbage every now and then.
4. Getting a haircut. So many things could go wrong, especially if you’re attached to your long locks. You could try to bring in a photo? Gesture as much as you can, then close your eyes and pray for the best. I have no other advice, since this was my strategy today.
5. Being hated on. I experienced this most with my neighbors in Turkey, who weren’t very fond of the unmarried white blonde girl who moved into the building with her boyfriend. Some foreigners bring this upon themselves by getting foolishly drunk and behaving ignorantly. Have fun, but be respectful. Respect is key when you are the outsider: always give it, even if you aren’t given it. I’ve been pretty lucky in most of the countries that I’ve been to thus far. In Korea, people seem quite friendly and often wave. My students love my “golden” hair, and frequently compliment my “big” eyes. However, there is a woman in the market below who isn’t so intrigued by my appearance: she responds with a passive, “Yeah” when I greet her. Awkward, but my persistence sometimes draws a smile out of her.
There are many more daily conundrums that you will need to figure out if you move abroad, but I’ll let you figure them out for yourself. It’s all part of the ride: just keep hanging on.