EXPERIENCE
Living and working abroad is entirely different to simple travel in foreign places. It requires developing a strong sense of self reliance and the ability to adapt to daily challenges which encompass every aspect of life. Communication, cultural mores and customs must be learned; this is the daily bombardment of difference. Foods, sounds, smells; all the details of getting 'things done' in a society organized by different systems. These must be learned and the experiences are at times a challenging teacher. Dealing with frustration, at times feelings of isolation, and certainly the understanding of being in a minority, opens the eyes to one's strengths and weaknesses. The excitement that each day brings, finds you at the end, exhausted. It is not so exaggerated a statement to say that one experiences more in one day abroad than in a month at home within ones own culture.
 
For the first-time-expatriates there are the inevitable stages of culture shock. In each of these a transformation takes place. At the end one has gone through the feelings of being overwhelmed, then seeing this new culture as being better than ones own, on again to anger and frustration at only seeing the bad, coming to grips with who one is without the identifying cultural labels. Finally, if one is lucky, being hooked by the experience of growth and realizing a greater understanding and acceptance of differing ways of life; not better or worse, different.
 
Experiencing this many times in a variety of distinctly different cultures opens the eyes wider and instills many skills which make one, in a word, worldly. It is not something that can be easily defined but is rather like meeting someone older than they are. The 'well' is a little bit deeper. This is why so many people who experience this find themselves unable to stay in a place where there are not others who have had this understanding through their own life abroad.
 
To put it simply, the palate of communication and survival skills is much more diverse. These experiences run through ones ability to work with people from all backgrounds; to see through the differences of social thought, political persuasion, cultural background or ideology. There is beneath it all a person, who if willing, is probably interesting and also eager to get to explore new ideas. This is not what I intended to learn when I went away from the United States. It is something that I consider one of the most important things I have learned in life. If there is respect, then there is the possibility for accomplishing most anything. I hope to find such a place to put my energy.

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