By Jacqueline D. Brown
I've often read that if you can live for six months in another country, you'll probably stay there. The first two months everything is exciting and new. The third and fourth months you start noticing the differences in the culture. And the fifth and sixth months show you the day to day living in paradise.
If you can accept the other side of paradise, you'll most likely stay. And not just staying there but actively taking part in everyday life. This means making friends not only with other expats but with the locals as well.
When I moved to Fiji to teach high school English, I was sent to the Salad Bowl area in the Valley or the country area. Coming from an American city to the backwoods of a small island country took some getting use to. Not having electricity, using an outdoor toilet and neighbors who I felt were a bit too inquisitive really took some adjusting on my part.
So, I taught during the day and spent a lot of evenings with a Peace Corps teacher who lived across the road from me. I didn't participate in any after school activities. Keeping to myself most of the time, the other teachers stopped asking me over or to take part in after school fun. They were friendly but not as warm or talkative to me as they were to the Peace Corps teacher.
After feeling left out and starting to get lonely, I decided one day to join the volleyball game that the teachers played every evening after school. That made all the difference.
From that I learned three keys to living successfully in paradise.
Participate: Take part in sport or social activities the locals around you are giving. You may not like the game or understand the occasion but often just your being there can make a difference. Be a part of your community and not just with the other foreigners. Playing volleyball in the evenings gave me a feeling of being part of the teachers' community and they opened up to me. Being invited to their homes for dinner, tea or to look at a scrapbook of strangers made me feel more a part of the group. Take part and be a participant whether active or as a spectator.
If you plan on making your home there learn the customs, culture and holidays. Give events in observance of holidays and invite the locals. Be more than just an expat in someone else's country. Be a true resident.
Slow down and smile: After I became an active participant in the community, I was invited to a baby shower. I arrived at 7:30 the time I was told we would all go. Of course no one was ready. They informed me it was 7:30 p.m. Fijian time. From then on, they told me if a time quoted was European or Fiji time. I smiled and let it go. Lesson learned.
When things don't go as you always want or expect them to, just smile. You'll feel better and people will smile with you.
A friend who ran a hotel next to a restaurant said, the manager told him, he could always tell when Americans were eating there because they always complained about something. Don't be that person. Remember you're in a foreign country, where things are different, that's what you can for. So accept it. Things are slower. It's hotter there. Slow down and smile.
The Island Way: Often I would see five or six people sitting in a circle under a shade tree drinking beer. As I passed, I was called over to join. Being from the States and knowing our penchant for sterility, cleanliness and health, I would join but asked for my own glass. See, one person with one glass would pour beer in it then pass it to the person on his right. That person drank then handed the glass back. The pourer rinses it in a pan with water placed next to him then refill it and hand it to the next person. Sometimes I would bring my own glass or someone would go inside and bring me one out. They kept telling me: you're in Fiji now. You have to do things the Fijian way. So, I eventually did and when I did, I felt more a real part of the community, the country I had decided to make my home.
When invited to homes for cooking demonstrations or to meet someone's relative visiting from another part of the island, I learned more about the culture and the people and found myself studying harder to learn the language and doing more things the way they were done there.
When I learned to participate in activities, smile and slow down and do things the way the Fijians did them, I became more acceptable and accepting. Felt more at home and what was to be a year's stay in a foreign country turned into an extended stay in what I started calling my second home.
Wherever you move in this shrinking world, try to follow these three keys to living there successfully. Get out and be a part of your new place. Become a true resident in your new home.