Settling down in new countries is one of the best ways to learn to be independent, and to find your true self. Lucky for me I have done it quite a few times
Thanks to the challenges of living in new countries and continents, not only have I learned to adapt to new cultures quickly, but also to let go.
No, it’s not always rainbows and unicorns, but I am living the dream life I’ve always wanted. I’ve learned a thing or two about being a world citizen:
1. Want to Make New Friends? Be Empathetic and Listen.The biggest lesson so far in making new friends is to be empathetic. Despite race and gender, we are all connected universally somehow by similar underlying needs and wants.
I have a genuine interest in people, because everyone has a fascinating story to tell. When striking a conversation with someone new, I never start from “what do you do” because jobs don’t define us. Instead, I ask, “where are you from, and what brought you here (in life)?” I’ve always been able to find common grounds to stand on, and continue our friendship that way.
2. Definitely Try to Fit In, But Realize We Are All Outsiders to Some Groups
Fitting in was a big deal for me because I wanted to be part of “the American society” when I first arrived in the U.S. for school. I would try very hard to “unAsianize” myself by over tipping or refusing to be in a group picture where everyone shows the “peace sign” for no reason. Oh, how naïve of me. I had no idea which society, which organizations, companies, or group I wanted to be a part in. It’s not like there is only one society to get into and the job is done. I can be an insider in this group but an outsider to another, and that is totally fine. So I am now relaxed about fitting into Germany, but I do participate in small interest groups.
On the bright side, if I screw up, “I’m not from here! I’m just a dumb foreigner!” can always be my out of jail card. And anyway, I’m OBVIOUSLY Asian and will always be taken as an outsider. If I wasn’t ok with it, I shouldn’t have left Taiwan in the first place.
3. It’s OK Not to Be Loved by Everyone
Yes, we’re all united, but it is up to me to find the key to unlock the door to each individual’s heart.
It is in this very same process of finding keys to others I learned my boundaries as well. Where would I go? And how far would I go? In my heart it’s clearer than ever who I am, and what I want. I no longer tolerate toxic people, or put up with things I don’t like. I’ve learned to listen to myself, and even to acknowledge and embrace my dark side. I am human, and I make mistakes. If that bothers some people so they hold grudges against me, well, I don’t have time for them.
I can only please one person per day. Today I choose me.
4. It’s OK to Not Love Local Food
I can’t really say I love German cuisine, but thanks to strict EU regulations, food and fresh produce in general are not only cheaper but of much higher quality, so there is a lot I can work with. As long as there is soy sauce and Sriracha in my pantry, I am happy. This may piss off the Bavarians: I eat my Weißwurst with Sriracha. Take it as me getting back at you for screwing up Chinese food in the first place, so it’s a fair game.
I freaking love the beer here though, and I especially love being able to drink beer freely EVERYWHERE.
5. Don’t Worry about Identifying with Any Group; Just Be Me
It has become harder to explain to people where I am from, though, because I’m from everywhere.
If I’m in a good mood, I tell them I’m originally from Taiwan, but have lived in the U.S. for a long time. In this answer, they find comfort in knowing I’m Taiwanese because it fits the box with the “Asian!” label.
If I feel naughty and want to mess with them a little, I tell them I’m American. Period. I then smirk (only slightly) at their confusion, “but… you’re Asian.” “Yes,” I quickly reply, “but I’m American.” No further explanations.
No. 2 scenario has happened quite a few times here in Germany, and some don’t know how to handle it, because truth to be told, although people are very friendly (even when they stare, it’s more curious and not hostile), there is not much of diversity going on here. I’m not in a hurry to represent any country or culture. I just want to be myself.
Conclusion: Home Is Where I Make ItI miss my life and friends in the Bay Area immensely, and still consider San Francisco home. But there could come a day when my stay in Europe outlasts the time in the U.S. or Taiwan. At that time, can I still call SF home?
Of course, because I’ve found home in myself, and therefore, I am always home. San Francisco is home, Taipei is home, Berlin is home, and Munich is home. Even Paris may become home. Oh, and the playa in Black Rock City is definitely home.
It is a great and liberating feeling, and this true freedom I’ve been looking for is within me.