Dear Host Country,
We’ve gone through a lot ever since I stepped foot within your borders and rolled my luggage past the “Welcome!” sign for the first time. We’ve had our ups (delicious food, friendly people, beautiful new landscapes, learning a new language) and we’ve had our downs (visas renewals, immigration offices, paperwork for days, learning a new language).
I know there are times when I’m distant. Those times I lock my front door, close the curtains, and watch a full season or two of a TV show on Netflix while drinking an overpriced, imported Dr. Pepper. Even though it seems like I’m giving up, I’m actually taking a step back and reminding myself of the commitments I’ve made to you, the country that has graciously hosted me as an expat and allowed me to set up camp for the time being in a land that is not my own.
I will grow to love you. Your culture, your quirks, your landscapes, your food. Things won’t always make sense to me and I might shake my head at the way some things are done. However, with each new day (and week and month and year), I’ve realized that every one step we’ve occasionally taken backwards is eventually met with two steps forward. So, overall, we’ve made movement forward and that’s a good thing.
I will make it work. I’ll be honest with you, there are some days I want to leave. There are some days I want to quit. When I can’t see the forest for the trees, I sometimes forget why I even moved here in the first place. On those days, I get easily frustrated. On those days, I can’t seem to find the silver lining. But in perfect timing, I’m reminded of the reasons why I’m determined to stay. Your people smile at me for no apparent reason. Most of those smiles come from complete strangers, but the smiles are genuine and warm my heart. Your land brings forth some of the most amazing fruit my taste buds have ever savored. Some fruit looks like it’s straight out of a Dr. Seuss book which, in my opinion, makes consuming daily portions of fruit a lot more enjoyable.
I will acknowledge that, at times, I’m the one that needs to change. You’re not my passport country and you don’t have the same culture as me. Sometimes I like to think that I know best because of the biased preference I have for the culture in which I was raised. While there are times when I think you should change a few ways you do things (I’m looking at you, government offices), there are certainly times when I need to adapt to my surroundings. Change isn’t always a bad thing. When in Rome…
I will come face-to-face with my inadequacies and weaknesses. I’ve already made a fool of myself with language bloopers (and will continue to do so). I’ve had to learn to drive all over again. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to understanding culture, traditions, cooking meals the locals will enjoy, hosting guests, etc. Sometimes coming face-to-face with these realizations will make me cry. Sometimes it will make me frustrated and angry. Just give me some time and be patient with me. I’ll climb out of the valley and come through the fog with a little bit more understanding.
I will be a student of you. The culture. The language. The history. The people. I might not always be on the “studying language and culture” visa, but that doesn’t mean I’m done. When I’m tempted to be a know-it-all, I’ll remind myself that I’m a lifelong learner. There will always be something new for me to learn and I hope that I embrace that opportunity and remain humble through the process. I can’t promise how long I’ll be a foreigner within your borders, but I promise to carry the lessons I’ve learned from you wherever I go.
I will miss my passport country. It’s true. It’s a part of me that can’t be replaced. There might be moments when I seem to squeeze in something about ‘home’ into every topic of conversation. But rest assured, just because I miss my home country doesn’t mean I’m discontent here. You have become my home away from home. And being able to call a host country “home” is a big step for an expat. They say home is where your heart is, so it looks like home is more than one place for me now. A piece of my heart gets left with each new country and culture that I grow to know and love. When I return to my passport country, it will be you that I talk about all the time and squeeze into every conversation.
The opportunity to live abroad has molded me, changed me, educated me, and challenged me. There are days when I feel like I’m living the dream. Then there are days when life gives me lemons and I want to throw those lemons back in life’s face. That’s when I’ll remember my promises. We both know the days aren’t always filled with wanderlust and adventures off the beaten path. Sometimes the days are filled with frozen water pipes, moldy walls, poor wifi connection, bills, and power outages. So I write these vows to you, but I’m the one that needs to hear them most. Living abroad isn’t always romantic, but it is rewarding. And each time I take a step back to remember those rewarding moments, I’m able to fall in love all over again.
Truly yours, through thick and thin,
The grateful foreigner