El Inmigrante

Living abroad / Vivir en el extranjero


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When the good ones leave us

(La versión en español estará disponible en los próximos días. Gracias por tu paciencia)

This was a difficult one to write…but here I go…

It has been a year of personal changes, a year of letting go; even so I did not want to, it was about time. During this process, that I am still going through, I have learnt a lot, and most importantly, I have finally seen all the good things around me. I have spent too much time complaining about everything and blaming others for my ‘bad luck’; my favorite one to blame was the country where I am currently living. But all this negative vibe is finally staying behind, and I hope to move forward to better and more positive things.

This year has brought me many blessing in terms of personal growth, but at the same time, it has taken things from me. Some of these things needed to be gone for a long time, like my pessimism about every little thing that has to do with The Netherlands as well as my lack of motivation of being an immigrant. I started to regret all the effort I put into staying in Europe. So the fact that this negativity is slowly making its way out makes me feel good. However, there is one thing that I wish I could get back.

On May 26th, my grandma passed away. It was something I had been expecting the last couple of years; not that I am a cold-hearted granddaughter, but I did the math and her health was not the best lately, so I assumed nature would take its course any time soon. Obviously, I did not want this to happen at all. This amazing woman had always been in my life and she ‘is’ my second mother. She raised me while my parents worked, she cooked for me when I was hungry, she gave me support and warmth whenever I needed, and she gave me a talent, the talent of knitting. I learnt how to knit from my grandmother when I was 6 years old; it was our special connection. Through the years, we developed our own routine, we would go to shops to buy wool, magazines and sticks for our knitting. She would guide me every time I got lost in certain patterns or stitches.

The day I received the news, I was not doing well myself, and it hit me hard, like a huge brick wall. The pain I felt penetrated my heart so fast and sank so deeply, giving me the hardest time to breathe properly. I started crying uncontrollably, and despair took all over me. All I wanted to do was run, but where? to Peru?. The worst feeling I had at that moment, beside the lost of my grandmother, was loneliness. I was all by myself when I read the news and I couldn’t find comfort in anybody, and even if there would have been somebody, that somebody would have not been my grandmother, the one who used to give me warmth and support (I do have to be fair to my partner, who took the day off after I told the news. He gave me all the support he could).

Being away from your family and friends is tough, and moments like this one makes that feeling even worse. Guilt invades you because you know you should be/have been there; you need to give and receive support from your love ones, and most of all, you need to say goodbye. But sadly, when you are abroad, that is not the case; you linger in your room with the last memory you had of that person that is now gone, and you try to hold on to their best moments. Some of us understand the powerlessness of not being able to go home or being with your family at that moment. Therefore, the grieving process cannot be done properly, and it is very probable that you still expect to see that person next time you visit your country. So what to do? How to grieve a love one while abroad?

My way to say goodbye to my grandmother from afar was to ask my mother to put a picture of me in her coffin. Since I wanted to be present at her funeral, but I could not, I felt the immense need to be there somehow. My picture was my way to say ‘Toti (that was her nickname), here I am, I will always be here with you’. I am not sure yet if my mother did it or not, I have to understand that she was also going through a hard time. Whether she did it or not, the idea gave me a bit of closure and inner peace. This is of course my very personal opinion and suggestion. But, if you ever find yourself in this situation and feel the need to do something else, I have found some other suggestions that could help you.

On this article, I found tips given by grief counselor Mertick, she suggests the following:

  • Keep in touch with other family members or friends to exchange stories. Secure something—anything, it doesn’t need to be a valuable item—that will remind you of the loved one who died. This object should represent what you remember about the relationship you shared.
  • Make a scrapbook of memories including poems, letters or pictures.
  • Search for therapy, if possible, or the help of a support group, just to let you know that your feelings are normal.
  • When you return on Home Leave, it’s important to visit the grave. If there isn’t one, go to a place that reminds you of the person lost. “This visiting will trigger grief,” she says, “but it’s also a way of creating a conclusion.”

Whether this helps you or not, one thing is clear: when the good and love ones leave us, we are left with an emptiness in our hearts that will probably never be filled again; all we can do is keep the great memories and teachings they left us. Celebrate their lives with a smile and light a candle for them. Share your stories with them to anyone interested, once you try, you will realize that there are people willing to listen to you and your memories. There is always somebody, even here, I am willing to listen to you.

In the meantime, do not waste time, call the ones that are still wandering this world. Send them an e-mail, a text, make a call, anything. Let them know that you are thinking about them.

Grandma in her 20s

Grandma in her 20s

Her spirit was unbreakable; she went through a lot in her life, but she always had a smile for you and laughed loudly, like there was no tomorrow. The moment you least expected, she would make a sarcastic comment that would make you laugh nonstop. All her grandchildren called her ‘Toti’ o ‘La Toti’, a nickname given by my brother when he was 2 years old….we still don’t know why or what it means. Her favorite quote was ‘Not everything in life has to be good, because otherwise, it wouldn’t be life.’

R.I.P., Toti

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The Guest House / La Casa de Huéspedes – Jelaluddin Rumi

(ver versión en español a continuación)

CC Image courtesy of Łukasz Strachanowski on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of Łukasz Strachanowski on Flickr

Living abroad brings a lot of emotions that sometimes can be unpleasant. We fight against them, we don’t want to accept them. The more we fight, the stronger they get.

When I find myself full with unpleasant emotions, like anger, resentment, homesickness, etc., I usually turn to this poem. I have realized that, instead of rejecting these emotions, I need to welcome them, no matter their shape, their color or their intensity. This poem teaches me to be patient and open to what comes my way. And I say ‘teaches’ in the present tense, because I haven’t accepted all my emotions yet, and that is why I like to keep this poem close to me and use it every time is needed.

I hope you like it and find some truth in it. Have a great a week!

***

Vivir en el extranjero puede producir muchas emociones que algunas veces no son para nada placenteras. Luchamos contra ellas, no las aceptamos. El problema es que mientras más luchamos, más intensas se vuelven.

Cuando me siento llena de emociones desagradables, como cólera, ira, resentimiento, nostalgia, etc., normalmente leo este poema. Me he dado cuenta que, en vez de rechazar estas emociones, debo darles la bienvenida sin importar su forma, color o intensidad. Este poema me enseña a ser paciente y abierta a lo que se presente en mi camino. Y digo ‘me enseña’ en tiempo presente, porque aún no he aceptado todas mis emociones. Es por eso que me gusta mantener este poema a mi alcance para leerlo cada vez que sea necesario.

Espero te guste y encuentres algo de verdad en él. ¡Que tengas una buena semana!

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

LA CASA DE HUÉSPEDES 

Esto de ser un ser humano

es como administrar una casa de huéspedes.

Cada día una nueva visita, una alegría, una tristeza,
una decepción, una maldad,
alguna felicidad momentánea
que llega como un visitante inesperado.

Dales la bienvenida y acógelos a todos ellos,
incluso si son un grupo penoso
que desvalija completamente tu casa.
Trata a cada huésped honorablemente pues
podría estar haciendo espacio para una nueva delicia.
El pensamiento oscuro, lo vergonzante, lo malvado,
recíbelos en tu puerta sonriendo e invítalos a entrar.
Agradece a todos los que vengan
pues se puede decir de ellos que han sido enviados
como guias del mas allá.

— Jelaluddin Rumi


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The ‘making of’ friends

(La versión en español estará disponible pronto. Gracias por tu paciencia.)

Making friends abroad: another challenge in our to-do list

Sometimes you wonder when it is going to get easy, pfff…another thing I need to do in order to start my new life…Yes, I know, the list can be quite long, and even endless, but it will get better… eventually.

What do you mean with 'there is more to do' ?? - CC Image courtesy of Kemal Y.

What do you mean with ‘there is more to do’? – CC Image courtesy of Kemal Y.

For newcomers, living abroad can be a very lonely experience at the beginning. You are the new kid at school and nobody is really interested in you, unless you make an effort to be noticed. For some outgoing expats/immigrants, this part of living abroad can be a piece of cake; they can strike up a conversation with someone at a park or propose a night out with their new colleagues, and from there, they start new friendships. On the other hand, we have the shy ones, who struggle to break the ice during their new language course or at work. All in all, no matter which type of person you are, making friends abroad requires effort, patience and lots of try-outs.

Lately, I have been reading other expats’ tips on how to make friends. I have found all sorts of opinions; the one that trashes the country’s friendliness, the ultra-optimistic post that advices you to go out and talk to any stranger on the streets and the sarcastic and hilarious one, like this, that suggests lots of patience and acceptance of the culture. From all these opinions, I agree more with the last one.

I have to confess that for many years I was part of the group that trashes the country’s friendliness. I live in a country that is considered to be very friendly and open to all nationalities and cultures. Therefore, I came to the Netherlands expecting the best. So, what happened after I felt left out and with almost no friends? – I created a big monster in my head and I refused to make friends with this country. And that was when everything went wrong.

When I told people I was moving to the Netherlands, I could only hear great things about Dutch people. Everybody told me that they were very laid-back, spoke English fluently and were very liberal and open to almost everything. With all these references, I felt very confident about starting my new adventure; not once, I had a single doubt about my decision to come here. In the first few months in the Netherlands, I confirmed that people were very friendly, and always curious about me. Strangers would smile at me or greet me very courteously, I felt welcomed. At some point, I even dared to think that my experience in the Netherlands would be greater than the one I had in England. But as you probably know by now, it was just another honeymoon stage.

After this stage was over, I had some acquaintances, but no friends, I wasn’t worried…yet. I sat on my chair, looked at the clock, and waited for good friends to appear. Of course, I sat there for a really long time. Nothing was really happening; people kept smiling at me, but I wasn’t making any close friends. People kept asking me what I was doing in their country and if I had ever been to Machu Picchu, but nobody was inviting me to their homes. ‘What was going on?’, I wondered.

The fact is that I had the wrong assumptions about making friends. I learned later that you don’t make friends abroad the same way you do in your country; it’s very important to know your host country’s culture and customs in order to know the locals and how their social rules work, don’t expect them to adopt your rules. In addition to my ignorance, I had never learnt to make friends in my own country, and I didn’t realize that until I lived here. My first best friend in Peru was the one who made the first move. On my first day at primary school, she was the one who invited me to sit next to her; if she wouldn’t have, I would probably have no friends now. I am very grateful to her for that move!. However, expecting that others do the move won’t take you very far, you need to start from scratch and work on your friendships.

Making friends is important, making friends abroad is even more important, because everybody needs a support system. You no longer have your family and friends around you, so having someone to count on would make living abroad a bit easier and more pleasant, too. Then, what is the secret? what is the formula? – I don’t think anybody really has the answer. I don’t believe there are 5 miraculous tips to make friends abroad; we are all different individuals, and what it may work for me, it doesn’t necessarily have to work for you. I can only provide my experience and advice, which would hopefully help you a little bit.

There are many ways to find people and make friends abroad, that doesn’t mean you need to do all of them, but it won’t hurt if you try at least one:

CC Image courtesy of AJ Cann

CC Image courtesy of AJ Cann

– Use Facebook or any other social media as your starting point. In my times (2006), Facebook was not the great monster that is now, so there were no Meetup groups, Expats in Amsterdam, etc. The task of making friends was a bigger challenge. These days, it is much easier. Through social media you can look for expats in your area or for people who share similar interests, but don’t just join the group, participate!. You can introduce yourself and explain that you are new in town and looking for friends, social gatherings, etc. People will definitely reply to it.

Check lists will only narrow your experience - CC Image courtesy of e3Learning

Check lists will only narrow your experience – CC Image courtesy of e3Learning

– Don’t recreate your past at your new home. At some point in my experience as an immigrant, I found myself looking for people who would resemble my friends from Peru, not physically but in terms of personality. I did this unconsciously. Only now is that I realize why it was so hard for me to find people I liked. It is necessary, and even mandatory, to be open to all kinds of people. Don’t judge anybody until you have spent some quality time with that new acquaintance, give them a chance to show you what type of people they are. I had a check list in mind about the qualities that my new friends should have, and this narrowed my chances to meet people. I missed the opportunity to learn from others.

Get together with you connationals - CC Image courtesy of Juanky Alvarez

Get together with your connationals – CC Image courtesy of Juanky Alvarez

– Look for people from your own country as well. This could be easier and very comfortable; no need to learn a new language and it provides you with a sense of home. In my opinion, this is not a bad option, but it shouldn’t be the only one. When you only hang out with your ‘people’, it could isolate you from the culture you are living in and you may end up in a vicious circle, where you only gather to complain about your host country. So proceed with caution!.

Create your own expat/immigrant group - CC Image courtesy of Alan Levine

Create your own expat/immigrant group – CC Image courtesy of Alan Levine

– ‘I live in a small town and there isn’t an expat group for me. What can I do?’ – Start one yourself!. I know this sounds very frightening, but if what you are looking for doesn’t exist, you should create it. Promote the group that you want to have, there is at least one person out there sitting at home and waiting for that group to be created. Search, search, search, and you will find what you are looking for. You can use Facebook or Meetup, or any other social media you like.

There is always something going on at your public library - Image courtesy of Amanda Hamilton

There is always something going on at your public library – Image courtesy of Amanda Hamilton

– Not a big fan of social media? Well, get out of the house, take some fresh air!. At public libraries, there are usually different activities that you can take part of. These activities could be the perfect moment to meet other people. Also, if you are attending a language course or any other type of class, invite a classmate for a cup of coffee. Don’t think too much about it, just ask. What’s the worst it could happen? – Rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected, but at least you will stop wondering if that person would have that coffee with you. Remember: the process of making friends abroad is like try-outs: if you fail once, you keep going until you succeed!.

You never know where you will find your next best friend - Image courtesy of HOBY NYE

You never know where you will find your next best friend – Image courtesy of HOBY NYE

– Do you have a big heart? – Volunteer. You can go to your neighborhood center/city hall or search on the Internet to find information about places that need your help. This would not only make you feel good but you may find a great new friend.

Local newspapers are a good source of information - CC Image courtesy of Matt Callow

Local newspapers are a good source of information – CC Image courtesy of Matt Callow

-Local newspapers can also keep you updated about what it is going on around you. They list the main social activities; if you attend at least one, I am sure you will be surprised to know the great people that live around you.

Oh the Dutchies... - CC Image courtesy of through a pin-holeOh the Dutchies… – CC Image courtesy of through a pin-hole

– ‘But what about the locals?. I also want to make friends with them’- In my own experience, I have seen that Dutch people can be a tough crowd (but then I wonder if I would behave like them in my own country). The first times I attempted to have a real connection with them, it was disappointing and I felt they were not interested in making friends with me. I was left with the feeling of ‘Sorry, but my social circle is already full. Thank you for applying. We wish you all the best’. Yes, that hurt and I gave up immediately, which was a very bad decision. After these attempts, I decided to put all the Dutchies in the same category: ‘not friendly at all’. With the time, my image of Dutch people got worse and worse, and I only made friends with other immigrants. The result was that my only Dutch friends were my partner’s friends and family, who are great but not mine. It is a shame, because I know there are amazing Dutch people out there who would be more than happy to be my friends. ‘But where to find them?’ – Do not waste your time on thoughts about where to find them or how to make friends with them, or on any negative opinion about how unfriendly they can be, just keep an open mind, be friends with the people that are already there for you, no matter where they come from. And most important: cultivate patience and tolerance!.

All these tips are based on my own experience and what I have seen during these years abroad. Newcomers can apply them, but the old ones as well; it is never too late to start new friendships. Learn from my mistakes!. I didn’t do any of these things until recent years, and now that I have done them, I realize how much energy I would have saved if I would have followed at least one of them. I can also see now that my path was full of frustrations and disappointments, and if I would have been more open and less critical, I would have been happier. Nevertheless, here I am, I have started following all these tips myself and the results are good!. I put my negativity aside and I have started a new chapter in my life.

If you have more tips about making friends abroad, I would be very happy to hear them. Let’s share stories!


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Integration in your partner’s country

Today I have a special guest: career and personal coach Lola Hernández, who lives in Munich. She provides support to expats and their family members during their integration process. In addition, she gives workshops and lectures about Emotional Intelligence, Time Management and a variety of topics related to Personal Development. Lola was very kind to share her post in my blog, and for that I am very grateful: ¡Muchas gracias!.

In her post, she wrote about the challenges of integrating in your partner’s country/culture. I found this post very interesting and positive, and I hope you find it useful and share your opinions and experiences (how were your first encounters in the new country?, what challenges/difficulties did you find at the beginning of the integration process?, how did you overcome them?, what positive results/experiences did you get from all this?, etc.).

For more information about Lola Hernandez, please visit her blog at http://www.lolahernandezcoaching.wordpress.com (only available in Spanish).

 

Integration in your partner’s country

By Lola Hernandez

Translated by El Inmigrante 

Many of us live in another country because of our partner. When you land in a country that is not yours, there is a long list of challenges waiting for you, like learning another language (not an easy job!), making friends from scratch and finding a job, which is something hard to do if you already have to deal with the first two challenges. To add more to the list, you also have to look for a place to live, a school for your children, social activities, etc…and let’s face it, time is not always your friend. Therefore, things can get complicated and it is very easy to feel overwhelmed.

In this transition, we also have to consider that when the social, economical and emotional conditions of living with your partner change, your self-esteem very often weakens and you experience a kind of “inferiority complex”, and suddenly you feel less than others.

The good news is that when you go through an experience like this, and you try your best and work very hard, you have a wonderful opportunity to experience real personal growth. You put your skills to test, discover hidden talents and recover forgotten resources that you had in you.

In your new country, you have the chance to put aside some aspects of you that were not working anymore and you can start a new life with new habits, new ways to do things and a new history. For example, if you were about to settle in your country, now you have the option to get out of your comfort zone and expand your possibilities of action. Maybe in your country, you had a job that didn’t satisfy you anymore, now you have a range of possibilities and options, that you might have not even considered while living in your own country.

In a recent workshop, Katia Pinal talked about bicultural couples. She said that when you leave your culture and you enter a different one, you can see both cultures as an outsider and choose the aspects of each culture that would fit you better. It takes time to practice this outsider’s view and it is a luxury; people who have never left their country don’t have this opportunity. So, you are a very lucky person!

You also need to see that you have a good situation waiting for you; you will develop your capacity to receive support and to delegate things that you used to, and do things you have never done before. All this is great, because you can put your skills, your competences and your employability into practice; you never know when you would use these tools in this very unpredictable life. So, if you were not used to ask for help or you found it difficult, now it is the time to polish this skill.

Warning: don’t rest on your laurels!…enjoy the support from others but don’t lose sight of your goals: prepare yourself and work on getting your autonomy and independence back in every aspect of your life.

If you would like to work on any aspect of your integration, you can always call me.

Successful integration – CC Image Courtesy of Daniela Hartmann in Flickr

Successful integration – CC Image Courtesy of Daniela Hartmann in Flickr


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Integrarte en su país

(For the English version, click here)

Hoy tengo como invitada a Lola Hernández, una coach profesional residente en Múnich, Alemania, que ofrece apoyo al proceso de integración de expatriados y de los miembros de su familia. Además, imparte Charlas y Talleres de Inteligencia Emocional, Gestión del Tiempo, Comunicación, así como una variedad de temas relacionados con el Desarrollo Personal. Lola tuvo la gentileza de permitirme compartir su post con todos ustedes, y por eso ¡Muchas gracias!.

En su blog publicó este post que me pareció muy interesante y positivo. Espero que lo encuentre útil y compartan sus opiniones sobre el tema de integración en el país de su ser amado (¿Cuáles fueron sus primeras experiencias en el nuevo país?, ¿qué dificultades encontraron al comienzo de este proceso de adaptación?, ¿cómo superaron estas dificultades?, ¿qué resultados y/o experiencias positivas han sacado de todo esto?, etc.)

Para más información sobre Lola Hernández, pueden visitar su blog en http://www.lolahernandezcoaching.wordpress.com

Integrarte en su país

Somos muchos y muchas los que estamos viviendo en  otro país porque nuestra pareja es de allí. Cuando aterrizas en un país que no es el tuyo, hay una buena lista de desafíos que se te plantean: en ocasiones, necesitas aprender otro idioma (¡tela!), normalmente, no conoces a nadie y tienes que empezar de cero a hacer “amiguitos”, además, con frecuencia quieres encontrar un trabajo, lo cual, cuando se junta con las dos necesidades anteriores, se convierte en algo, pelín peliagudo. Si además  buscas piso, cole para los niños, actividades sociales y… el tiempo no te acompaña, la cosa se puede empezar a complicar y es fácil que te sientas un poco abrumad@.

Con frecuencia, además, cuando las condiciones sociales, económicas y afectivas de la convivencia en pareja, se alteran, es fácil que la autoestima se resienta y percibas en tu comportamiento y en tus emociones, un cierto “complejo de inferioridad”, de repente te sientes como una persona un poco más chiquitita.

La buena noticia (¡claro que sí!) es que cuando pasas por una experiencia de este tipo, y pones un poquitito de interés y ganas, tienes una maravillosa oportunidad para vivir un verdadero crecimiento personal, para poner a prueba tus capacidades, para descubrir talentos ocultos y rescatar recursos olvidados.

En tu nuevo país, tienes la posibilidad de aparcar las partes de ti que hacía ya tiempo que no te estaban dando buenos resultados, y empezar una nueva vida con nuevos hábitos, nuevas formas de hacer las cosas y nuevos registros. Si por ejemplo en tu país, últimamente te estabas acomodando un poco, ahora vas a tener la oportunidad de salir de tu zona de confort y ampliar tus posibilidades de acción; si allí tenías un trabajo que no te terminaba de satisfacer, ahora puedes abrir el abanico de posibilidades y contemplar opciones que, en tu país, no se te hubieran pasado por la cabeza.

Además, como comentaba Katia Pinal hace poco en una Charla sobre parejas biculturales, cuando sales de tu cultura y entras en otra diferente, tienes la posibilidad de ver ambas culturas desde fuera  y elegir qué aspectos de cada una de las dos culturas encajan más con tu forma de entender la vida; poner eso en práctica, lleva tiempo pero es un lujo que las personas que nunca han salido de su país, no se pueden permitir, y tú sí: ¡eres una persona afortunada!

Por otra parte, tienes una buena ocasión por delante para desarrollar tu capacidad de recibir apoyo, de delegar en otros cosas que tradicionalmente hacías tú, y por el contrario, de asumir el desarrollo de tareas de las que normalmente  eran otros los que se ocupaban: esto es bueno para el desarrollo de tus destrezas, tus competencias y tu empleabilidad, nunca sabemos que herramientas vamos a necesitar sacar “de la chistera” en las variadas ocasiones que nos presenta la vida.  Si, además, hasta ahora tenías dificultades para pedir ayuda, vas a poder aprovechar para limar esta capacidad.

Eso sí, no te duermas en los laureles… disfruta del apoyo que recibas de otros sin perder de vista el objetivo: prepararte y trabajar para recuperar tu autonomía y tu independencia en todos los sentidos. Si quieres apoyarte en el coaching para trabajar alguno de los aspectos de tu integración, ¡llámame!

Successful integration - CC Imagen Cortesía de Daniela Hartmann en Flickr

Successful integration – CC Imagen Cortesía de Daniela Hartmann en Flickr