When you first arrive in another country there are obvious stresses… a different language, getting around, finding the local butcher, etc.
However, this also creates many opportunities for lots of little and big wins in everyday life.
What do I mean?
Well, now that I’m living in a new country, I need to set up my life there. It goes beyond just learning where certain places are (like the nearest bank or grocery store), because learning the language is a whole other major part of the equation. It also makes it very stressful.
Each day we have wins (and sure, some failures) all surrounding language-learning and basic living, like simply buying bus tickets.
When something seemingly small happens, such as finding and successfully using the post office, it’s like this huge win in life. Yeehaw! I feel pretty damn proud of myself. I might even start walking with a bit of a swagger. All because I bought a bus ticket.
It wouldn’t be like this if we had stayed in the USA.
It’s the kind of thing that can only come with such a big move. At the point you’re in a foreign country long enough that you’re not just visiting tourist restaurants that feature menus in English, your brain is expanding in an amazing way.
It gets a total workout, becoming tired just like your legs turn to jelly after a long hike. When you successfully do something like mail a postcard at the post office, all on your own? Well, you can’t help but want to dance a little jig.
Or when you buy beef at the local butcher and walk away with what you actually meant to buy.
Or when you use the public transportation system and end up at your intended destination.
It’s an amazing accomplishment. All wins, and there are plenty to be had. Buy a coffee without Google Translate? Win. Make a withdrawal from the bank in another country? Win. Recognize a traffic sign such that you follow it? Big Win.
It’s exhausting though.
Truly. I never use my brain so much as when I live in a foreign country, and try to learn (and use) the language. Italy is my first full-on experience like this.
In other places we’ve been, like Portugal or Croatia, I pretty much relied on google translate to get by, and learned just a handful of expressions and pleasantries. I also wasn’t doing as many “living like a local” things as I am in Italy (using the post office, setting up utilities, buying things for the home, etc).
These things take it to a whole new level. More stress and more exhausting, sure, but whoa baby, bigger rewards, too.
In Italy, I actively try to learn and use the language.
I’m trying to understand and be understood – important things like joining a gym or opening a bank account. I’m signing documents that — gulp! — I don’t always understand. Oh, who am I kidding, I pretty much never understand.
And, so, it’s no wonder I’m constantly fucking exhausted!
My brain is working hard, on a daily basis, and it’s using energy like never before.
Sometimes I just find myself staring at the wall, wide-eyed. It reminds me of that scene in the movie, Overboard, with Goldie Hawn, when she is in that catatonic state and they throw grapes at her.
Brain. Want. Sugar.
At one point, at the mall recently, after such a long day (and month really), of trying to survive and thrive in a foreign country… I actually needed sugar. It wasn’t like a silly craving that I can usually (easily) say no to. (If you know me at all this past year, I’m eating a lot of meat and not a lot of sugar.)
No, this was a legitimate need for my brain, or I was going to crash and burn — and fast.
I immediately went to the closest thing: gelato. (Have I mentioned that I friggin’ love Italy?)
It worked. I ate it like it was necessary, a mission, survival-like.
After the gelato, I was ready to tackle more Italian. :)