Friday, September 5, 2014

Learning Curve

As with anything new, there is a learning curve.  When you move to a new country that learning curve takes on a whole new meaning.  It takes time to acclimate, to get used to a new way of doing things and a new language that you need to interpret, to find where the grocery store is or the dry cleaners and even things as simple as getting a routine established to get to and from school.

I remember arriving in Barcelona and thinking that it wouldn't be so bad.  And that I would be up to speed in a matter of days.  Oh how wrong I was.  And it was like a slap in the face when reality hit.  As a result, I broke down.  I cried every day for months.  I functioned, don't get me wrong - I had no choice but to get things done that needed to get done.  But when I was alone (which was a lot) or had just a few minutes too long to think, I would break down.

Because it was hard.  It was so much harder than I ever imagined.  Not only was everything in a foreign language, it wasn't one I was even remotely familiar with.  It was all in Catalan which is a completely different language than Spanish (it is not a dialect as many assume).  At least I had high school level Spanish which I had hoped would at least get me started.  And it did.  Most everyone spoke Spanish, but most everything was written in Catalan.

It took time, a lot of time, to acclimate.  I don't know why I thought it would be easy initially. Establishing new routines.  Going from suburban life to city life.  Living without a car.  Learning how to shop for our food in several stores rather than at just the one big grocery store and let's not get started with having to interpret the food (yes, I know some things are easy to figure out but you tell me the difference between the 4 different types of meat that all have a cow picture but a different description when you don't speak the language). Finding doctors, communicating with doctors.  Getting the kids enrolled in sports that were run by the city and not the school.  There were so many factors that were new and different in addition to the language.  And each one presented us with a challenge that was needed to overcome.

Making connections was the biggest and toughest part of acclimating.  Think about it, if you have lived in any given place for a period of time, you have a circle of friends.  People come and go from that circle, but you always have a core group.  If you've moved any kind of distance, even if it's within your home country, you have to start over from scratch.  Totally and completely from scratch.  Now do it in a country where you don't speak the language and try to make those connections.  I work from home so I don't have an office to go to.  Parents of kids at the boys' school and co-workers of Josh's tend to be where I at least start to meet new people but those relationships still take time.

In time, things began to take on a sense of normalcy.  They were never 100% normal but pretty close given the challenges that life abroad constantly throws at you.  The rewards were amazing trips that we took - a lot.  Thank you Spain for your practically monthly long weekends.  And so we pressed forward always having a trip to look forward to down the line - motivation to push through.  Not to mention the experience we were able to give our kids, a once in a lifetime opportunity to live a life that not many people get the opportunity to enjoy.

After all we went through in Spain, I thought I would be (older and) wiser this time around.  But what I didn't realize is that it's not necessarily easier, I've just learned to accept that certain things are going to take more time initially and that hopefully, over time, those things will get easier.  And I've found that with certain things, I'm able to fast track the learning curve because I know what to expect and can head those things off.

Like those 4 different kinds of meat.  The first time I google translated every time to figure out which one I wanted.  My time in the grocery store (which was much bigger than the one I had in Barcelona) was probably close to 2 hours. The second time, I had a vague idea where the meat section was but still had to scroll down to recently translated items to refresh my memory on what I bought the last time.  Still spent well over an hour because I didn't know the layout of the store as well as I'd hoped.  By the third time, I was feeling much more confident and got out of there in less than 45 minutes.  In Spain my grocery store would take me 10 minutes, if that.  I'll get there again and I recognize that this is all a part of the learning curve.

But what I find interesting about the learning curve this time around is my ability to jump in without fear.  I remember it took me about a year before I was ready to get Aidan involved in sports again because I just wasn't sure how to go about doing it in Spain.  And yet, in our third week, while they aren't signed up yet, I've at least got the information I need for most of the sports they want to do.  I'm not afraid to figure it out.  And that is helping the learning curve exponentially.  It will also help us to integrate better.  Not to mention, once they are involved in sports, they'll be getting regular Dutch which will be good since all they get at school is considered "survival Dutch".

Fear seems to be the key trigger here.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear that someone won't understand me or that I won't understand them.  And fear of not being able to figure "xyz" out.  And you know what, this time I'm determined not to let the fear slow our integration down, though admittedly it helps that most people also speak English.  While there are going to be many bumps along this road, no doubt, it's how we handle them that shows how well we are progressing here.

And I think tackling fears is the only way to kick that learning curve's ass to the curb.  Yes, there is going to be a learning curve when getting to know a new culture, but it's how we handle it and approach it.  I'm doing my best to be patient and know that in time, things will seem like old hat like they eventually did in Barcelona.  Already we're getting to know our way around and to do things that I definitely wasn't ready to do in week 3 in Barcelona.  And I think the kids are feeding off my desire to do more and so they are being a little more adventurous as well as a result.

So I think that while the learning curve is definitely going to blindside us occasionally along the way with things we just didn't expect, it's how we handle those bumps in the road that will be integral to us progressing in an upward trajectory.  We know that it's not an easy road ahead, but that's by choice. Why take the easy road when we can take the one less traveled and truly experience life along the way. It will take some time, but hey, we're not going anywhere (or as we've learned along the way.... for now).


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