I won’t ever forget the look of complete horror on my student’s face as I told them that some westerners intentionally lay in the sun in order to get a tan.
“Teacher, why would anyone ever want to get…darker?!”.
To a society that sees paleness as ideal, they simply couldn’t believe or understand what I was telling them. I remember chuckling at their shock and wondering how they would feel if they only knew how different and strange their way of life had been to me when I had first moved overseas.
Living overseas constantly challenges my sense of normalcy. From noodles becoming a perfectly acceptable breakfast food, to speaking a language that just a few years ago I would’ve sworn was made up, to the respectful bows of students as I, a teacher, walk past them on the sidewalk, my life seems to be a constant experience of “different”. Unfortunately, our instinctive reaction to anything different than what we consider normal is often to meet it with negativity and defensiveness. We intentionally distance ourselves from those experiences and avoid them in the future. Living overseas, however, challenged me to be different and began a process of change that impacted nearly everything in my life.
The readjustment from judging and avoiding to understanding what is different has been one of the most powerful ways living overseas has changed me.
I wasn’t very good at it at first but through the incredible patience of the wonderful people in my adopted home country I began to learn how “different” didn’t always equal “bad”. That it could mean “meaningful”, “selfless”, or “kind”. That my initial judgements were often wrong and that I could easily misjudge the motives for actions. I began to ask better questions and to try and understand what seemed strange to me. I learned so much about the people around me and myself in that process and ever so slowly I began to see my initial reactions to things begin to change. I was no longer afraid of what was different.
With this new perspective my life is now surrounded by people who look, and think, and act completely different than myself. And I call some of them my best friends in the entire world. I’ve been invited into communities and families on the opposite of the world and have felt genuine love and care in quantities I never thought possible from people so different from myself. It’s because of them I’m thankful for being challenged by moving overseas. For a new mindset on “different”.