"This is not allowed!"
“This is not allowed!” I caught myself telling myself when a woman in abaya was pointing at a piece of paper with a picture of a figure doing something wrong according to her culture and an x across it.
I felt so ashamed. I knew having my shoulders uncovered was a very disrespectful thing to do in Qatar. But it was not my fault, my pashmina had fallen while I was chasing my one-year-old daughter inside a hospital.
Years before that, I was 14 years old and I was boarding a plane for the first time in my life and all by myself, ready to experience a one-month intensive course of English in London. After that, my life was never the same again. Ever since, my heart has desired to see places, know different cultures, learn different languages, and expand my horizons.
As an Erasmus student living in Nottingham, UK, I learned funny idioms, I learned to love the rain, to appreciate having a light meal and not needing my siesta after lunch. In Italy, I learned to have patience with bureaucracy and that it’s ok to eat gelato in winter. In the Middle East, I got used to not have any shorts in my closet or show any affection in public.
Since 1996, I have moved to different cities or regions about ten times in my own country alone. I have lived in five different countries and visited over 100. My resilient and kind of people-pleasing personality at the time helped me adapt to my environment like a chameleon. I was able to observe, copy, and imitate. I could grasp accents, change routines and adopt new ways of living in a reasonably quick manner. I could make new connections and get used to the new context and circumstances pretty rapidly.
Even though there were moments I felt lonely, disconnected, misunderstood, and like I didn’t belong, I used to try to see the bright side of my circumstances.
Leaving my own family and country of origin allowed me to see the world through a different lens. It was a big wake-up call to realize that we all wear different “reality glasses” according to culture, family traditions, experiences, and personality. I learned that being judgmental was an obstacle for growth and impeding my ability to integrate both my own culture and the new one.
I discovered that having a rigid way of being, doing, and living life is the worst enemy for a successful and smooth move to a foreign country. Also wanting things to be the same when we move is a fantasy. Things are never the same, our family is not the same, WE are not the same. If we attach to how things were, we will always be longing for what is not here in the now. That inevitably will bring suffering to our lives. Therefore, detachment and letting go are essential.
What tree is more resilient to tornadoes, the cedar or the palm tree? The cedar is uprooted in a blink whereas a palm tree is flexible and it can swing according to the wind speed and intensity. After the storm, it can shine and stand up better than ever before. How does that translate into people? Being willing to change beliefs and see things from a different perspective is what make us resilient and can even help us thrive through change and adversity.
One of the main beliefs we need to change is that “different” is bad or that “change” is painful. The reality is that we are all different, we are all unique and that is actually what makes us special. On the other hand, change can also be for the better, if we don’t change, we don’t evolve, we don’t grow.
Regardless of country, culture, sex, race, skin color, religion, or political party we are affiliated with, all human beings have a common denominator: we all want to feel love, acceptance, and belonging.
It is possible to create a sense of belonging and connection wherever you go, wherever you live by mastering your inner world and connecting to it. That is my biggest learning as a global citizen and world traveler, you can always feel at home and it all starts by feeling at home within yourself.