I like this thread. I saw it featured in the Permies newsletter/email and I’ve enjoyed reading every response, particularly those from Spain (Abraham and Dave) who added some cultural idiosyncrasies to be mindful of.
That said, I personally would not get overly consumed with proprieties, or let the awareness of them, with the mountain of cultural barriers, lead my experience of life, (albeit one in a place that is not native to my own flesh and blood.) If you lead your life from your heart, then you will resonate with those you need to. Being young and living in China, maybe it was naïveté, but I knew I could never learn every spoken and unspoken custom and I would exhaust myself and diminish my own spirit by trying too hard. But language, yes, it was/is an absolute must, as so many others here have reinforced. I know this may not apply to where you are in life, but I learned Chinese by traveling by myself and being overly outgoing on trains, busses, walking through the countryside, speaking to Chinese people from all over the country of all walks of life. I would volunteer to tutor some of the street cafe’s owners’ kids on my days off, and would always be fed in return, but it also just developed trust among the locals in the neighborhood. I am by nature introverted and content to be alone with my thoughts and God, but I really had to transform while living abroad and go beyond by comfort levels into the optimal learning zone.
It almost feels like a lifetime ago because I am not so young anymore, now focused on raising my family, but I look back fondly on a great part of that decade living there and always feeling cared for and living a good life of ‘help and be helped’ which I still go by today, though circumstances and my immediate environment have changed so much. In fact, I am today living in the 50th place I’ve ever lived, and I’m 37 years old. I hope I will not be always so nomadic and that someday soon we will be rooted into the land and grow and thrive there for many years, but I have always found community wherever I’ve been and I now have a few good friends from various places I’ve lived around the world to whom I will always be close. And many, many others whom I recognize I will most likely never see on earth again but we can pray for each other or at least be grateful for our time spent together and our lessons learned.
There were lonely and dark times but I found my own poetry came flowing then and I grew deeper in self-awareness and convicted in my soul’s path here on this earthly pilgrimage. And then I started a blog and connected with other poets around the world and I will forever value the correspondence we had and the virtual community we created while sharing with one another our deepest parts of ourselves. I do agree with Ginger and Abraham, who commented on belonging. It is basic human nature to gravitate toward something bigger than ourselves and to need the company of and to love other human beings/sentient beings.
A lot has happened in this past tumultuous year and while I used to think it was intentional community and living with others and communing with the land together, now I know that it is actually really good relationships with my neighbors that I am seeking and care to cultivate. I’d suggest to start with your literal neighbors. Invite them for meals, extend a hand for how you can help them or enrich their lives in any way. Have drum circles (that’s what we do:) In our married life we have always had such good neighbors no matter where we’ve lived and I feel like I’ve always had neighbors I could count on in times of need.
Lastly, I wanted to mention the importance of staying emotionally close to family. I could not have gotten through the past six months without my father’s and his wife’s gentle and wise counsel, my brothers’ and my sister’s generosity, my mother’s grace and wit. We are so different ideologically yet they are and will always be the ones I know love me and my own little family the most. So even if you are physically distant from any family you may have in your homeland, still find space/time to connect and check in.