Saturday, October 17, 2015

15 Days Left - Lessons I've Learned as an Expat

If you've been reading my blog for awhile or if you've had to sit and listen to me whine and complain, you know that I don't learn foreign languages.  I don't have the gift but I manage to get around and do my business pretty well.  It seems a mystery to people when they visit, but for those who are in the same situation as I'm in, we all manage to find our ways to communicate.

God gave us five senses but we only rely on one for most communication--our hearing.  When you take away the ability to understand the words being said, your other senses begin to kick in and grow stronger.  Think about everything that is going on during a conversation that helps give you context to the situation.

I can hear your tone of voice.  I know when you pause and when you rush your words.  I can hear a voice get louder and louder, even though the same phrase is being repeated over and over.  These things tell me if it's urgent or important.  My husband dislikes email as a main form of communication for this very reason.  You have no idea what emotion is being conveyed.  Is the person happy, afraid or frustrated?  

I watch very closely when I'm communicating to someone in another country.  At the grocery store the clerk may hold up a few fingers, giving me a clue on price.  They shake their head or shrug their shoulders.  A lot can be conveyed through body language.  What's going on around me is a big clue as well.  Lines help me figure out where I should or should not be.  A lot of time I catch a small movement out of the corner of my eye, and it gives me a clue about what we are trying to communicate.

Sometimes communication simply comes to a desperate game of charades.  Every expat can tell you multiple stories about when they clucked like a chicken in a grocery store or did a complicated string of motions in the market.  Somehow, in the end, we get what we want, around the price we want and both parties go away happy with stories to tell.

I find it interesting that as my daughter has experienced this and the frustration of not speaking a language, she chose to study Sign Language Interpretation in college.  I think a compassion grew in her for those who are born into life with sound cut off.  She's aware of using many senses for mere survival and wants to help people, especially children, as they learn to navigate the world as she has had to do.

Learning how to use our senses to a greater capacity helps us become better friends.  It's like reading between the lines.  You begin to pick-up on when people are hurting or excited.  You read the cues in body language, facial expressions and pauses.    As you begin to understand people better, compassion grows.  Take time today to slow down and do more that simply listen to words.  Pay attention to the person you are talking to.  Notice what's going on, then support them where they need it most.

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