Why being Bilingual rocks

If statistics are correct, over half of you speak more than one language.  It is estimated that about 60% of the world speaks at least two languages.  I think this is one of the coolest parts about growing up bicultural, or internationally.  All over the internet there are facts and stats about the benefits of being bilingual or multilingual.  I agree with this 100%.  I grew up in Uruguay, South America speaking English at home and Spanish everywhere else.  I (formally) learned French in school, and can count to ten in seven languages thanks to my international, multilingual friends.  I admit I am a language fanatic and get giddy when I overhear people speaking a different language, wanting to know what they’re saying and to be able to talk to them.  

Language is ultimately all about connection.  When someone speaks your heart language (the language you grew up hearing, the language you are loved the most in, the language that your mom speaks, often…) they are connecting with you in a more intimate way than if they communicated in a language you are learning.  You may be able to identify with this if you have ever been overseas, away from home and surrounded by natives who are going on and on all around you in words you don’t understand.  It’s a swirling mess and you feel confused and overwhelmed.  In the midst of all that, if you hear even a word in English (or whatever your heart language is), you feel at peace and an instant connection to that (however random) individual.  

I don’t think people realize what a gift it is to be bilingual.  For more than just appearances and the “cool factor” it may bring, knowing more than one language can be extremely beneficial.  

First of all, bilingualism can increase cognitive and developmental abilities. (Read: bilingualism makes you smarter). Not that monolinguals don’t have a fair chance, but think about it! If you speak two languages, or more, your brains capacity to retain information, to process the world, to understand other people is drastically increased.  I don’t understand why school systems in the United States don’t make this more of a priority.  Language learning is more than just social status, it can better your life. 

Bilingualism opens doors all over the world.  One thing I mentioned before was connecting.  Connections and networking are quickly becoming the most important factor in finding jobs, and in building our lives.  In a room of 100 people only five would be native english speakers.  This means that if you only speak one language, your learning pool is limited to 5% of it’s maximum capacity.  I believe we were put on earth for connection! We are relational beings, and so being able to interact and connect with people in their heart language only makes that relationality more genuine and more beautiful.  

Bilingualism contributes heavily to our cross-cultural understanding and compassion.  In a world where we are all necessary parts in creating community and bettering our environment, it is essential to be aware of other people different from ourselves, and to be able to understand their hearts and where they are coming from.  

I hope to continue growing and learning in this aspect of life, and am excited to go places and be able to connect with different people, speaking different languages, and to see what they can teach me about love, life, and relationships.  

Check out this TED Talk and see why it’s never too late to learn something new! 

Do you have a language that you want to learn? Do you have any stories from how knowing a different language has helped you connect with someone else? 

Introvert and Extravert: What’s your type?

I remember so clearly the first time I ever took a personality test.  I was 14 and my parents were just getting into self-discovery and how personality and personal strengths impact our daily lives and relationships.  They had an extra Myers-Briggs packet and told me to take it because it would be interesting to see what I got… (If you haven’t taken this test, I would highly recommend it.  Know that there is extensive research that has been done on personality types and this is not the only way of evaluating yourself.  Also, your type can change, and by no means is it a complete guide for everything about you.  People are infinitely complex and no test can do you justice! I do find it extremely helpful to know these things about yourself in the process of personal growth and in relating to my surroundings).  But, before I believed any of that, 14 year old me took the test.  When I got the results, I was so excited because it was ME.  Everything made sense, and I felt like I was finally able to express some parts of me because they were right there on paper.  There were four very important aspects about me that clicked, and explained why I am the way I am.  

Myers-Briggs talks about your personality type in preferences.  (You can read more about it here). These preferences help you understand exactly how you perceive the world and how you prefer to relate to people, to ideas, to facts…Basically, how you take in your world.  My personality test revealed I am an ISTJ: An introverted, sensing, thinking, judging person.  This has all sorts of implications that you can read about (and discover your own type while you’re at it!) Today, I just want to unpack the first one a little bit.  

I am an introvert.  

This preference has to do with how you gain your energy, whether through time alone, or with other people or activities.  I most definitely identify with the first part of that statement. I need time alone to process events, to feel like I can relate to people in the best way possible, and to be honest, to be happier.  The reason I stress knowing yourself, these key components of who you are, is because it is hard enough to navigate through life and friendships and parties and schools and countries and cultures as it is.  By discovering these facts about yourself, you are simply preparing yourself better for whatever situations you find yourself in down the road (or across an ocean).  

As a citizen of the world (TCK, expat, these words fit too) there are certain expectations of what you will be like, of how you will act, and of how you will respond to different situations.  Being an introvert sometimes goes against those ideals and so awareness is key; to know how to combat the feelings of “not good enough”, and to know that its OKAY to be who you are, even if its the opposite of what you should be.  Who knows the “right” thing to do anyway?  

Two sources I’ve enjoyed are: 1. Another blogger, Rachel Pieh Jones (of Djibouti Jones) talks about The Introverted Expat and has some awesome insight into the subject as an introvert herself.  And, 2. A classic TED Talk by Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts – because, who doesn’t love TED Talks? Check those out and let me know what you think!  If you take the Myers-Briggs, tell me about yourself! If you are an introvert too, do you have any tips on navigating through this extraverted, globalized world? 

Living & loving from a distance: 4 tips for keeping in touch

I love friends! Who doesn’t?! I love meeting people and getting to know them, hearing their stories and creating new memories together.  This is a fantastic part of living internationally, and moving often: you have to get to meet so many NEW people! 😉 Naturally, there is a downside to this lifestyle.  Living in multiple places throughout life can leave you feeling divided.  Sometimes, into more than just two pieces.  Being fully present in the current place is nearly impossible when family or friends are so far away and just as real as your next-door-neighbor.  Thankfully, we live in the 21st century now and keeping in touch is so much easier than an expensive monthly phone call, or the occasional letter.  However, keeping in touch can be a challenge.  When our lives get busy and we begin to settle in our home, and meet new people get involved at our kids’ school, its hard to remember our weekly calls to our best friend back home.  We can find ourselves neglecting the statement “everything will be the same!”.  Be prepared: nothing will ever be the same again.  But that’s part of the fun of reinventing yourself, and exploring new people, places, and things – at least it gives you something to write home about! 

And so, we come to my topic of the day.  Keeping in touch.  I wanted to share with you some practical ways to stay connected with your friends and family back in your previous home.  Its a tricky subject because it undoubtedly causes some conflicting ideas – how much is too much communication? Is there such a thing as overdoing it?  We need to come together, as friends and fellow expats, in helping each other become better friends, whether the recipients are staring at our faces, or halfway across the globe!  Maintaining relationships is important, so read this list and see what you think & if any of them could be useful to you! 

1. Be realistic (& don’t promise too much).  You’re going to have the urge to promise you’ll keep in touch with everyone, all the time, everywhere.  But that’s not possible.  If you want to be where you are, and enjoy it, and learn to love it you can’t make promises you can’t keep.  It’s not just that you can’t, but that you shouldn’t.  Don’t live in the past, using your excuses to keep in touch as a crutch that prevents you from seeing the NEW world around you!  Know that you will want to be aware of what is going on back home, but that you have a new home, however temporary.  Don’t set yourself up to fail by promising too much of yourself to too many people.  Don’t burn yourself out by trying to be too many places at once.  Just enjoy the moment.  Breathe.  Relax.  Talk to those who matter, to the important ones that will talk to you first sometimes too!  Let things develop naturally – some friendships may fizzle or fade, and that’s okay!  Going into a new place with the intention of leaning into it, and not holding yourself back, caught in the middle of two places is a freeing experience that will allow you to be an even better friend to even more people.  

2. Be creative (& show your friends your new home). Its always fun to get mail.  Any good news is welcome in my house, be it by email, text message, video blog, or carrier pigeon, I’ll take it!  When you’ve moved to a new place its important to show your far away family as much of it as possible so they can picture you there and imagine what its really like.  Maybe try writing a blog, even with little victories, little facts about life – your family and friends back home will appreciate seeing a more daily update, and also will approve of hearing your voice (even through writing!) about anything.  Film short videos if you can (everyone has an iphone, right?!) or take pictures – being able to put faces to names and images to places makes a huge difference in keeping people interested.  It may seem mundane, but daily details are often what we communicate least, but what is most telling of our experiences to outsiders. 

3. Be intentional (& tell the ones that matter).  When it comes to keeping in touch, I think you’re either good at it or you’re not.  I’m not particularly good at it and since I’ve been at college for four years, I’ve noticed that even more than ever before.  Its very easy to forget to write all seventeen of your closest friends every week for an individual update – and while it is important that the important people get the information, it takes some planning on your part.  Make a list of people that you want to know about (their lives) and that you want to tell about (your life) and weekly or monthly (you decide!) make an intentional effort to contact them.  

4. Be detailed (& keep it simple).  You’re probably busy! Don’t make keeping in touch a chore that you dread doing – it doesn’t have to be!  Create a Facebook page, add your family and friends, and update it frequently with quotes, pictures, or thoughts of what’s going on in your life.  By jotting down stories or thoughts consistently and in detail, your sharing will get easier and may even be an enjoyable activity! Don’t simply trust your memory, or think that you’ll never forget a funny or embarrassing thing that happens.   Write it down and share right away!  This is the best way to make sure everyone is getting to experience what you are, in the most real way they can.  

Keeping in touch isn’t only good for your faithful friends and family (note: free alliterations with the reading of this blog) but its also good for you!  Its a way of affirming the fact that you are loved and appreciated.  People want to know about your life and your adventures!  The whole responsibility doesn’t fall on you, but the sooner you develop the habits, the easier it will be.  Make your friends and family list today and see how you can simplify your routine for letting your loved ones in on your life! 

 

Building a RAFT: Finding the GOOD in Goodbye

Let’s get right to the point: leaving somewhere is never easy.  Leaving a place where you’ve established roots, built a home, invested in friendships, learned to belong can be devastating to anybody.  That’s one of the hardest things about the transient lifestyle: saying goodbye.  When my family moved to Montevideo, Uruguay, we were immediately immersed in an international community.  Our school was almost entirely ex-pats (people living outside of their passport country), as well as international business families, and some military.  I loved living in the midst of so many languages and cultures, getting to know kids who had traveled the world and done things I had only dreamed of! (Not many fourth graders can speak four languages already, which is something I’ve always wanted to be able to accomplish).

BUT…

The transitions were always a challenge.  Every year or two to have to say goodbye and start over and get ready to not be normal – whatever that means – was really, really hard.  I didn’t know how to say goodbye in a healthy way that would allow me to grieve but also to let go.

Thankfully, there are ways to do it well.

Tina Quick, a cross-cultural trainer and international speaker, and author of the book “Leave Well to Enter Well” said this, “Leaving a place you have been rooted in for any amount of time is never easy, but making the time for proper farewells is something no one has ever regretted. Proper closure and forward thinking help pave a smooth road to transition and reduce the stumbling blocks of adjustment…”

Closure.

What a word.  What does that mean? How can life continue to be normal when nothing about it is normal?

In the book, “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds” the authors, David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken talk about what is needed for a healthy closure when it comes to saying goodbyes.

Think of them as building a RAFT:

Reconciliation. 

Affirmation.

Farewells.

Think Destination. 

Reconciliation: As transient people, it is easy to deny or avoid confrontation with others you’ve had disagreements with because you know you’re going to leave.  Because you’re moving, it is likely you won’t have to see the person you’ve disagreed with again.  However, this is an unhealthy habit that can cause bitterness and deeply affect future relationships down the road. It is so important to resolve any problem, ask for and receive forgiveness BEFORE moving and forever ignoring that there was ever a conflict.

Affirmation: Leaving in peace is key.  There are no doubt people you have encountered and befriended over the years or months you’ve been where you are.  Before being in a place emotionally and mentally to move on, let them know you appreciate them! This helps you focus on the positive times you’ve experienced and also solidifies your own relationships with them, enabling you to have more closure before meeting all new people and forming NEW friendships.

Farewells: This is self-explanatory in name, but it isn’t always so obvious when you’re leaving.  There are so many other things going on when you’re in the middle of packing and moving that you can forget to actually say the words goodbye.  Give yourself time to pay attention to the things you’ve enjoyed or gotten close to, maybe visit your favorite restaurant or take a picture of something you’ll miss.

Think Destination: What are you going to need where you’re going? In the midst of all the goodbyes, its important to focus on the future, just to prepare yourself and your family for the approaching transition.  Be practical and let yourself look forward to the new things that are coming!

Ultimately, yes, goodbyes are hard.  But they can be a good time to re-center yourself and to realize what is important in your life and for your future.  They can be helpful in seeing some old friends and in re-living some of the fun times you and your family have had.  Be encouraged that there are so many people who are leaving somewhere and going somewhere else! You’re not alone.  Give yourself grace as you move, and allow your family to grieve and to process in whatever ways they need to.  We live an exciting life that can be full of adventure and stories and fun people and places!  Let’s see the good in goodbye, and learn to do them well.