First of all, I want to explain the difference between being “bilingual” and “fluent”, in my opinion. “Fluency” is subjective and mainly refers to your ability to communicate well, even if you make mistakes or have a foreign accent. “Bilingual” means that you speak it as well as your native language. So, how long did it take me to get to the point where I speak Spanish as well as I speak English? Oh, about 20 years. Everyone is different, so I can only comment on my own process, but based on my own experience, here’s my formula for becoming bilingual:
As a long-term expat, people always ask me “why?”: “why did you leave the United States?”, “why did you move to the Czech Republic?”, “why did you move to Argentina?”, “why do you study so many languages?”, “why don’t you want to return to the United States?”.
Now, on my 10th anniversary of being an expat, I feel very fortunate to finally be able to answer those questions. The answer is simple, yet complicated: I am an existential migrant, and always have been.
When you live abroad, you inevitably end up dating and having relationships with people from other cultures, which comes naturally to the existential migrant since they are xenophiles that are inherently more attracted to what is “different” and “unfamiliar” anyway.
However, although many existential migrants actively seek out foreign partners, this decision can bring on a whole new set of problems and challenges….as if dating and relationships weren’t hard enough! Not only do you have to get to know each other and integrate your unique personalities like any other couple, you have to do this while trying to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers. On the other hand, these differences can also be the main driving force behind cross-cultural relationships that do work. Meaning, what can tear you apart can also keep you together.
Based on my experience and that of other expats, I’m breaking down cross-cultural dating by examining a few of the stand-out influential factors affecting these connections.
One of the best explanations right now as to why Americans or other expats decide to live abroad is the theory of “Existential Migration” (Greg Madison, 2006). Unlike economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration, existential migration (based partly on Heidegger’s alternative understandings of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’, and the concept of ‘home as interaction’ rather than ‘home as place’) is seen as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about one’s own existence by moving abroad and becoming a foreigner.
“Rather than migrating in search of employment, career advancement, or overall improved economic conditions, these voluntary migrants are seeking greater possibilities for actualizing, exploring foreign cultures in order to assess their own identity, and ultimately grappling with issues of home and belonging in the world generally” (Existential Migration, Madison, 2006).
Moving away from the good old U S of A is awesome, but all American expats will at some point face these ATROCITIES.
1. Having to PURCHASE water AND drink refills at restaurants.
There are many reasons why being an expat is the best life ever (check out my Top 5 reasons being an urban expat is the best), but living abroad also comes with a fair share of struggles and sacrifices. Here are my picks for the top 5 struggles of expat life.