Exciting news readers: it’s my 50th post here on Expat Panda! The site has grown exponentially, well beyond anything I imagined and I’m so thrilled with the feedback I have received in response to my writing. I must confess that I was pretty indecisive as to what the topic for my 50th post would be but I settled on the topic of friendship- something we all either want, have or need. I think friendship is especially important when you move abroad but equally important are the types of friendships you make.
Growing up in relatively conservative community meant that all the people I went to high school were of the same culture, race and religion as my family. We all lived in close proximity to each other, ate similar dishes for supper every night and watched the same movies every weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I do treasure the two friends I have kept in touch with over a decade after we all completed high school. But for the most part, I was so BORED in high school.
Upon entering university in South Africa, it was like I had entered a whole new world and I met so many people from different races, cultures, religions and countries. It was amazing! When I moved abroad, this experience was magnified about a 100 times. I hardly ever meet people from my country of origin never mind the same culture as I am. And you know what? I love it!
Strength lies in our differences not in our similarities.
With the help of my favourite actor, let’s look at some of the things you may experience when you’re lucky enough to have a friend from another culture or country:
Your knowledge base will increase
When you guys first meet, you will be in awe of all the things they do, full of questions and eager to understand their way of life. Why are you wearing that scarf? What is that red dot on your forehead? What language do you speak at home?
In this way, you will discover that having friends from different countries or cultures means you have a lot of differences. The key to a good friendship is respect. Of course they have an absolutely different culture, norms, and ethics and that is okay as long as you have respect for all of it.
Although some things may be weird and nonsensical and you may disagree with aspects of their culture, you will learn a lot. Oh and once you figure that you can accept their culture without agreeing about it, your friendship will be indestructible.
You may even discover how much you have in common. Sharing music, books and TV shows with each other helps you get to know one another. It makes the world seem smaller when you know that people on the other side of the world also love Gilmore Girls and Jude Law. It also makes the world seem smaller when talking about politics and what is happening in the world. Instead of getting just one conformist opinion on an issue, you can gain a completely different perspective.
Sometimes you will be spoken to in another language
If your bestie speaks to you in her second language, chances are that there will be many instances where you’re spoken to in her first language. From Czech idioms courtesy of Bee to the wedding of a friend I attended in Zimbabwe where the entire ceremony was in Shona (don’t understand a word of it), your exposure to another language will most certainly increase. There are few things more cultured than being able to speak several languages. Although it may not be realistic to become completely fluent entirely, you can always get some inside info on phrases and expressions.
Bonus if you adopt some phrases in their language and it becomes part of your vocabulary! Side note: I can only pronounce about two Czech words and Bee just shakes her head and calls me “cute” when I say them incorrectly.
Food, food, glorious food.
New cultures means NEW CUISINE. It could go 50/50- either you hate it (I am still not a fan of Korean kimchi) or you love it (I can’t remember which friend got me into dosa’s but it started off an addiction!). Sometimes you find similarities in the things you grew up eating (I didn’t know that dumplings are synonymous with so many cultures) or its completely different to anything you have ever tasted.
I believe in the power of food beyond its physical purposes; not only can it satisfy, but it can unify people. Like Eid when everyone from each household brings a dish to the house where the festivities are being held. Then, once every dish has arrived, it is time to eat together in each others’ company to celebrate the end of fasting and to appreciate blessings. Or Diwali, when my Hindu friends would give me plates of mitai (sweets) and I would carefully choose all of the ones I liked and leave the rest for my siblings! Food is about more than just what meets the stomach. We can increase our understanding of other cultures by embracing different foods.
Your mind opens up
Inter racial marriage- what’s the big deal? You see no problem in that because you figure it is about how good the person is and not about what they look or sound like. Cross-cultural adoption- sounds great! Polygamy? An interesting concept. Arranged marriages? They have their pros and cons.
Suddenly your horizons have broadened and you can’t understand why people are so scared of what they aren’t exposed to.
Through my diverse group of friends I discovered and witnessed the world with my opinions of what is taboo or not, views on religion and politics, distinctive outlooks in life, etc. But through discussion with them, my definition of what is normal, common, and ordinary became flexible. I began to see the world through their eyes and I began to understand things. I started seeing life in many angles. Having friends from different cultures helped you to understand people and their views better.
You correct yourself on previous mistakes you made- now you know it is not okay for you to stereotype anymore. You realize how people from different religions and countries really are. They are nothing like what you read in books or saw in films; they are a lot more than that (I can’t tell you what a fool I felt like when I realized that not all Europeans are super wealthy!)
A visit can actually be a holiday!
Depending on where your bestie is from, when you get to visit them, it could be an awesome vacation for you. I am regularly tempted to visit my faraway friends for a special occasion, another trip, or just because it’s been too long. And I always think that’s a great reason to hit the road again. I am really fortunate to have good friends in the USA, Macau, South Korea, New Zealand, all across South Africa and scattered throughout the GCC. The more we travel, the smaller our world becomes. Those connections benefit us, as well as the people we meet and the people back home, bringing more understanding and greater empathy to our world.
Although I ALWAYS say that traveling helps one gain different experiences and influences one’s personality positively. But I do know that not everyone is lucky enough to be able travel. This is why having friends from different cultures is so great- Having friends from all over the world can give you an insight into a completely new culture without having to leave your own city.
In today’s world, where presidents want to build walls and others want to bomb those of a different religion, exposing ourselves and our children to people of different cultures/religions/nationalities will help eliminate or at least, lessen those sort of intolerant attitudes.
It’s easy to have friendships where you constantly get along and share the same beliefs and lifestyles. But, if we spend life in our comfort zones, what can be said of our life experiences? Making decisions is easy when everyone agrees. If you have friends who help you think critically about your decisions, you may benefit more and get more out of whatever the situation is. This is why I think that having a diverse group of friends is what life is all about. If not, then you might as well be friends with a bunch of robots!
What are some of the things you experience if you have friends from another country or of a different culture to you?