Being an expat means many different things but can often be boiled down to misunderstanding, confusion, and loss. A language barrier multiplies the amplitude of these for sure. Have you ever had to concede your linguistic shortcomings to a lovely grandma who’s probably just making small talk with you on the street? Or call a government office with an automated reply dial that asks dozens of questions before you can speak with an actual person? If you have, you may find this struggle familiar, if you have not follow Kamile’s story for a glimpse of the true expat experience.
Kamile is currently completing a master’s degree in Arts, Culture, and Society. She has lived in the Netherlands for 6 years already. She’s originally from Lithuania but has always been surrounded by diverse cultures and traditions, thus, her mind is used to think globally. After a few years of residency in the Netherlands, Kamile’s heart has fallen for the curly haired Luuk, who is Dutch and knew next to nothing of Lithuania before he met HER. Once things started getting serious, there was one question floating in their heads: “WHEN?”
“Can I meet your parents?” – Luuk asked. Kamile had already been introduced to his family several times, she enjoyed their company and warm homely feeling. Dutch Generation X generally has good English proficiency so they had no difficulty communicating. Kamile knew that there might be a problem with introducing her boyfriend back home… (Note: Lithuanian Generation X grew up in the Soviet Union where they only spoke Russian and Lithuanian, and had very few opportunities to travel or somehow engage with the rest of the world). Finally, after dreading this moment for months, Kamile brought her Dutchie back home to show him her roots, precious childhood roads and her extensive Lithuanian family.
“It was probably the most awkward thing I ever had to do!” she exclaimed as she told me her story. “I had to sit in between my family and my boyfriend so if anyone wanted to say something – guess who had the role of translator?” BUT! The story is not only about the struggle these kind of situations can bring, it’s also about the effort that we put in understanding each other, and getting to know one another. Even if venturing into the unknown may sometimes appear awkward, uncomfortable, or unpleasant, it’s nevertheless worth discovering where it might lead us. We should be less afraid of making mistakes! Kamile adds that this family experience strengthened her relationship with her partner at the time, by allowing him to see a part of her that could not shine through when living abroad, as well as her relationship with her family.
“It was a real struggle, and a road to acceptance of the circumstances, but now it’s a fun memory! I’m glad I did it” – Kamile