“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” -C.S. Lewis
I can’t help but think, as I sit here reflecting on the past month of my experiences in Lithuania, about this influential quote. As we begin something new, there is always a tendency to think about what we have left behind—how comfortable, safe, or known it was—hanging there as a constant cloud of doubt. We are aware of the new risks and challenges and hopefully rewards we are taking on as we begin our adventures, but we can’t help but think, “Will this be better than what I have left behind? Will I be able to be comfortable, safe, and successful in a new place?” How easily I forget that life is all about experiencing new, unfamiliar things–the dynamic nature of life is what challenges us and pushes us towards growth. In light of this, here are a couple unexpected lessons I have learned this month:
It’s Okay to Live in the Unfamiliar
It’s natural when we delve into a new situation to resort to familiarity. We want to experience new things, but when push comes to shove, our natural instinct is to retreat into what we know. This is not bad, however, I’m often so focused on feeling comfortable in a new place that I forget that real growth and learning happens when I choose to be uncomfortable—choose to talk to new people, choose to try new food, and choose to say “yes” to new experiences. I’ve learned to be accepting of living in the unfamiliar—it keeps me on my toes and forces me to expand my thinking.
Friendship is Tangible
Communicating and connecting across cultures can be difficult, no doubt about it. However, we often make it out to be a larger barrier than it actually is. I have found what helps the most in communicating with someone of a different culture is simply being their friend. Friendship is universal, and people understand friendship not by a feeling, but by action. And how do they know you want to be their friend? By what you do—the tangible ways you can show someone that you care about getting to know them as a person. This is something I’m working on—not just intending to reach out to other people of different cultures, but acting on those intentions.
Language is Key
Language is one of the binding forces of any culture—it is the “glue” that connects people and is the very foundation of communication. I don’t think I have ever paid much attention to how language can bring people together, but here at LCC, where many languages are spoken, it is evident. Even though I won’t become fluent by any means, learning the language of another culture and using it (or trying to use it) can signal to someone else that you are interested and invested in getting to know them.
These are just a handful of the unexpected lessons I have learned so far. Stay tuned for my next post on our trip to Riga & Tallinn this past weekend! 🙂