Category Archives: International Neighbors

This category will include my stories and tips on meeting people from around the world in your own hometown.

Where Are You From?

In the past, if I heard anyone speak with an accent, I would always wonder where they were from but would never ask. I thought it might be rude or make them feel uncomfortable. Well, I’ve thrown that notion out the window. For someone who is trying to be global from home, that just won’t work. Over the past several weeks, I came in contact with three individuals who were clearly not born in the U.S. based on their accents. Rather than just smiling politely and going my own way, I took the risk of asking where they were from.

The first was a Mexican man who was working at a restaurant here in OKC. I noticed he was a little shy telling me where he was from, but when I immediately responded that I had recently been to Mexico and really enjoyed exploring it, his mood visibly changed. He began to tell me about his hometown, how long he had been in the States, and then asked me my opinion on safety in Mexico. He said he had not visited home in years, but based on the news, he questioned how safe it would be to return to Mexico with his family.

My second experience was with a man who had recently come to the United States from Iraq. He told me about having to leave his wife and baby daughter in Baghdad but has hopes that he will be able to bring them over soon. He told me he wants to get his master’s degree in engineering and how his father went to college in the U.S. at the University of Georgia. We ended up spending several minutes talking about taking the TEFL and the quality of the Georgia football team this year.

The third person I met owns a furniture store in Atlanta and moved to the U.S. from Turkey 18 years ago. But before coming across the pond, she also lived in France and the UK. She talked about having her mother still in Turkey and the challenges of going back home to see her three or four times a year. She told me how she speaks four languages and her brother speaks five. We talked about technology and how something that is suppose to help connect us, often disconnects us from the person sitting beside us.

What I’ve been discovering is that behind the accent there is a story. Leaving your home country and moving is never easy – there are language challenges, family left behind, and new customs to learn. And while I certainly hope that I’m not offending the people I meet, I am so curious to hear about their stories. I am entranced as they tell about what they’ve overcome to be where they are, and I’m eager to hear why they left the familiarity of home to come here. In the end, each time I ask the question “Where are you from?” I believe I am taught something new about the world that I never would have learned if I had to decided to be just be polite and mind my own business.

 

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Guest Blog: Hosting Your Host Family

When Jennifer, a dear student from San Diego, posted on Facebook that she her host family from Spain would be visiting her in California, I immediately asked her if she would do a guest post. I couldn’t think of a better way to be global from home than welcoming the family that showed her so much care and support in Spain to the U.S. As one of the most entertaining and genuine people I know, I’m so excited to share this guest blog from Jennifer on her experience.

Guest Blog by Jennifer Guerra:

Host: a person who receives or entertains other people as guests
Family: a person or people related and so to be treated with loyalty and intimacy

The sky was dark; there was a table covered with a cherry design tablecloth that had obviously been used for several years filled with food plates I did not recognize; laughter echoed from everyone in attendance and there was the sound of flamenco music in the background. I was immediately greeted with kisses on the cheek and tight hugs and was pointed to my seat. The chatter ceased and a prayer was offered to bless the food and the fellowship. Everyone quickly started back to their conversations while passing the plates of food around. I was completely overwhelmed. This was the first Sunday away from home and I was missing my family, my church, my friends, my comfort. As I smiled around and attempted to make conversation, my host mom would often interrupt saying, “She is our daughter from the States.” My host dad made sure my cup was always filled with lemon flavored Fanta and would often check in with me with his eyes. At the end of the night, once the guests were gone and the music of the crickets was all that could be heard, my host mom held my face in her hands and kissed my forehead. Looking back it was that night that sticks out in my head as my favorite time that I spent with my host family. There was genuine intentionality, love, empathy, care, and understanding.

Landing back into the US leaving that behind was one of the hardest transitions I have had to make, so when I got the news that they had the opportunity to visit, I was thrilled!!!! One of the nights they were home, I made sure to take them to the beach. There was a bonfire prepared along side with worn out beach chairs and all the works for hot dogs and s’mores. The night followed the pattern of that fist night in Seville but the roles were reversed…it was I who had to make sure to make eye contact with my host dad and reassure him that his marshmallow would indeed be ok even if it has been engulfed in flames. It was I who made sure that my host mom’s soda can was replaced, and it was I that reminded her that “host mom” was no longer a proper name for her. She was now “mi madre Española” (my Spanish mom).

You know, if you learn to enjoy the journey, the finish line will be bittersweet. It is a reminder of all the moments and struggles that made that finish line so worth it and valuable. The drop off at the airport was the day we had all been avoiding. There was a huge difference this time. The first goodbye was in a tiny airport in Spain; we truly never knew if we were going to see each other again, if the connection would ever be developed. This time around, we said “see you soon” for we are family now and family will move mountains to see each other and keep in touch. Instead of exchanging tears, we exchanged hugs and laughter as they walked into the crowd of people and disappeared. We will see each other soon and not care how many days, weeks, months and years pass by until we embrace again.

Jennifer (far right) with her American and Spanish family (sitting)

Talking to Strangers

Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak with me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you? – Walt Whitman

My husband has always said that I can talk to a wall. He loves bringing me with him to parties because he knows I can small talk. However, my skill is also a frequent topic of jest as I do not limit it to parties. I find random people to talk to at grocery stores, airports, the line at the DMV, etc. Part of my problem is that I’m naturally nosy. I often listen in to other people’s’ conversations and jump in if I have something to say. For example, when I was standing in line to board the plane a few weeks ago, the guy in front of me asked another passenger for advice on what to do in San Diego. I couldn’t resist chiming in. (Plus, all the other guy said was to go to Sea World…REALLY?)

Fortunately my nosiness frequently gets me into some pretty interesting conversation. Like on Friday, I overheard the accent of another passenger on the train. She was visiting from Adelaide, Australia and we got into a great conversation about studying abroad. She was actually in the States visiting a friend who had studied abroad at her school. We talked about her impression of the States and how she loved San Diego but was overwhelmed by New York . We talked about how travel changes once you have friends in the location you are going to visit. She was absolutely lovely and I can’t tell you how glad I was that I talk to strangers.

When we are traveling abroad or being global from home, I think talking to strangers is something we have to push ourselves to do. It’s the way we learn. I think back to all the times I refused to ask a stranger a question and I’m immediately filled with regret. It reminds me of when I was in Switzerland and would not ask anyone how to purchase a tram ticket. Instead I spent the whole trip on foot because I was too scared to ask for help. There was also the time I went to the Asian market and quickly dashed through the store rather than stop and ask questions at the different counters and really learn how the market is set up. When I’m too scared to ask, I think I miss out on so much.

With our move coming up this Friday, I think this is a good reminder. In order for me to learn the lay of the land, get involved, and make friends, I need to throw the time-old advice of not talking to strangers out the window. I just hope I meet some good people along the way.

Graphic courtesy of whoischick.com

What I Learned About Jalisco’s Culture

Since we didn’t leave the region of Jalisco, I decided I could not apply what I learned to all of Mexico. It would be like applying everything you experience in NYC to the rest of the States…and as a Southerner living in San Diego, I know that would be ridiculous. But I did learn a good bit and found a lot of things that were surprising.
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  1. Do not play Punch Bug. For some reason the VW Beetle is a very popular automobile in Puerto Vallarta. You’re shoulder will end up pretty sore.

  2. Saying “buenos dias” is just plain old common courtesy. Whether we were entering a store, the elevator, or passing someone on a small street, everyone said “Buenos Dias.”

  3. Locals eat really early. If you want a good local meal for dinner, plan to eat around 5pm because most restaurants close at 6pm.

  4. Salsa is not just for dipping chips. We had some incredible local breakfast foods all served with salsa.

  5. Jaliscienes value their salsa variety. Even at the tiniest taco shop, three types of salsa were served.

  6. Horses are still a common mode of transportation in the country.

  7. They people of PV have so much more patience than the average American. They patiently wait until the customer is done to bring them their bill. They patiently assist foreigners as they linguistically stumble with their 8th grade Spanish. And when it comes to the arts, their patience is absolutely astounding.

Travel Buddy Compatibility

As Hubby and I prepare for our first international trip together, I’ve been contemplating the desirable qualities of a travel buddy. How important is travel companion compatibility? Do you need one to be the leader and the other the follower? One a planner and the other spontaneous? Or do both need to take the same approach for a successful trip?

According to the Myers-Briggs there are 16 personality types that are determined by the following four different preferences.

Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

Your Personality Type: When you decide on your preference in each category, you have your own personality type, which can be expressed as a code with four letters.

I am an ENFJ – extraversion, intuition, feeling, judging. While Hubby has never taken the MBTI, I’m pretty sure he is an ESTP…almost my exact opposite.  You know the saying! In general, I would say this adds spice and depth to our marriage. We each see things from different angles and help each other make the best decision. But other than our honeymoon to Puerto Rico and weekend trips here in the States, we just don’t have much travel experience together.

In all my previous international adventures, I’ve noticed that I tend to pick travel buddies who are like me: organized, planned, and decisive. My friend who I visited in Argentina is a super planner. When I went to Paris with a sorority sister, we had the entire trip mapped out and saw every hot spot in the city in 4 short days. When I traveled with study abroad programs in Japan and Peru, we were extremely planned out. This will be my first time traveling abroad with someone who is not a decisive planner like me.

Fortunately, I’m pretty crazy about Hubby so in the end, just spending time with him will be wonderful. But I’m curious to hear from anyone who has gone overseas with their travel opposite. Please share your tips for a successful vacation!

My International Community

I was a reading a great blog post on Strange Days a few days ago about President Obama using the term of “International Community” several times while at the G20 Summit. The blogger discussed how our view of community has changed from “a place in which you lived” to “a mental state of identity or entitlement or power or preference or brand worship.” Personally, I feel that social media has a lot to do with this change, but Friday night as I was writing up my list of Versatile blogs it made me think about my own international community in the blogosphere.

I am a new blogger. In fact it was just 39 days ago that I posted for the first time with the goal of exploring the world from home. Simultaneously I began following a series of blogs and have picked up more along the way.  There are some that I  browse through and others that I feel really invested in. For example, I have never met Michael from Travel Thayer, but I eagerly read his blog about teaching in Korea. I have never met Amit of Healing Pilgrim but I am fascinated by her life in Bali. I have never met any study abroad students I follow, like Hayley from Turkish Musing, but I view them just like they were students at my university.

Maybe I am fooling myself, but I feel that through blogging, I am expanding my own international community. Perhaps I’m naive, but I honesty believe that if I ever found myself in Pescara, I could message Bee from If you find yourself in…and she would give me great travel advice. While I have never been a big fan of time-sucking social media, I have to admit that through blogging I feel that my international circle has grown. I certainly don’t believe that being a part of this virtual community gives me permission to disengage from my physical one, but I do feel that it can supplement and enhance our community at home.   In the end, my international blogging community may not be one where I live (although Hubby may disagree sometimes!), but is one in which I feel engaged, invested, and inspired. Personally, I think that is enough for me to call it community.

Can You Love Two Women?

This morning I went to our local grocery store to pick up the rest of my needed items for our Friday Lunch.  While waiting for my freshly made sushi rolls, I decided to treat myself to a cup of coffee. I went up to the counter and was warmly greeted by a pleasant gentleman with an accent I couldn’t place.  After some niceties, I finally asked where he was from.  He responded that he was Iranian but had come to the States a long time ago.  Having just read Prisoner of Tehran, I actually felt somewhat competent to ask if he moved before or after the revolution and he responded that he moved to New York right after the revolution started in 1979. He then immediately said that Iran is a beautiful country and has a lot to offer as long as you could stay out of the political aspects.  He told me that he had gone back several times since he left.  I asked him how it was to return and his response really got me thinking.  “Someone once told me that you can only love one woman.  While it was good to go back, I am an American now. I left Iran behind.” 

Having always been an American, his words got me thinking. Is it possible to belong to more than one country? Is it possible to love two “women”? Last night when I was reading Bringing Up Bebe, Druckerman said that American kids brought up in France usually felt American in France, and French in America.  In essence, they never really felt at home; they never really belonged anywhere. Does this mean if you don’t belong to one country, you don’t belong to any? Unfortunately I don’t know the answer but it something I’d like to explore more. I welcome opinions and comments.