Living abroad is a good way to grow as a person. It has challenged my ideas about the way life should be and forced me to come out of my comfort zones. As an introvert living abroad has helped to interact with people more causing me to grow. Here are the top lessons I learned while living in Kuwait.
1. Living a semi- minimalistic lifestyle
I say semi because I don’t consider myself a minimalist. I hate moving and it sucks when I have a lot of stuff that I don’t need or barely use. I have learned to only buy things when needed so I don’t have a bunch of extra stuff. I also use what I have until it runs out, instead of buying more than what I need. Knowing that my living space is my temporary home has helped me to get the items I need to live comfortably, but also be practical about what I buy.
2. Realizing tissue is multipurpose
I never thought to use facial tissue the same way I used paper towels, but I have adapted my mindset to accept it. Most places here have tissue in the bathrooms in place of paper towels. When I first came it was strange, but I have learned to accept it for what it is. At the moment I have proper paper towels and tissue, but I have gotten use to using facial tissue as paper towels. The point here is that facial tissue can be used for everything (toilet tissue, napkins, and paper towels) if needed.
3. How to survive a dry country
In the states, I was not much of a social person and only drank socially. Therefore, I didn’t drink that much. Being deprived of something that is easily accessible in the states caused me to feel like I was missing something. In the states, it is easy to go to a happy hour after a stressful workweek. In Kuwait happy hour is non-existent. I could travel to places like Dubai and Bahrain on the weekends, but the cost of that adds up. Instead of relying on alcohol to destress I had to find other ways. Yoga, walking, exercising, dinner parties are just a few of the things I do to destress. I am still learning ways to relax without needing spirits.
4. Long-distance relationships are possible, but not ideal
Me and my boyfriend find time to talk every day even though there is a 7 hour time difference between us. We physically see each other 2 times a year because it cost thousands of dollars to travel across the Atlantic. When I do get to see him I have to travel for 30 hours. The main reason why our relationship works is because we always planned on moving together. Long-distance is not an ideal situation but works better when there is a set time to live together. I didn’t plan on being in a long-distance relationship, it just worked out that way. We have been together for two years and I met him right before I moved to Kuwait. I wrote all about it here. We plan on moving together this summer.
5. What is feels like to be a foreigner
As a black woman, I understand what it feels like to be other. Being a foreigner is a little bit different than that. Being a minority in a country is different than being a foreigner because as a foreigner locals are not use to my aesthetic. Children stare at me like they never have seen a black person (even though in the Arab world people have all different skin colors). Sometimes even adults stare at me like they have never seen a black person. I wrote this blog post about the negative way some people view black women here.
6. To view people as human
The biggest lesson I have learned is to see Muslims as people and not as terrorist. I was not accustomed to seeing hijabs, abaya’s, or dishdashas. Since the 2011 terrorist attack, I have been socialized to associate all Muslims in a negative way. What I came to understand is that the terrorist are extremist. Kuwaiti’s are Muslim, yet they live normal lives – they shop, dine at restaurants, spend time with family, and travel. Most of the Kuwaiti’s have lavish lifestyles. They love America because we helped them when Iraq invaded them in the ’90s. They try to adapt some of our culture and want their children to speak English. They want their children to become global citizens. In other words, they are living their normal lives as we do in America.
7. My privilege as an American
As an American, there are many places that I can travel to without thinking about a visa. If I was South African I would have to get approval from my government for any traveling I want to do. I also get paid more than my South African coworkers because I come from an English speaking country. As an English speaking teacher, my housing fee is covered, whereas other expats in different job markets have to pay for their own housing. As African Americans, we want to have equal rights, but we also have to remember to count our blessings. Discrimination does hinder us. Most of the poverty in the African American community is systematic. However, our poor can never be compared to what poverty looks like around the world. We have opportunities that people in other countries do not get. There are people being abused by employers in and on top of that get paid little to nothing. It took me living outside of America to realize that I have lots of opportunities to live a decent life that people in other countries do not get.
8. My ignorance as an American
I can admit that I lived in a bubble. I never thought about life outside of me and that made me ignorant. Of course, I was aware that the world existed apart from my life, but as a westerner, it is easy to get caught up in my way of life and not be aware of the world around me. I understand that this has nothing to do with being an American and everything to do with my choices. However, we have to admit that it is easy for us to turn off the news and get caught up in our own lives. On top of that, a lot of the news we do receive is propaganda. Living outside the US has taught me that lies and propaganda in the media is not a conspiracy theory. The media has people believing that all Muslims are terrorists and this is far from true. I have learned to accept information with a grain of salt and use several sources to fact check.
9. The importance of connection
I was severely depressed when I first moved to Kuwait. I was truly culture-shocked and being an introvert didn’t help. I would spend time alone laying in bed. The first year I stayed in my apartment unless I was invited out, which was rarely. I struggle to connect with parents and students. I toughed it out and became a better person. I let go of all of my expectations and just accepted my reality. I opened myself up a little bit at a time and formed organic connections with people. If I did this, in the beginning, I would have not been so depressed. I need time to vent to people who understand where I am coming from. I need people to give me honest feedback. It took me a while to understand this but realizing I need people helped me to become happier.
10. Live by their rules, not mine
I’m used to customer service being fast-paced. I am used to a certain structure in the way business is conducted. For example, I went to the dentist and I watched the technician put my name in the computer incorrectly, even though she had my form right in front of her. I told her how to spell it correctly and she just smiled at me while still putting it incorrectly. Names are not the only things that could be spelled wrong. There are a couple of different spellings for the city I live in and all of them are acceptable. I tried to get by without a Kuwaiti number but realized that I needed to get one. I had a couple of issues by not having a Kuwaiti number, but the biggest was the laser place I go to using my phone number to track my file. Not my name, birthdate, or civil ID, which do not change, but my phone number. They lost the first records of me coming because I changed my Kuwait number a couple of times.
Then, there is my idea about normal human decency – waiting for my turn in line and picking up after myself. It is not that I don’t keep my standards of politeness, I still throw away my trash and wait my turn. I just don’t think it is fair to judge people based on my ideas. So I do not get mad when there is no line and just a crowd of people gently pushing each other at the bank or other places that should have lines. It is every man for himself. I might have to check somebody that tries to cut in front of me, but as a foreigner, I have to remind myself that this is not my country. These people are not trying to be rude, they are just doing what they were taught. Some of the things that are acceptable in my country are not acceptable here and vice versa. Since I live here, I have to live by their rules and regulations – even if it means I have to stand my ground for my spot in line.
Living abroad is a rich experience and I encourage you to do it if it is on your heart. I learned a lot about people and attempted to learn Arabic. I changed my ideas about life and found what I value the most. Living abroad is not a perfect living experience because there are plenty of disadvantages to living in another country. These are the things I have learned living in Kuwait and the ways they have benefited me. You could have a very similar experience or better if this is what you want.
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