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Work Abroad: The Social Challenge

Updated on December 31, 2014

Whenever a person changes their setting settling into a new location can be difficult. Figuring out the lay of the land is always a process and finding a new group of friends is sometimes tricky. Frustration, sadness, loneliness are only a few adjectives to describe the feelings of being alone in an alien place. This challenge of socially starting from scratch without any formal direction is one I've found myself in before. The struggle of feeling isolated from familiarities by an innate desire to travel abroad is something I deal with. Sometimes I feel the difference that comes from not knowing the native language of the country, knowing but not understanding the native customs and being engulfed by the national problems of the country that affect every sphere of life. These differences have caused me a lot of confusion, pain, anger and many other feelings, but it has also without a doubt made me a stronger person.

Due to such varying differences between those around me my social skills have grown exponentially. Working in a foreign country with a foreign language can improve your social skills by increasing abilities to be socially open, assertive and to speak a new language.

Becoming Open

In school it was very easy to find like minded people with similar backgrounds and interests as myself. Transitioning to an abroad work setting where there weren't many people who shared those aforementioned things was a difficult challenge. Before living and working abroad, I wasn't as open to talking and being receptive to everyone. In an unaware way I would put people into boxes of those I would want to talk to and wouldn't want to talk to solely based on pre conceived notions and surface level information. Now, I recognize basing friendships in that way is obviously shallow and limiting. Due to language, the amount of people I can have a functional conversation with has dramatically decreased. Living abroad I've realized that I have to be open to different people just to even be social. Building satisfying relationships in the real working world has forced me to be open and willing to talk to all sorts of people and not just those who I think are cool.

Becoming Assertive

It's obvious that any type of good friendship takes a certain amount of effort by two or more people. However, the level of effort has to increase when there are certain hurdles in the way. The reality of distance, availability, energy, money, language and other factors play into people being able to form healthy friendships. Living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, a city of 2.9 million and the largest city in the Caribbean by population, I understand many of the hurdles that are in the way of forming friendships.

Emotionally, initiating friendships in a diverse work atmosphere can be very draining, because of the type of effort necessary. People have lives outside of work and aren't always or sometimes never going to reciprocate your desire to be more than work acquaintances. To form solid healthy friendships at work it takes patience and a certain level of vulnerability. In my own journey I've had to learn not to be offended when people have ignored my calls to get together. It's difficult to accept, but important to understand that when one door closes another one will probably open. If you allow your heart to become cold and offended because one, two or three people said no to your offer to socialize then you'll never ask that fourth person who may say yes. Forging work friendships is not always a walk in the park and calls for an assertive effort.

Learning A New Language

One of the great opportunities of working abroad has been picking up a new language. The process of learning a language can sometimes be a roller coaster of emotions. There have been numerous times where I wanted to express something, but simply was unable to because of the language difference. These times are very frustrating and can even cause a feeling of loneliness. However, there have been times where I've been able to express myself or show a small command of the new language and I get a real feeling of satisfaction.

As an American I feel like learning other languages is not emphasized to such a high degree as in other regions of the world. But obviously being open to and immersing yourself in a new language widens your horizons in many areas including socializing


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