What’s it like: Being the new person #expatliving

I don’t know about you, but the thought of being the new person has always brought on a lot of anxiety for me.I remember the summer before fourth grade, when my parents moved us to a new city. I left the comfort of a small private school where I knew everyone, and began public school for the first time. The first day was filled with lots of butterflies in the stomach. But I have to tell you how relieved I was when I met another girl in my class who was also a first-timer, after her first few years in private school. We quickly became friends, and remain friends now, nearly 30 years later.

Then came the bigger move, in the middle of tenth grade. After years with friends and many layers of comfort and familiarity, I had to transfer mid-school year to a new high school, an hour+ away from our old town. I knew no one. No.One. Sixteen years old, with my own car, I suddenly found myself alone again. And riding the bus. Yes, humiliating. And this was the country. So all the kids – from elementary to high school – rode on one bus together. As the bus driver blasted Billy Ray Cyrus. Every.single.day.

That transition was a bit harder, but I made it. In America, at least in my experience, people tend to be curious about the new person. They introduce themselves to you, and ask questions.

And I thought that was normal. But as with many things over the past year, I’m learning that some of what we considered ‘normal’ is really more cultural.

Foreign to Familiar
by Sarah A. Lanier

Such is the case with being the new person. Thankfully, we read about what to expect before we arrived in Norway. So it wasn’t a total surprise. But there is a difference in reading something and experiencing it firsthand…

In America, people introduce themselves to the new person. But here in Norway, the new person should not simply assume or expect the same. We’ve learned that if you want to meet people, you need to just go ahead and introduce yourself. It’s one of the cultural differences we’ve come to recognize and accept.

What is it like where you come from? Who introduces whom? Have you ever had a cross-cultural difference that created difficulties?

Related Reading: Much of this stems from the differences between Hot and Cold cultures/societies. A year or two ago, I read a book that helped me a lot in processing these differences: Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold-Climate Cultures. A great read to help you recognize and hopefully avoid cross-culture misunderstandings.


One thought on “What’s it like: Being the new person #expatliving”

  1. I love the book Foreign to Familiar! I have even used it in my counseling cultural diversity classes to talk about how you could provide services to people from other backgrounds. I found it so helpful the first time I went to Eastern Europe too.

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