Menu Close

Five Years of Language and Culture Comics ?

Expat Gone Foreign - Clipart - Muffin, Cupcake, Sweets, Hip magdalena

Five years ago, I was in a bit of a hassle. I had a full-time job, I was on the final lap of my PhD program, and still reeling from continuous relocation. “I should take up a hobby to decompress.” – I thought.

I was too lazy to exercise, and too impatient to knit. So I resorted to an old past time: drawing. When I say it OLD, I mean it 1.

Expat Gone Foreign, drawing, cartoons, hobby, past time, expat comics

Despite my questionable drawing skills, I decided to illustrate my everyday adventures abroad, a humorous graphic diary of language phenomena, culture clashes and awkward situations. That way, I could immortalize memorable moments as well as unravel the foreignness around me. A pretty exciting project.

So, today five years ago, I sat at home and came up with a concept. In the following days, I did some artwork, set up the website and Facebook page, and invited my family and close friends to follow my graphic journey. But then the unexpected happened: in a short time and for reasons that escaped my mind, a bunch of people all over the Internet had joined the intercultural party.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and travel comics, life abroad, expat humor, mind-blown

And here we are.

The 5-year anniversary merited a special post, so last month I threw a poll in the Expat Gone Foreign – Airport Lounge Group 2 to ask you guys what the content of this special occasion should be. Thy wish be done, my dearest friends!

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and Culture Comics, Anniversary, Birthday Cake


1. Learning by doodling

Although most comic strips are the result of spontaneous language observations or social interactions abroad, I tend to get curious about the topic I’m illustrating, and this curiosity often leads to in-depth research. Whether I’m trying to unravel why British sinks have separate taps or figure out the origin of crazy German idioms, extensive reading, contrasting information and asking locals is always required to create accurate content.

Expat Gone Foreign - Language and Culture Comics, Clipart, Books, Learning, Pile

Accuracy is important, but so is self-preservation. One brain fart, one cultural slip of the tongue, and the Internet will jump onto you like those hysterical hellhounds from Resident Evil.

Learning by doing – or in this case, learning by doodling – I have come across many fascinating facets of languages and foreign cultures as a result of illustrating and composing the articles.

Expat Gone Foreign - Language and Culture Comics, Clipart, Drawing, Art supplies, Cartoons, Starionery

In addition, and this is the coolest part, your comments and posts have taught me a great deal of cool stuff. Your experiences have given me an insight into different world views, and sometimes you’d make me see an issue from a totally different angle.

For instance, when I drew the time zone math, I was only thinking about the inconvenience of talking to friends who live on the opposite side of the planet, but it was brought to my attention that time zones were an absolute nightmare for programmers. I have a new found sympathy for them now. And this is ultimately what learning is about: going beyond your bubble, reaching out of your own reality and seeing the world from a different set of lenses.

Expat Gone Foreign, Discovering the world from a different perspective, new lenses, glasses

You have been wonderful, and I can’t thank you enough for letting me borrow your glasses every once in a while. Which brings us to the next point:


2. Together alone, united apart

Most relocation stories begin the same way: you bought a one-way ticket, packed your life in a suitcase, and now you are standing in the middle of your new yet daunting home, so scarcely furnished that your voice echoes all over the place. The emptiness is palpable, and the inevitable realization suddenly creeps in: you are on your own now.

Expat Gone Foreign - Language and Culture Comics, Clipart, Suitcase, Relocation, Moving, Alone

You may be alone, but you are not the only one. We can be alone together, and that’s where Expat Gone Foreign comes in. In the past five years, we have become a quaint little community where you have shared your relocation experiences, daily struggles abroad, linguistic challenges and cultural interests, and in doing so, connected with other kindred spirits in a similar situation.

Since Expat Gone Foreign set sail, I have met a myriad of wonderful people 3, from language enthusiasts to inspiring migrants. Some of you I have met in person, some are online regulars that feel like long-time friends, and some have sent me lovely emails and encouraging words that have made my day on many occasions. Messages like “This comic helped me get over the initial culture shock, just when I thought I was going insane” or “This post gave me the final motivation kick to learn this language” are just priceless, and a constant reminder to keep doodling and bringing folks together.

The world is full of magical people. They may be scattered around, but we are getting closer.

Expat Gone Foreign, Expat life, comics, living abroad, migration, population, country


3. Haters gonna hate

With almost eight billion humans out and about, you are bound to bump into a considerable number of people who have different backgrounds and world views. And that’s great. Wonderful things can happen when we all put on our thinking caps and exchange ideas.

For all those enriching discussions, positive experiences and entertaining moments, there are always a few trolls lurking around. Of course there are different breeds: some are just bored passers-by that come at you with “this comics is stupid” (too bad, go draw your own comics then), others are douchebaguettes who seem to use social media only to smack and instigate fights.

The internet can be brutal, but soon enough I learnt that its creators provided us with brilliant mute options and block features. My advice: do your thing and don’t waste a second of your time on troubled souls. If it doesn’t spark joy, block it away.Expat Gone Foreign, Getting Rid of Negativity and Toxic People


4. Let gratitude [ˈreɪn]

Unraveling foreign cultures and connecting with people has been great, but there is a more valuable lesson that Expat Gone Foreign has taught me: gratitude.

For starters, I used to sail the internet without a second thought on how content got out there. Blogs, videos, podcasts and learning resources just happened to “be there”. Realizing how much dedication it takes to put articles and illustrations together has drastically changed this conception and the way I interact online. Now, whether I look up a cooking recipe, a language video or a post explaining how to fix that annoying computer error, I feel compelled to leave a “thank you” comment. It’s the least I can do in exchange. I mean, they could have kept their knowledge and skills to themselves, but instead they took the time to create something and put it out there. Like I said, the world is full of magical people.Expat Gone Foreign, Penguin watching videos, How to Fly, Comics

But gratefulness goes far beyond our online habits. There’s also an offline world out there.

As I write these lines, I’m sitting comfortably at my desk, sipping homemade lemonade, listening to background music. I have a roof over my head, fresh produce in the fridge and running tap water. What we take for granted is not a self-evident reality, but rather, an inherited privilege. Yes, we worked hard for what we have, but think about where you started. Our lives may not have been the easiest, but I have met people whose poignant stories make my harshest experiences sound like a joke in comparison.

I don’t think we 4 realize how incredibly hard we hit the geographical jackpot when we were born, and how little thankfulness and solidarity we practice. Anytime is a good time to start.

Expat Gone Foreign, Puzzle pieces, solidarity, working together


5. Do what you love

Many readers think that I draw cutesy cartoons for a living. The fact is, doodling is just one of my hobbies 5. I work in the field of applied linguistics, and conduct independent research and language publications.

By independent I mean that I grew tired of churning out countless, time-bound academic publications that only a handful of scholars were ever going to read. And that’s the fifth lesson that Expat Gone Foreign has taught me in these five years: why create tedious products only for a reduced circle of erudites that are already experts in their field, when you can present your knowledge and share your skills in an entertaining, digestible manner, so that you spark the interest of the many?

Expat Gone Foreign - Clipart - Lightbulb, idea, project, create, follow your passion

If you are good at something, put it out there. Write, visualize, compose, create… you name it.  There’s some truth to the trite cliche “Follow your passion”.

Now, I’m not saying that you should quit your job to start that gardening YouTube channel you have been dreaming about. One still has to be realistic. To this day, Expat Gone Foreign doesn’t make enough revenue to even cover the website hosting fees, let alone buy art supplies (although if you are feeling generous, you can always donate some gold or get some cool merchandise).

And that’s alright. I don’t expect it to ever become a sustainable income, but maybe someday it can generate enough profit to pay for itself and even advertise the comics, so that more people around the world get to enjoy them. Who knows? The world is our oyster.

Plant the seed. Do what you love, and eventually, every piece will fall into place.

Expat Gone Foreign, Comicstrip, Plant growing cycle, Progress, Plant the seed


Even if you are a penguin.


Expat Gone Foreign, Comics, Flying Penguin, Cartoon, Jetpack


So long, and thanks for all the bliss.

Stay tuned on Expat Gone Foreign’s channels!

Comic strips and discussions.

Random, unfiltered thoughts.

Pretty words in pretty places.


Spread the love:

The Devil is in the Minimal Pairs

Communicating in any foreign language can be an arduous task, especially when the language you are trying to speak contains phonemes 6 that are absent in your L1 2. This is the case and struggle of Spanish speakers when they learn English, and my dad is no exception…

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Language comics, languagecomics, Spanish, Foreign, English phonetics

These amusing happenstances occur because the devil is in the minimal pairs: two words that have a very similar pronunciation, but differ from one another by one phoneme in the same position in each word:Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

Whereas Spanish has one phoneme for <i>, English has a long /iː/ and short /ɪ/ one. No wonder Spanish speakers are confused when they start learning English. This madness would the phonetic equivalent of going to bed with two feet and waking up with four. One needs some practice to figure out how to navigate the world with additional extremities – or extra phonemes one had never had before.

To make matters worse, you will stumble upon words that contain the same graphic vowels, yet each one is pronounced differently:Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

But don’t fear, dear language learner! All it takes is a bit of practice, and you can train your ear to the different phonemes of the English language with online resources like this super cool interactive phonemic chart. If you are unsure how one word sounds, look up the pronunciation in dictionaries that include the IPA transcription and sound clips, like WordReference.

In conclusion, I think English learners should get more credit for their Herculean efforts.Expat Gone Foreign, linguistics comics, phonetics, IPA, English, phonology, language

In fact, anyone who stumbles upon words like these ↑ and doesn’t give up, deserves a standing ovation.

Hilarious German Idioms

If you have been learning a foreign language for a while, the following scenario might sound strikingly familiar: you are reading a book or carrying out a conversation, and suddenly a bizarre expression comes up. You know all the words, but their combination doesn’t make any sense.

Well, the good news is that your language skills are solid enough to understand literal meanings. The even better news is that you are ready to move to the next level: the fascinating realm of idioms! 3

Idioms are established word combinations that have a figurative meaning 2. They are vastly used in everyday conversation and rely on language devices 3 to describe something more vividly and paint a more colorful, striking picture. And let’s be honest: some idioms are pretty amusing. Which is why today you are in for a treat: a cartoonized compilation of hilarious German idioms.

Here we go, hold on to your seats!Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, lustige RedwendungenAre you going through a rough patch or a harsh situation? In German, you can use the very visual idiom “I’m sitting in the ink”. Sounds messy, doesn’t it?

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, Redewendungen, WurstPretty much like Germany cuisine, the repertoire of German idioms is fairly smeared in sausages. “That is sausage to me” conveys in a very colloquial manner that you couldn’t care less about something. Legend has it that this expression originated among butchers, who – uncertain of what to do with slaughtered animal scraps – decided to stuff the low quality leftovers into sausages. This practice gave way to the idiom, which is used nowadays to express that someone doesn’t really know what to do or just doesn’t care.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, deutsche Redewendungen

Back in the day of ancient warfare, fearful soldiers took advantage of the ubiquitous swirling dust to flee the battlefield without being noticed. Hence, the idiom “I make myself out of (the) dust” comes in handy when you run away from an unpleasant situation or leave in a hurry without notifying anyone.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, alemán, Deutsch

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up every day without worries, and indulge in daydreaming and life’s little pleasures? Unfortunately, “Life is no sugar-licking”, meaning that life ain’t easy. This idiom is similar to “das Leben ist kein Ponyhof” (lit. Life is not a pony farm). Schade!

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, idiomático

If your German friends refer to a place as “What is this for a juice shop?”, they are not exactly talking about a cute lemonade stand. Quite the contrary, for a Saftladen hints at crummy establishment or dinky joint. That lemonade doesn’t sound as enticing anymore, does it?

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, Phraseologismen

We all have that one irritating acquaintance who constantly asks for favors or that insufferable boss who keeps piling more tasks on our shoulders. But enough is enough! “The devil I will do” is the German equivalent of “I’ll be damned if I will!” or “when hell freezes over”.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, expresiones fraseológicas

If you find something nonsensical or rubbish, feel free to describe it as “such a cheese”. This idiom is used throughout Germany, but its etymology is unclear. Some suggest that the particular – somewhat stinky – smell of certain cheeses may have given this dairy product the idiomatic connotation that it has today.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, phraseology

The idiom “(there) you look stupid out of the laundry” implies that someone has a puzzled, surprised or downright dumb facial expression. This idiom seems to date back to the Second World War, during which soldiers who weren’t so bright were tasked with collecting dirty laundry. If you picture the soldiers strolling through large piles of dirty clothes, with their befuddled faces popping out of the mountains of laundry, it’s easy to understand why this idiom is still in vogue today.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, linguistics

Whenever someone drives you up the wall or exasperates you big time, let them know by saying “you bring me to the palm tree”. Imagine what a great deal of anger and distress someone must feel in order to climb atop a palm tree!

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, funny expressions

Last but not least! This is one of the first German idioms that I learnt, and it still makes me chuckle. In German, you are not insane, you just “don’t have all your cups in the cupboard”. There’s no consensus on how this goofy expression originated, but popular belief connects the word Tasse to the Yiddish toshia, which alludes to common sense. Whereas English speakers lose their marbles, crazy Germans are short of cups. Simply genius!

All good things must come to and end, but if you are interested in this topic, let me know and I’ll put together a second batch of idiomatic illustrations. What are your favorite idioms? Do you know hilarious expressions in other languages? Leave a comment and share with your friends.

Auf Wiedersehen!