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 .
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.
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 to ask you guys what the content of this special occasion should be. Thy wish be done, my dearest friends!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 , 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 . 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?
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.
Plant the seed. Do what you love, and eventually, every piece will fall into place.
Even if you are a penguin.
So long, and thanks for all the bliss.
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