*This post is part of a larger series. You can find the other parts here - #1 - Why did I do it? #2 - Getting in #3 - The visible differences #4 - Adapting to Czech culture
Time for the big questions. How did this experience affect me? How did I change? Was it worth it?
I went into this process naïve. I was so focused on getting to Europe that I never considered what it would be like to actually be there. I didn’t prepare for the cultural differences or the language barrier.
When I saw these differences, I just thought “OK, so that’s how they do it here”. I was curious and open and that helped me to settle down. If I didn’t know something, even it was something very basic, I asked about it. I might have sounded stupid but I just didn’t know. In some areas, I had to become a 3 year old again and learn what everyone else learnt at that age. My parents never taught me about seasons, winter clothes, living on my own, relationships or European food, drinks, utensils or toilets. I had to learn all of this on my own.
Given the changes, it might sound surprising when I say that I didn’t get too homesick after moving here. The truth is that I didn’t feel too close to anyone or anything back home to miss it that much. After a lifetime of being on my own, I have a tendency to keep people distant. It is not good for my social health but it became very useful when moving.
When living abroad alone, you are completely on your own. Without family or close friends, you have to handle your entire life on your own. From the basic tasks such as shopping and all tasks around clothes to more complicated ones such as maintaining your social life, tackling visa issues and visiting doctors. You can never stop since there is no else to pick up the slack. Most europeans are used to this individualistic culture. But it was new to me. Add the language barrier and those tasks get even harder.
Inevitably I had to spend a lot of time on my own. With the entire weight of my life on me, I was forced to face my demons of low self worth, apathy and pessimism. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t struggle. I wrestled with these issues for most of my time here. But with time, I adopted ways to deal with it. There are stories about people finding solace in prison. That is the nature of being put into challenging environments. You are forced to adjust your mindset or you will not survive.
What I realized is that apathy was useless. Feeling sorry the poor state of my relationships and achievements was not going to improve the situation. Bringing myself down by running a loop of negative thoughts was not going to help either. It only paralyzes you from taking action. So I started phasing it out. I can never stop negative thoughts from coming to my mind but I can choose whether to add more negative thoughts to the pile or not.
Pessimism was a more tricky issue. By rejecting and failing myself in my mind, I was trying to avoid real rejection and real failure. So now if I find myself thinking that something would not work, I say no to the fake rejection or failure. I will take action and then deal with the real rejection or real failure if it happens. I have done it before and I am strong enough to do it again.
I had the unique situation of being one of the only Sri Lankans in Czech Republic. I am now used to seeing the surprise on people’s faces when I say where I am from. I am either the first or the only Sri Lankan they have ever met. This makes me an unofficial ambassador. Everything I say or do, they will apply to the idea of what Sri Lanka is and how a Sri Lankan is like. So I constantly ponder whether I am doing a good job at this.
Over the course of answering hundreds of questions about SL, I started to question whether my answers were correct. A lot of what I know about life in SL was determined by my family. I learnt about values, traditions and lifestyle through them. But my family was different so what I consider to be Sri Lankan culture might only apply to us.
With no Sri Lanka diaspora, my only solution was to dive into the local culture instead of staying in a comfortable circle of people familiar to me. Through this I picked up a lot of new mannerisms and values. My primary mission has not changed but a lot of my other values has shifted. This includes being more secular, emphasis on travel, social norms, attire and work/life balance. I’m sure this list is longer. This is one reason why I haven’t visited SL again. Everyone back home is expecting me to be the same person that left and I am not that person anymore. This is what I call the expat’s dilemma. Because you are a foreigner, you will never be a complete local in the country you moved to. But because of what you have seen and experienced, you won’t feel home in your own country either.
I did all of this much earlier than most people so everyone overestimates my age. I have stopped sharing my age entirely because of the shock it creates. Maybe it is just in my head, but I feel that people tend to disregard me when they know the truth. I have entered a different stage of my life much earlier than most people do and I want to stay there.
To bring this series to a close, I don’t regret doing this at all. I sometimes chuckle and ponder whether I would have gone through all this if I knew about all the struggles first. I guess this applies to a lot of things in life, you truly don’t know what you are doing and how it will end. With what I have said so far, you might be discouraged to try this yourself. Don’t be. It will be incredibly challenging but you can get through it. Like most things in life, all you need is persistence and patience. It got me here so it can get you here too. What you will gain through this is an amazing amount of growth and an uncountable number of amazing experiences that you could never have even imagined before.