Sunday, August 20, 2017

[Sunday (not) in Switzerland] Out of your comfort zone

I'm back in the U.S. for a few weeks.

After moving to Switzerland, I had new appreciation for my coworkers that left their home country for work.  In Switzerland, I can usually fall back to English to get things done, but in the U.S. my coworkers from China and India didn't have the option to fallback to their native language.  I empathize with them more than I ever had before.  The stress of living somewhere you don't speak the language is intense.

Being back in the U.S., I understand the appeal of being in the majority.  It's so freaking easy to be the majority.  Everything is tuned for you.  You're the center of the universe and everything seems custom made.  Today, I had a delightful lunch with flavors I enjoy, with music I knew, in a language I understood, with customs and interactions I was ready for.  And it's not just lunch, but car rentals, hotels, clerks in stores, all of them are following a pattern made for me: a white American.

It's a nice respite for me, but it makes me realize how important it is to go outside your comfort zone. When you travel to a new country, things are different.  It can make you re-examine your life and your place in the world.  It can make you appreciate the differences between your life and a different way of living.

For example, in my pleasant lunch, the waiter brought my check before I asked for it.  In Switzerland, that would be fairly rude.  Yes, I had had my dessert, but maybe I wasn't done yet.  I might have wanted another drink.  In the U.S., it's completely normal.  Neither is right or wrong, just different.

Another example: I drove to the grocery store.  That is not unusual here.  On my way back, there was a pedestrian cross-walk not at a stop-light.  Two men wanted to cross, so I stopped for them.  They hurried across the 3 lanes of car traffic, obviously feeling like they had to hurry to not inconvenience the drivers.  In Switzerland, there would not be 3 lanes of car traffic, but the pedestrians would not hurry, and the drivers would not begrudge them the time it takes to cross the road.  In Switzerland, being a pedestrian is respected, not shamed.

I'm extremely grateful for the experience of living abroad, of immersing myself in a different culture and learning its intricacies.  It has broadened my perspectives on many levels.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.  Still, I will admit that being in the majority for language and culture is a nice break from constantly feeling a little out of place.  I hope that everyone gets a chance to step outside their comfort zone once in a while, just so you can appreciate all the things you take for granted.

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