Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Intercultural Relationships – The Lure of the Unknown

If you are raising bilingual children, chances are you are either in an intercultural marriage or living in a foreign country or even both. So before children usually comes courtship, so my next round of blogs will be about intercultural relationships.

So imagine you are a young man or woman about to embark on an adventure in a foreign country – new language, new environment, new customs, new people… new love?

While being at university, I have seen hoards of fellow students go on a “study abroad” program, spend a semester or a year in a foreign country and in addition to improving their language and experiencing something new, they also fell in love. Most become enchanted by the new way of living and the new language – and what better way to experience this different life to the fullest than embracing somebody that embodies all that is new and exciting… After all, the best way to learn a new language is “to sleep with your dictionary”.

Many people that go to live in a foreign country (be it as a student, in the military or on a business assignment) feel lonely at some point – and nothing soothes a lonely heart better love! A new relationship is a great solution, when you are single, however causes problems if you have left a partner at home. At least among the student population not many relationships survived one partner’s stint in a foreign country. (This is not to say that it is impossible to survive a longer separation, but you need to work on it: Not only will you have to keep your partner up to date with new experiences the s/he can’t share, but they have to be secure enough not to succumb to jealousy – be it for the new experiences themselves or towards the people that you now spend a lot of time with).
The lure of the new combined with an exotic setting, is hard to resist. At the same time this spell often quickly gets shattered when you return home. You are faced with the choice of a long-distance relationship or frequent visits in the short term and one of you moving in the long run. Since your feelings have often been intermingled with the experience of the other country and culture, importing your new partner in your old environment is often a sobering experience. Your partner, now a foreigner him/herself, is pushed out of their comfort zone and appears clumsy all of a sudden, where there was self-confidence before. Trying to keep a romance alive that depended on the thrill of the unusual while living back in the ordinary is hard! My friend S. added a second year to her stay in order to extend her romance (but in the end to no avail). Another friend had a fling abroad, but returned to her old boyfriend once at home again.

I was well aware of this very likely outcome of foreign romances when I embarked on my exchange year. At the same time, I was young and single and wanted to experience life to the fullest. So it happened to me – I fell in love … but I wasn’t going to make that obvious mistake! So when another girl showed interest in the boy I started flirting with, I told her, she could have him back after my year in the US was up. I was just wanting a fling. Little did I know I would end up marrying that fling…

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