I’m certainly no ex-pat. But I’ve gained a glimpse into what that must feel like.
When you’re enveloped by a culture so different from your own, but you’re on the outside of it, unable to speak the language and connect with the people, you walk around in a bubble. It’s otherworldly, strange, and eye opening.
With this invisible bubble around you, you live anonymously. Other than the occasional smile and nod, everyone passing by ignores you and you ignore them. You have no concern what people think of you, because for some reason they aren’t real to you and you aren’t real to them. Their culture and language separates you. Even if you were to find commonalities, they’re buried deep, and with a language barrier they are difficult to dig up.
So here I am, living with my partner for two months in Southeast Asia. When I venture out on my own I am completely alone, though surrounded by thousands of people. They are not real. They seem to me like robots, or stand-ins, extras just acting out their roles as shop keepers, restaurant servers, truck drivers, passersby. We glance at each other but we cannot connect because of the invisible barrier between us.
In this bubble I don’t think about whether my clothing impresses people. I don’t wonder what they think of my actions. I don’t subconsciously analyze their status or judge their attractiveness. Even the billboards are in a language I can’t read, so I am not influenced by their messages to buy this or be that.
I like this. I like removing myself from the culture of judgement and spending every moment being me without such meaningless thoughts. But what will happen when I’m plopped back into that culture? Eventually I will have to go back. Can I take what I’ve learned here and apply it back there? To live life without judging and feeling judged. That’s the real challenge. And I’ll take it.