Feb 12, 2013

Visiting a Foreign Country

written by Sveta Kalinskaya

I first left my home country in 1990. My home country is Ukraine, then the Soviet Union. I was 24, worked in the college from which I graduated 2 years before, and I’ve never been abroad in my life. It was quite normal for the Soviet Union. In 1988, my friends and I helped to entertain a student from West Germany who majored in Russian and Gymnastics and was visiting our Psychology professor. Through this girl I met my German pen pal whom I finally went to visit in the summer of 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

There was an abundance of impressions and feelings. And one of them was intimidation. I felt awkward. People around me were smiling, used to eating out, driving and what not. I remember the thing that kept me most embarrassed was that even students ate with both a fork and a knife and even at home. Don’t get me wrong, theoretically I knew very well how to do it and even used the tools myself several times. But oh God, it never looked so natural.

Later that year I met my first English speakers in Ukraine. They were American Mormons. One of the things I liked about them was that they were not embarrassed by the fact they didn’t know something. They remained Americans but were interested in learning more about our life to be able to communicate with the local people. And it even gave them a certain charm.

After that I traveled quite a lot and found out that the majority of people in other countries don’t find you stupid or ignorant and are usually willing to teach you something about their culture and customs.  And you don’t have to turn into a German in Germany or an American in the US, just be yourself, remain polite, and don’t be frustrated if you can’t properly use fork and knife, or chopsticks.

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