The Revelation

AMERICANS ABROAD

Mary Elizabeth Kees, Junior Staff Writer

“There are so many different things that I learned about, and I didn’t even know I was learning, but every day was something new,” Julia Bryan, a business owner who emigrated to the Czech Republic 20 years ago, said. Wherever one might go, living abroad can provide exciting experiences and learning opportunities. Although it has many challenges, moving to another country gives one new perspectives and ideas that might affect the traveler in unexpected ways.

The language barrier is especially daunting to Americans traveling abroad, even more so because they sometimes do not have many traveling companions. Not understanding the speech of others is a logical fear, since it prevents a higher level of communication.

Katie Farthing (12), who is currently living in Italy for a year, said, “It’s very difficult at times because you miss your friends, and the language barrier is super high.”

According to Dawn Farthing, Katie’s mother, while high school kids in Italy are often able to communicate in English, at least, middle schoolers have not reached a high enough level of proficiency in English, so Katie has to learn Italian in order to communicate adequately.

Julia Bryan said in an interview that she, also, worried most about the language when she first moved abroad.

“I miss being fluent in the local language,” Bryan said. “There’s a lot of advantage to knowing your language upside and down when you’re in a country.”

Yet not understanding the language has a few unexpectedly beneficial byproducts. For example, Bryan said that not fully knowing the language eliminates certain distractions and makes it easier to focus. Likewise, Katie said that she is able to spend more time introspectively since she spends less time interacting with others.

Despite the difficulty of the language barrier, travelers discover advantages: one of the many advantages of moving to Europe is the convenience of traveling due to pedestrian-friendly cities and public transportation.

Katie said, “[It surprised me h]ow little they use their cars. I walk to school every day. [My siblings] use their bikes. We don’t have a car, and we can go basically anywhere we want.”

Farthing also added that Italian trains and other public transportation are far more accessible than the transportation in most American cities.

“There’s something about being able to live in a city where you don’t have to have a car, and you can walk everywhere; you go to the park,” Bryan said. “It’s just a wonderful place to live. It’s really convenient, and you feel like you’re part of everything.”

As an American living abroad, one likely finds surprises about another culture. Katie, for example, was astonished by the difficulty of Italian schools. According to Katie, Italians take school more seriously at earlier ages, and starting in middle school, kids do two or three hours of homework every day. The high school kids do four or five hours of studying daily. Farthing also added that the most popular kids are the ones who study hard and get good grades.

Dawn Farthing said, “School here is just academic; it’s not social; they’re not trying to entertain you. There’s no sports teams[…] It’s just not social, you don’t meet to have fun. You go there for school[…] Your teacher talks for an hour, and it’s not interactive; you just listen and take notes.”

In addition, Italian schools grade students on a scale from one to ten, and, unlike in America, where most people who try hard can make A’s, only a few students will receive a ten. What’s more, grades are not private; everyone knows everyone else’s grades.

“It you get up there and do your interrogation poorly, everyone knows [you] got a four,” Dawn Farthing said.

Because she was already an adult before moving to the Czech Republic, Bryan experienced different surprises. She was shocked that people her age still did not believe that women were equal to men. After a few years, Bryan became the head of her company in the Czech Republic, and that startled people.

“They also were really shocked that I was going to be their boss, because I was a woman, and they didn’t know how that could be possible,” Bryan said. “So I had to explain to them that I didn’t have to be their boss, and they could leave right now, so they all decided to stay, and it worked out after that.”

Despite these difficulties, both the Farthings and Julia Bryan said that living in Europe has changed their perspectives on America or in Katie’s case, certain ideas that they held prior to moving.

Katie said, “When I go back to America, when I meet an Italian person[…], I’ll understand more what they’re like. My stereotypes are diminished.”

In addition, Katie said that her experience of Italian customs and society made her recognize how bland America’s art and culture seems since Italian culture is richer, enhanced by magnificent art and architecture from throughout history.

“Going to America, I just see how much we lack in culture,” Farthing said. “[The Italians’] respect of culture is a lot higher too, and of art, because it’s all right there.”

Bryan also said that living abroad has made her recognize new things about America. However, her perspective has changed as a result of having her children grow up in the Czech Republic. She and her family visit America nearly every summer, but her children, of course, see the Czech Republic as home, whereas Bryan was raised in Charleston, South Carolina.

“They look at my culture in a way that helps me see it from the outside,” Bryan said. “We’ve introduced them to a lot of the South, and they don’t see it as natural; they see it as interesting and kind of exotic, so they’ve helped me see it in that exact same way […] They’ve helped me see the world I came from in a different way.”

Moving abroad for a long time has many difficulties, especially the language barrier and the lack of friends and family. However, despite these challenges, other cultures provide a valuable perspective on one’s own culture. Seeing one’s culture as if from the eyes of an outsider can help a person both to recognize the flaws of his or her own country and to embrace its admirable qualities. In addition, moving abroad is an adventure that makes one learn much, from small cultural points to maybe something new about oneself.

In the words of Julia Bryan, “If you’re someone who doesn’t like to be bored, moving abroad is perfect!”

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