Day 23 of the 30 days of gratitude challenge is my greatest accomplishment. This one’s quite hard! I could rattle through a list of things I’m proud of having done or accomplished, but that risks making it sound like my CV. And there’s a difference between an accomplishment which you can tick off or talk about every now again, and an accomplishment which makes you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something on a regular basis.
With that in mind, I think my greatest accomplishment is having lived abroad. I lived and worked in France for a year as part of my university degree. You can be as prepared as possible for living in a foreign country and I was able to speak and understand French pretty well since I was studying it, but no matter which way you look at it, it’s still a big culture shock. Everything is different, not necessarily in a bad way, but it takes some getting used to. I went through a stage where I didn’t know what my identity was because I couldn’t express myself in French in the same way I do English. I can’t fully explain what it feels like to live abroad, I think even if you move abroad with your family, it still feels incredibly lonely and, well, foreign, at first.
So managing to feel settled and like I belonged there is an achievement. And I think it’s my greatest achievement because of what it taught me:
– I learnt how to be happy in my own company. I went running and traveled a bit by myself.
– I know I can get myself out of most situations if I put my mind to it. I was a bit unlucky while I was there: I dislocated my shoulder in a ski accident, I injured my knee and had to have a knee op, my husband’s car broke down and we had to get it repaired, my jaw locked itself shut, and I got lost in strange cities a few times. If I can negotiate all that in a foreign language, I know I can definitely do most things in English.
– it reminds me that there’s 2 sides to every story. Things don’t translate 100% between languages, a lot of the time nuances or implications don’t quite work. The way you phrase things is important, but not everyone thinks that way. So sometimes you have to try and see things from the other side to fully understand.
– I know what it feels like to live and learn in a foreign language, which helped me no end when teaching.
– I learnt how to stand up for myself. Once I’d found my identity in French, I realised that I spoke my mind more often and was more assertive. This wasn’t a bad thing because I’m very much a person who wants to please people, even if it’s at my own expense. Now I’m back in England, if I need to be more assertive, I think in French.
– it taught me to respect others cultures. I think most people would say that they’re tolerant of other people’s beliefs and cultures, I thought that too, but I don’t think you can fully appreciate it until you’ve had to live completely differently.
Living abroad is something that not very many people have accomplished, so I’m proud of that fact. The experience I got from it is something that I can look back on in many situations and I’m really grateful for the experiences it brought me.