Relationships are not easy. No matter the nationality of the parties involved. It takes an enormous amount of understanding to make it work. Intercultural relationships are no different, and if anything, they require an extra level of open mindedness, patience and understanding.
If you also find yourself in a relationship with a foreigner some (or all) of these points will reflect your reality.
1) Difficulty: The language
If both do not speak each other’s language fluently this can be a problem. One of the main barriers presented is with the family. Not every member of my family knows English, and this in a way, prevents them from developing and a more meaningful relationship with my husband. One of my biggest fears comes from a scene from the movie “Swept from the Sea (1997)” where the husband falls sick and stops communicating in his wife’s language. In the movie, she did not learn her husband’s language and because of that a great tragedy takes place (I do not want to spoil it if someone wants to watch the movie).
Joy: Language is not always a barrier to communication
The best of Brazil are the Brazilian people! The effort in hospitality and creativity to communicate, even in another language, with people from a different culture does not require for everyone to speak the same language. Being able to expose my family members to people from another culture has always been a great joy. Being able to witness the horizon of them expanding as the perception of other cultures becomes more tangible will always be something that inspires me. The reality is, when effort is made for communication, everyone appreciates and encourages it. This process is super encouraging and surprises us, because in the moment of need, words and phrases that we did not know we had learned come to the rescue and it is in those moments that we learn more about the language in question.
In addition, the opportunity to have a bilingual (or trilingual or polyglot) family is something that makes me very excited. Knowing other languages opens many doors (I am a living witness to this) and makes the world feel “smaller” and more accessible.
My goal and my husband’s is to have children who are citizens of the world, and an incredible way to achieve this is through learning different languages!
2) Difficulty: Cultural Differences
Sometimes the differences in our cultures test our patience. From something silly like food to something more serious such as a political ideology, these differences are often points of conflict. It is often easier to say, “Your culture makes no sense!” and take the position that “my culture is better than yours,” but this is certainly the recipe for more conflicts and will lead to bitterness if not dealt with quickly.
Joy: Cultural Differences
As in any relationship, the adjustment period is a real thing (and in intercultural relationships this period seems to be eternal!), but it is incredible when we get off our little horse called “I am right” and try to understand the other’s perspective. Being open to a different way of seeing and doing things is an internal exercise of patience, adjustment of expectations, compassion and humility, and at the end of the day it makes us better human beings!
3) Difficulty: The international bureaucracy so that you can be together
Seriously, really, this is probably the worst part of an intercultural relationship: navigating the bureaucratic seas of two, three or, in our case, four countries (or whoever deals with more countries – I take my hat off to you)! Visas, taxes, passport renewals, visits to consulates, consultations with lawyers …. in short, the bureaucracy consumes a lot of time, lots of money and several visits to the psychologist / meditation sessions and if these fail, several glasses of wine to keep the sanity.
Joy: The international bureaucracy so that you can be together
Haha… I almost had nothing to write here, but in fact something very important came to mind. The struggle we constantly face to navigate the bureaucratic waters made it clear from the start that our relationship was and is still serious, and that it is worth fighting to be together, wherever it may be! And honestly, this is a great proof of love!
4) Difficulty: The different currencies
In our case, we deal daily with two currencies, dollars and South African rands. When we travel, we deal with even more currencies, and for people like myself who are not good with numbers, the different exchange rates can be very confusing. Whenever we transfer money into our account, we lose some of it to international transfer fees. When I was a kid and dreamed of adulthood, checking the stock market on a weekly basis was not part of my plan. But here I am, with calculator in hand and eye on the chart, to know which is the best day to transfer money into our account!
Joy: The different currencies
It does not always happen, but sometimes the local currency is in your favor and this helps save for experiences that in our respective countries would be double or triple the price.
5) Difficulty: Distance from family
Regardless of where you live, there will be a distance from family. Whether it’s your family or your partner’s, or even, as in our case, both! And when I use the term “family” I am not limiting blood relatives. There are also friends who are like brothers, cousins, uncles. This distance can be very cruel, when we realize that life leads us in different directions, and you are not part of the daily life of people, as is the natural order of things. Not being present for the death or birth of a loved one, sometimes losing milestones of family celebration (birthdays, weddings, promotions, your nephew/niece’s first day of school), and simply not having mom’s lap at the end of a difficult day! All of which are part of our reality.
Joy: Knowing that not even distance can change some things
Thank God for WhatsApp, Facetime and Skype! Knowing that our people are one call away means the distance decreases! These moments of conversation with the family that allow us to “catch up” are fundamental. The visits and times we are together are absolutely precious and sacred. And the greatest joy is knowing that, as long as there is physical distance, some relationships continue exactly as you left them the last time!
What do you think? Do you agree with this list? What is the greatest difficulty and joy you have faced or face daily in your relationship? Leave your comment below!