I don’t have the answers to everything. If I did I would have found a place called home a long time ago. All I have to go on is what I’ve learned so far. One of those things is the importance of social integration with local people.
Why is social integration important?
This one is easy. You simply can’t live in another country and not be social. You are the outsider, you need to fit in. If you don’t, you’ll have few friends, and probably be labeled as something you might not want to be called. It’s also hard to claw back a reputation.
What’s so hard about making friends overseas?
There’s a difference maker here. Making friends is easy, but making long-term genuine friendships is very different. In many places I’ve come across, countless people will chum up to you for different reasons. Mainly for money, some out of curiosity and others for more dubious intentions.
To many a local I am just another tourist, and therefore I ‘must’ have money and are looking for tours, guides, hotels etc,. Fair enough. I get it. Once my story is told, a few still hang on, still 99.9% don’t believe me, or quite truly get it.
To others I am an expat looking to buy up their business. Some will hate me, others will inflate (the prices) in their curious optimism. I don’t have the money to buy any businesses. Once that is said, people start to get suspicious. What can he really be doing here so? He can’t really be serious about wanting to live here?!
This again I’ve learned to accept.
What I am finding now is difficult to come to terms with – genuine social integration.
Even in places I have stayed a while, or a long time. One is still an outsider. Again, I get this. But in doing so, you are left out of the inner circle.
There seems to be a limit to the conversations you can have. Similar interests may exist, but they are rarely acknowledged.
There are exceptions in all this I know. Expat communities as an example. But again, this is not social integration with a local community. In truth, it’s a welcome break in some places.
I’ve lived in a local community, given my time, money, and experience. In return I’ve been treated very well, I’ve been awarded great prestige and honors. I’ve been invited to houses for dinners, parties, celebrations. But, I still have not been able to grasp true social integration with local people. Maybe it never happens. There is always a missing link that neither side can manage to cross over and truly grasp.
Hippie’s in India claim they integrate, long/short-term volunteers dressing like locals think they do, and NGO workers … well … maybe in their own little world.
Perhaps the answer lies with long term, non diplomatic nor corporate, expats. People from a different culture born into another country and having an ordinary life. I’ve met them. And still, even with a full average life in said country, they are still outsiders.
What’s the answer for a guy traveling around the world in search of home?
Language and culture are two main factors. In a country where you speak a different language it is harder. In europe I found this to be very true … but … even with this I found social integration a little easier. While in developing countries I have found with or without a language barrier social integration is still not possible.
So in developing countries I think that leaves culture, and I am including socio-economic statuses here. And yes I have found culture to be a huge obstacle. One will never be from the culture you are trying to live in. You will always be the outsider no matter how hard you try. You will never be from that place, even if excepted in.
This is important because I am not trying to be a local
I am not the Hippie in India, nor the root finding traveler found else where dressing like a local, eating like a local and trying to be something they are not. This is not me. I simply wish to have a more genuine social interaction with local people as described above.
I’ve lived on less than my local neighbors in some countries I’ve worked. But still, I was the foreigner so I ‘must’ have money. The question of why I am carrying buckets of water to wash with at 4am with the cleaning staff goes unanswered. Perhaps I don’t know I can pay for someone to do this? This was once said to me. So I deem it as close to an answer I’ve come across.
The only thing I have not done is join the religious groups that welcome you into a community. I haven’t done this for many reasons, and I don’t think I ever will join a religious group just to have social integration.
In the Philippines this has especially struck me. We speak the same language, there is a western touch to the country. And, Filipinos are friendly people. But, no matter how hard I try, there is a cutting off point that says “the conversation is over.”
But then, I see expats living here and I wonder how they do it?
These are the ones that are married to locals. But yet, when I see them out, they are either with their wives or, alone. Or, in some cases, spending money on the new family.The internet also seems to be their best friend and not a local. So maybe they are not really “doing it?”
A table full of beer cans with a foreigner in the middle of locals does not do it for me in regards to genuine friendships. Though for others maybe it does.
Is this cultural difference the reason I am finding social integration so difficult in developing countries?
What then of places like the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK? They all share a similar culture, have I overlooked the obvious? Are these the only multicultural countries that have social integration more to do with a diversity of culture rather than economic status? Or is it perhaps a mix?
Again I don’t know the answer. But as my travels continue in a bid to find a place called home I am seeing these things become more and more evident, and relevant in my search.
Either that; or I am missing a very big piece of the puzzle …
Anyone seen George Clooney today?