A Necessary Part: On Vulnerability & Learning A New Culture

At the 20-Year Anniversary Party for the Image Factory Art Foundation in Belize City, June 2016

One of the things I love about living in Belize is getting to know and becoming friends with Belizeans. The longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve been spending time with Belizean folks I’ve met socially and professionally. I’ve met some really great people and I’m learning a lot about the culture from them, more so from just getting to know them as opposed to asking them tons of questions (not really my style).

Lately I’ve been attending more events with my friend Simone’s women’s organization, where I am always the only non-Belizean. I really enjoy talking to folks at these events and hanging out with them socially, and it’s been a good way to meet and connect with people. I find myself engaging people more now than before, as I’ve become more comfortable in general with living here.

It’s an interesting experience for me at these events. I have traveled quite a bit and been around all kinds of folks from different backgrounds, and connecting with people in an authentic way is not difficult for me. At the same time, I am in Belize and not somewhere else, and there are moments when something culturally specific happens that I am not a part of.

An example of this is when everyone in the room is speaking Kriol, and I understand but can’t speak it. Or when someone makes a cultural reference which I don’t really get, or makes a joke that everyone in the room laughs at and I’m confused because I have no context. Even though I know it’s not about me, in these moments I feel like a foreigner or, worse, tragically American.

I experienced this when I lived in Nigeria, as I was constantly with Nigerians and totally immersed in the culture. It’s a similar experience for me here in Belize, though with a different flavor because I moved here with my partner. But the feeling is the same – vulnerability. Being in a culture that is not my own, wanting to learn and understand it, requires that I be vulnerable. It’s something that I fully accept as a necessary part of living in a new country.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to change my identity or “become” Belizean. I am who I am and I’m proud of that. And feeling out of place doesn’t stop me from wanting to engage folks and situations where it’s clear that I am not from here. It’s part of why I moved here, because I want to learn and appreciate. And more often than not, I am able to find some common ground with people and just get into what’s happening, even if it’s a bit unfamiliar. I embrace my differences as well as similarities with people because it’s part of what makes living in Belize interesting.

One of my favorite things about traveling is experiencing other cultures, and that is intensified by living somewhere for an extended period of time. I didn’t move to Belize to just live in my own bubble, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this country, with all its fabulousness and foolishness. Fully engaging this place and staying open to being touched by it is what makes it all worth it.

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