Kylie from South Africa moved abroad to Peru to work at her law firm’s new branch opening in Lima, and realized how difficult it was for her to distance herself from the other expats in order to meet local Peruvians with whom she could improve her Spanish, as well as get to know the Peruvian culture.
It came a bit as a shock when my boss told me that he had considered me for the position in Lima Peru. I agreed with his statement that I am flexible enough and open enough to immerse myself well into another culture, yet I don’t quite know where he got the idea that I speak Spanish from! Sure I took Spanish in school and have spoken a few words here and there, but definitely not enough to assist in the opening and management of our new law office in Lima! Quite frankly it freaked me out, but being the curious person that I am, I couldn’t turn down this enticing offer.
Surprisingly it didn’t take me long to adapt to life in Peru. I loved the city and the fresh fruit and great dishes made almost all my days brighter, and work in the firm was great too. I also quickly made friends with my coworkers – they were also all expats, from the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Japan and the States. It was a good mix! We went out for after-work drinks, took city tours on weekends, explored Machu Picchu together, etc. I thought I had it all!
The culture shock came when I received a note from my landlady, who lived below me with her family, inviting me to their annual barbeque party in the yard. I must admit, I was a bit overwhelmed by this gesture, considering that aside from signing my rental contract with her, I rarely ever acknowledged her presence… Despite the fact that I had barely improved my Spanish speaking skills since my arrival 7 months ago, I decided I should attend, at least just to show up and say a quick hello.
The barbeque turned out to be a huge affair and I was immediately sucked in by everyone’s energy and general relaxedness, as well as, of course, their interest in my origin. Needless to say, I had an absolutely wonderful time at this barbeque and was delighted to discover that most of the guests were pretty well-versed in English. In addition to consuming endless chicken empanadas and ceviche, I also found out that my landlady is a nurse at the local clinic, her husband is also a lawyer and her two daughters both attend an American high school in Lima so that they can later study abroad.
After this evening I found myself craving contact to Maria, my landlady, and her friends. I suddenly found my little group of expat coworkers and friends a bit trivial. If I had wanted to hang out with mainly English-speaking people and experience Lima on a superficial level, I may as well have just taken a vacation to Peru with my friends from South Africa! I began to distance myself from the group of expats, preferring instead to spend my weekends with Maria and her friends and family.
In this way I was able to experience Peru in a much different manner and I discovered that what I had thought this country to be was very different from what it actually was! In fact, I met my future husband, a native Peruvian, through one of Maria’s friends here and am now happily living in Lima on a permanent basis!
Basically the lesson I learned from this is that living in a different country does not necessarily mean you are experiencing it properly. Of course it is comforting to have a group of people around you with whom you can go through the beginning hardships of expat life together with, however don’t limit yourself to this group. After all, you are there to get a taste of the country and its people as well, and visiting tourist sites, restaurants, and doing the things that expats or tourists do, is far from what locals do! Trust me, it’s well worth the effort!
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.