Making friends can be tough, especially in a foreign country where you have no existing network, don’t speak the language, don’t know the customs, and stand out as a foreigner. Katie and I recognize that we’ve put our kids into a difficult situation, pulling them out of known environments and plunging them into an unfamiliar world.
Our kids had no say in the matter, whether or not we left the United States and where or when we chose to travel. We put the burden upon them, and I’m impressed with how well they are adjusting. I admire their flexibility and willingness to adjust. I wish I could be more like them in many ways as they demonstrate remarkable flexibility and optimism to tackle the challenges we face in Chile.
Not a week into our travels, we entered Jane and Wilson into a Spanish-speaking choir in Vitacura, our commune within the city of Santiago. We had to persist to push our way into this group as foreigners, delivering Jane and Wilson to the doorstep of the Vitacura cultural center for auditions on one day and a two hour rehearsal on the next.
Katie and I left the kids at the doorway at the long rehearsal and in the care of their Chilean instructor. The kids they had to navigate their way through the situation. They had to decipher the directions given in an unknown language, and they had to interact with local children who mostly knew each other from school and churches. They emerged with smiles on their faces and a couple of friends. As it turns out, kids know about Google Translate on their smartphones, and they managed to get acquainted with their limited language and the aid of automated translation.
A few days later, the kids once again showed their willingness to engage when we attended an international, interdenominational church. This church community speaks English, which is why we sought it out. All the same, when it was time for children’s Sunday school, Jane and Wilson popped up and were on their way without us. They returned with smiles and new acquaintances. In addition, Wilson had shared with a Sunday school teacher who also played the viola in the service that he played the violin. She is interested in becoming his violin teacher to help him continue his practice.
Of all the challenges facing us, I view the barriers to socialization as the most serious and in need of intentional effort to overcome to enable a fulfilling year. Jane and Wilson do not know it, but they are setting a great example for Katie and me on how to take action despite doubts and discomfort when adjusting to a new environment. Each incremental effort to build connection to the people, places and culture facilities the next connection and lowers the barriers.