Living Abroad (or Living With Someone Who is Living Abroad): Importance of Communication Never Ends 

 May 25, 2015

By  Laura Kosloff

Or . . . Will Opportunities for Miscommunication Never End?

Just a small thing I thought I would share today …. a reminder that the importance of asking questions in the cause of effective communication never goes away. A small thing, which will take longer in the telling than in the 30 seconds it took for it to happen. But it’s worth repeating.

We're alike . . . but different!
We’re alike . . . but different!

Our exchange student’s family is coming to visit this week from Germany.  They will be here tomorrow, spend a couple of days in Portland, and then we are all going to the beach for a few days to show them our Oregon coast.  Jan, our student, needed to get pre-approval from teachers and the school so that his absence from school this week will be excused.  There is a form, of course, which needs to be signed by teachers and a parent (in this case, host parent), and it must be turned in at least a day before the desired absence.

On Friday, I realized after Jan had left for school that he had not gotten either my husband’s or my signature for his form.  I texted him:

You forgot to ask me to sign the pre-approval absence form! It needs to be turned in today remember, there is no school Monday due to the holiday. Meet me outside after second period, I’ll come by to sign it?

Jan responded:

Sure if you want.  But I was going to stop by and turn it in to the office over the weekend sometime.

How will you know if you don't ask?
How will you know if you don’t ask?

My first thought was the deep sigh of a parent thinking her teenager is nuts and that he just isn’t thinking.  What in the world is he thinking, that teachers and school administrators are going to hang around the school on a weekend? Much less a major holiday weekend? I mean, seriously??!

My second thought followed immediately….that there has to be something here I don’t understand.  Jan confirmed this when I stopped by to sign the form.  “I didn’t know,” he said.  He explained that back home, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to be in the school office on a weekend.

And there it is. Even after 10 months in the United States and 9 months attending an American high school, Jan did not know that the office would be locked up tight as a drum all weekend (and every weekend).  He had never had reason to find out that school offices here are not open on weekends, so it had never come up.  He did not know that the very suggestion of “I’ll drop the paperwork at the office on Saturday or Sunday” would cause someone to look at him as though he was from another planet.  He’s not from another planet, of course — just another country, with enough similarities that we all can be lulled into thinking “we’re alike.”  But there are enough differences to continue to result in simple miscommunications (and by implication, potentially more serious ones, too), even after almost a year.

Keep on asking!
Keep on asking!

So there’s my mini-lesson, one to ourselves as much as to everyone else.  Keep the conversation going…..there is always more to learn.

Photos ©2015 Thinkstockphotos.com
*This blog post is linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com.*
    • I learn something new from the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up every month. It really is a great idea – a way to read a few things on the issues of international study and travel that I might not have discovered on my own, and to catch up sometimes on the blogs I am familiar with but haven’t had a chance to think about!

  • I remember getting those “what is she thinking???” looks from my host family as they tried to connect the dots!

    Yesterday I arrived came home from a month abroad where I was reminded – daily – just how obvious things are to the people who live there…and how NOT obvious they are to those of us who are new!

  • My German exchange student came home last week, asking me why some signs in the USA are not posted in English. Was the sign in Spanish, I asked. No, he looked in his computer and could not find the words in either language. What did the sign say, I asked, to which he replied that he couldn’t even pronounce them. I asked him to write it down, which he did, as follows: No Ped Xing. 🙂

    • That is another good example — we unconsciously assume that by now “it’s all clear” to them. And they make the same assumptions: “I’ve been here awhile, I know how everything works.”

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