Several weeks ago I had a few bad days in a row. What seemed like a small miscommunication, blindsided me by becoming a huge issue and ended in me receiving harsh emails and phone calls from an HR person at work. As I sat at my desk fighting back tears I also fought back the urge to scream, “I JUST WANNA GO HOME!!” I was tired – tired of cultural misunderstandings and trying to be Ugandan. Tired of not quite knowing what was going on and making mistakes.
After a few days and some damage control, I had some time to think about my reaction. I’ve realized that away from my home country and my comfort zone, bad days are exaggerated in my mind. Not getting along with one individual turns into me thinking that
Ugandans don’t like me. A miscommunication turns into me thinking that, despite my best efforts, I’m doing a bad job of cross-cultural communication. Frustrations compounded by heat and dust leave me thinking that everything would just magically be better if I was in the U.S.
My reaction reminded me of a story I heard about a certain Muzungu (white person) who was trying to conduct business at a bank that had lost electricity. After a long series of frustrations the man lost his cool and yelled in the middle of the bank, “I HATE UGANDA!” before storming out. The Ugandans who witnessed his outburst shrugged their shoulders said to each other, “Well then, why doesn’t he leave?”
What that man and I forgot is that bad days happen everywhere – even back in the comfort of our home countries. And no matter where I land in the world, I can’t always get along with everyone. This does not mean that I am failing at cross-cultural communication and friendship, it just means that we’re all human. I’ll click with some people and not with others and I’ll always make mistakes.
A message to myself and other ex-pats: Let’s try to dial down the drama when we make mistakes or things get frustrating. Personally, I’m going to try to generalize less and relax more.
And a message to those living in their home countries: Remember to be patient with all of us outsiders. Some of us are really trying our best, and we do really want to be here even if we seem to act irrationally sometimes!