vrijdag 8 februari 2013

Join The Club, Part II: Hobbies as comfort zones?

[I gave a talk in Open Space Aarhus about why expats or foreigners have a lot to gain from joining a hackerspace. See Part I of this blog - it's about hobbies and joining a club]

You may consider to pick up an old hobby of yours, and that is actually a very good idea!

First of all: it is nice to do something familiar amidst all the new and foreign things, sounds and smells. Don't hesitate to do feel-good things, and indulge in enjoying your comfort zone.

In the second place, it is nice to do something you are good at. It is nice to organise that kind of self-affirmation for yourself, because as a foreigner you feel so often stupid or ignorant (and often both!).

In the third place, it is nice to have shared interests, a common ground, which makes it easier to talk with people. ('Yes, but in Danish!' I hear you whine. I'll get back to that.)

There is also a lot to say in favour of embarking on a new hobby, however. It gives me a kind of piraty, swashbuckling, empowering feeling of utter awesomeness to step out of my comfort zone, to do something new, or unexpected, or sometimes even downright ludicrous. 'You think emigrating would stop me from doing something new and daring? No way!' To me, it is the grown-up equivalent of walking up to a puddle and deliberately jump into it. Or smashing things. Enjoy some transgressing. If that works for you, don't feel restrained and go ahead.

Another advantage is that you are at the same level as your Danish fellow-starters. You have to learn things, and you get a chance to be stupid and ignorant together with Danes. That is a great one for creating a common ground! It also reduces the lonely expat experience in a considerable way.

But let's talk about the language. Danish is so difficult, many people say, and that may be true, especially because it is so mumbly and often sounds like throwing up at an advanced level. But you should never forget that it is hard to learn any other language than your mother tongue beyond school level (which is mostly passive knowledge anyway).

Having a hobby and joining a club actually helps your Danish in the following ways:
  1. the vocabulary and subject matter is limited, and there will be lots of repetitions of words and expressions. That really helps!
  2. the people you are with have an interest in understanding you – as you have in understanding them. This basic good will is tremendously important!
  3. You are doing things. Show and tell. Point and ask. Language is not the only carrier of information.
  4. Space is limited. You are sitting in a room together, for a limited amount of time. You simply have to communicate. Let me give you an example of my own: I have been taking sailing lessons, and when you are sitting with four other people in a boat together, there is no way you can escape talking to each other. Believe me. [Actually, I have written an article about that (in Danish) and you can find it here, as soon I have scanned it]

Finally: you can't join too soon. The language will be a stumbling block for a loooooooong time to come, and do you really want to wait until you are ready? But when is that? And do you want to live in a social vacuum for several years? No you don't! So resign to the fact that you will be stupid, ignorant and that on top of that you'll sound ridiculous. The upside is: you'll be interesting to know :-D

See Join the Club, part III for more!

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