Guest Blog: Consistency in a world of inconsistencies by Joana Ferreira

Although I hold a Portuguese passport, I only ever lived there for a short period of time during my childhood; in fact, I wasn’t even born in Portugal, I was born in Switzerland. For most of my life, I moved from country to country, living in seven countries and attending 10 schools by the age of 18. In 2005 I moved to the UK to study and have made this my home ever since. But even then I moved from Guildford, to Glasgow, to Stoke-on-Trent, finally settling on Greater Manchester (for now).

But when someone asks me where I’m from, I don’t hesitate: I am Portuguese through and through. So how do I feel such a connection to a country that I have barely lived in? And how has that helped me in my adult life?

The expat lifestyle

Moving from country to country as a family of four was always an adventure. We’d take everything with us: every piece of furniture, every book, every toy and item of clothing. Our house came with us wherever we went, and no matter how long we stayed we made our new country our home.

We immersed ourselves in the local culture, learning the language and customs, trying out the local food and experiencing the local lifestyle. I remember road trips to explore our new country, local TV channels and radio stations playing ‘foreign’ music and learning how to cook the local dishes. But no matter how much we took up the local customs, we never stopped being a Portuguese family. And by that I mean we spoke Portuguese in the home, we watched Portuguese TV, we often ate Portuguese food and whatever country we lived in, we found a Portuguese community. I still remember my mother shopping in Portuguese food shops and buying every day staples like milk, butter and canned goods from Portuguese brands; something my friends often found strange and wonderful. This gave me a sense of consistency in a world of inconsistencies and helped me create roots with a country I barely knew.

 Picture on my wall reminding me of home 

Picture on my wall reminding me of home 

 

Growing up in such a mixed community I met many people in similar situations who had adopted similar customs, but also met people who didn’t identify with their birth country or their parent’s country at all. While living in France I met a lot of Portuguese people who didn’t speak Portuguese, simply because they were raised French and abandoned their home country customs once they left.

Accepting differences

Although we were very much a Portuguese family, my sister and I attended English-speaking schools. Looking back, I realise how lucky I was to attend such schools, not just the for quality education, but because being surrounded by so many cultures and nationalities really opens up your mind from a very young age. International schools are filled with students from all over the world, speaking every language under the sun. School lunchtimes were interesting because kids brought in packed lunches which consisted of diverse dishes from all over the world. No such things as a sandwich and a packet of crisps! I learnt from a very young age to understand people’s differences and respect their cultural beliefs and customs. In fact, I don’t even think I realised I was learning these valuable lessons, it was just part of every day life.

Leaving to start again

Every time we got the news that it was time to move to another country, the drama began. Having immersed ourselves in the local culture meant we’d established connections with it. We made our house a home, we made close friends, we built up routines, and now it was time to leave that behind and start again. Moving involved a mixture of sadness, worry, anticipation, excitement and lots of tears. But once again, we relied on our consistencies. We packed up all our stuff and took it with us, we knew our new home would have all our things in it, we’d watch our Portuguese TV, and we’d shop from Portuguese shops so we could cook Portuguese food at home.

 learning to cook octopus at home - Portugese style

learning to cook octopus at home - Portugese style

 

I still remember my ten-year-old self writing letters to friends I’d left behind. As I got older, it became easier to keep in contact with friends. By the time I’d turned 13 the internet was part of our lives, email and messenger meant I didn’t have to say good bye forever.

Reflecting

Now that I’m in my 30s, I can look back and appreciate that the lifestyle that I led as a child brought me a wealth of experience. I can go on about all the ways it helped shape who I am today, and how it has helped shape my career. 

1.       There is no normal: a lot of times we try to conform to what we believe is ‘normal’. Be that the way we look, how we dress, how we talk or how we behave. But moving around taught me there is no such thing as normal. Every culture is different, every individual is unique. There’s a reason why you don’t find a lot of bullying going on at international schools, mainly because everyone is too unique to understand what ‘normal’ is.  So, rather than trying to conform to what you think you should be, just look inward and follow what you believe is right. I don’t just follow this belief in life, but in work too. I’m a digital marketer and I don’t believe there is ever one right way of doing things; anyone who tells you differently just hasn’t tried anything new.

 Khao Lak, Thailand

Khao Lak, Thailand

 

2.       Change is exciting: for some, change is a stressful experience filled with dread and worry. For me, it’s an exciting time full of anticipation and unknown. Embrace it. I even wrote an article about it a few years ago. Whether it’s life or work, anytime I’m faced with something new I believe that a positive outlook is the way to go. I recently left my full time, well-paying job, to pursue a freelance lifestyle where I could be more independent and more in control of my work. I could have been petrified and worried that I’d made the wrong decision. But instead, I am just excited about the future and what’ll come my way. Already I have met some amazing people and experienced things I wouldn’t have done while in full time work (such as guest lecturing at two great UK Universities) and I can’t wait to see what else will come my way.

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3.       Don’t get too comfortable: life is too short and too exciting to settle for how things are. At least that’s my opinion. With so much going on around us, both positive and negative, it’s impossible to tell what the future holds. By settling and accepting our current situation, it makes it all that much harder to change and adapt when the need arises. Also, as a digital marketer, it makes you out of date pretty quickly. I think we should always be moving, trying new experiences, learning new skills, breaking molds and experimenting.

4.       Learn every day: with so much access to free information, there is no reason to stop learning. I recently took a mindfulness course just because I thought it sounded interesting. I thought I was going in to learn how to meditate, but instead I picked up skills that I can use in everyday life, and particularly in my career. Mindfulness is all about being present, noticing what is happening in the moment without judgement or preference. It has taught me to slow down, to accept what I am experiencing, to understand it and to not try to label it. I only wish I’d done this course sooner it would have helped me with some very stressful situations in the past!

5.       Communicate: it sounds obvious but having moved around so much I think communication is probably my strongest asset. It’s not just about learning the local language, which is not always a necessity, but learning how to communicate with a new culture. If you’ve been to countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy, you’ll have noticed the locals are loud and expressive, they speak with their hands and they like to make human contact while they speak. Whereas in a country like the UK, locals are a lot more reserved, quiet and keep their hands to themselves. It’s noticing these details that make you a good communicator. It’s being able to read people and understand how to speak to them in a way that they can relate to. There’s nothing I love more than presenting to a room full of people, leading a diverse team through a successful project, or simplifying something that seems complex and watching the person ‘get it’.

To this day though, I think the biggest lesson of all has been to find consistency when there appears to be none. I still consider myself very Portuguese, and I relate to my country even though I have barely lived there. Imagine my delight when I recently came across a Portuguese shop in Manchester and found I could buy my childhood brands without having to travel to Portugal! It may cost extra but I’ll be buying my milk and butter at Taste of Portugal from now on!

 

If you like what you just read, why not pop over to Joana's site? https://www.jvf.marketing/

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Author: Joana Veiga Ferreira

Joana Veiga Ferreira is a Digital Marketing Consultant specialising in digital strategy, content marketing, social media and PR. She loves working with businesses to help them figure out how they should be marketing themselves online.