‘The Unexpected Challenge’ – share something that you had not expected that was a challenge to overcome (it can be a positive or negative challenge). You can share how you dealt with it, or are still trying to – anything that you want to write about. End with three tips on how best to face an unexpected challenge whilst living abroad.
I have mentioned before that I have a terrible, somewhat irrational (somewhat not) fear of getting lost. This fear is multiplied when I live in a country where I don’t speak the local language fluently, like Guatemala and China. Living in Bahrain has helped quell that fear… a little. It’s an island so, unlike Guatemala, there’s no danger of driving off into the night and ending up in Mexico. And pretty much everyone speaks some English at least, which is particularly helpful as my Arabic is… lacking is a nice word. I know when I go out exploring in Bahrain that, should I get turned around, I’m either going to end up at the entrance to the Saudi Causeway, which I am not allowed to cross or in the ocean. In either case, I can turn around and, following the numerous signs to the BIC (Bahrain International Circuit- the F1 track), I can find my way home.
But the fact is, Bahrain, like
all many of the countries I’ve lived in, does not believe in street names and signs in the same way we do in America. I love street signs. LOVE them. I panic when I can’t figure out what road I’m on or if I’m meant to turn here or there no matter where I am. Of course, in the States, I can just ask someone. And while I can ask someone in Bahrain, usually without language restrictions, their ability to explain how to get where I’m going using phrases like, ‘turn left at the palm tree, drive across the sand, then when you see the beige building look right,” is entirely unhelpful.
Case in point: a couple of weeks ago, some students asked me to come watch their show jumping competition and I thought, “Hey, the Ladybug and Sprout might like that,” so I agreed to go. Then I set about trying to figure out how to get there.
Google Maps works in Bahrain, as long as someone has already entered the name of the place you’re trying to go. There are street numbers but I’m not sure anyone really knows them and I’ve never really seen them marked, so they don’t seem to serve much of a purpose. I put in Twin Palms Riding Centre into Google Maps- no go. I asked the girls if they could tell me how to get there… “Our drivers take us.” Not helpful. So I went to the website. These are the directions:
From Manama: Take the Saar turn off Sheikh Kalifa bin Salman Highway onto Avenue 13, at the T junction turn right, driving past St Christophers Junior School. Turn left and follow the road up to where it becomes desert, carry straight on along the desert track and you will find TPRC straight ahead of you.
I’d like to tell you that was the first time I’ve gotten directions that told me to drive into the desert, but that would be a lie. Twice now, when trying to buy something off the Bahrain version of Craigslist, I’ve had to cross the desert to get to people’s apartments. Twice now, they’ve had to come out to meet me somewhere and let me follow them home. Directions like these don’t work for me. I need roads and signs and landmarks. I need a kind voice telling me to turn left now.
It’s been the same in almost every country I’ve lived in. The DR and Shanghai were slightly easier for me as a traveler/explorer because we mostly relied on taxis which was great except if they didn’t know where they were going. Kuwait and Bahrain have been better because of the language factor and because they basically have two big roads and once you’re on them, you’ll eventually end up where you’re trying to go. But the cities are confusing and roads are going one way and then they’re not and you can easily get lost back in the small barrios if you’re not careful. Guatemala was a whole different beast and I still get nervous thinking about the times we got lost, mostly because of the danger factor.
I get uneasy when I’m asked to go somewhere new. Not having road signs or street names is a major
|Turn left at the second camel on your right
challenge for me and not one I’m likely to overcome. All I can do is continue to explore and become more familiar with my surroundings so that when someone tells me to cross the desert, past the apartments and the camels then turn half-right onto a bit of a track, I won’t be so freaked out.
Three Tips on How Best to Face an Unexpected Challenge Abroad:
1. Stay calm. You can’t figure anything out if you’re panicking. This goes for everything from driving to picking out what may or may not be ketchup when you first move to China.
2. Phone a friend. If you know someone who can help, call them. Veterans (usually) love helping newbies, at least in my experience.
3. Ask lots and lots of questions. Try to understand if the challenge you’re facing is just a challenge for you or is it challenging for everyone. Then you can ask for advice on how to deal with it.