In Search of a “Real” Expat Experience

While living abroad I worked as an English teacher and the majority of my time was spent speaking English.  Before I decided to live abroad as a teacher I’d researched the field of ESL and knew that teaching English wasn’t the best way to learn a language.  But I also knew that living in the target country would be more beneficial than living in the United States, for example.  As my previous post can attest, my language skills did improve considerably, and various other posts throughout the blog chronicle the various highs and lows that entail living abroad.  And yet, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to have more of an immersion-type expat experience.  This is what I imagine it might entail:

1. Speaking a foreign language almost 100% of the time.  Extra points if you learn that language from scratch upon arriving in the country.  Extra, extra points if you don’t have any formal instruction.  What would that be like?!?
2. No contact with native speakers of your language.  This means leaving the expat community behind and befriending the locals.
3. A significant other who only speaks the target language (or another language that isn’t your native language).  This would facilitate an understanding of both the language and culture and might introduce you to family life in the target country.  Extra points for having a child (or children) who speaks the target language better than you do.
4. Staying in the target country for an extended period of time.  No going home for the holidays, visiting relatives, etc.
5. A job where you speak the target language and deal with native speakers of the language (either as clients or colleagues or both) on a daily basis.  Extra points for involvement in hobbies, organizations, etc.
6. Watch films, TV, listen to music and read books and newspapers exclusively in the target language.

How many people have had an experience like this?  If you haven’t, would you like to?  How long do you think you could live in such a way before you just had to speak/hear/read your language?  I would love to experience this at least once and see what it’s like.  I can’t imagine how much you would learn and absorb once you got past the initial frustrations.


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