Beyond Language: Lessons on personal growth abroad

At the 2015 polyglot gathering in Berlin (an event for those who love learning languages), I gave a talk called ‘Beyond Language: Lessons about life, self-understanding and transformation.’

During the talk, I shared what I had learned from living in Finland for 5 years, and how I had adjusted (the ups and downs I went through) – basically the messy process of personal growth abroad. I was excited to share the deeper lessons that you learn when living abroad for a longer stretch of time…those lessons that go beyond language but also cannot happen without it.

I got a lot of positive feedback from people in the audience who told me later that they felt understood, and like they weren’t alone. Even this year, people remembered the talk and told me how much it had helped them. This gave me the courage to share this video more widely, since I’d been too scared to do so before now.

If you find it helpful or have your own story to share, please leave me a comment below!


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  • Josu

    Hi Irina! The topic of personality differences is fascinating and complex. On the ‘classic’ topic of the reservedness of Finns, I think people’s behaviour changes a lot when you go from the public level to the personal level. Finns are (possibly) not more quiet or reserved than other nations, for example, when people spend time among friends. But sure, we do put value on certain ‘expressions’ , for example, personal space, and a certain kind of “politeness as quietness”.

    • Irina Pravet

      Agreed Juso, thanks for pointing that out! The topic is really complex and we inevitably say oversimplified things when talking about it. I was referring to how things looked to me at the time standing on the outside, and not really being an ‘insider’ to the culture. These things are taught to us as we grow up and live in a culture so I don’t even think they say something about us as individuals necessarily, but more about how we were taught to behave in public (and obviously where we were taught!)

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Hi! I’m Irina.

I’m a multibelonger to Finland, Canada and Romania, without ONE language or culture to call my own – I have several. My intention is to be present where I am and find inner peace and harmony where ever life takes me. I’m embracing the gems of the ongoing cultural and linguistic transition which is my life and hope to inspire others interested in doing the same. Read my story & more about what I do here.

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