Living abroad in a different culture and putting your skills and your talents to test, is an
adventure that I experienced not once but twice. It was the year 2001, and fresh from nursing school, I decided to embark on a mission to love and to heal and put my new skillset to test in the Middle Eastern State of Kuwait. Trained and passionate about mental health nursing, I soon realised it was not the vacation that I anticipated it to be. Striving to adapt amidst a brand-new culture while learning to speak a new language was a nightmare that I had not prepared for.
I soon learnt that I not only had to learn Arabic real fast but also adapt to a culture that was totally new to me. I also learnt to put up with the passive hostility, lack of trust and not so pleasant remarks directed at me. The worst blow was when my nursing skills and competency were questioned because of my failure to speak Arabic. The feelings of home sickness, loneliness and insecurity engulfed me.
It was at this point I began journal writing.
All the things that I felt and experienced and could not speak out aloud, I began to write. The more I wrote, the more clarity I gained. With clarity, came courage.
I was determined to make it work. I started learning the local vocabulary, beginning from the
most basic forms of greetings to complex medical terms used commonly in hospitals. Next, I
began learning the local religious and cultural norms. Ignoring their hostility, I took initiative in
approaching my colleagues and asked questions about their food, culture and aspects of the
religion that dominated their culture.
I learnt local recipes, tried them and brought the food to share among my co-workers which helped warm them up to me. Once they realised I was genuinely trying to adapt, my co-workers were more than willing to teach me the local dialect which not only helped me win over my clients but also provide them the best possible care.
From a true novice, I was now transitioning to being an expert. I worked hard to alleviate the
stigma associated with mental health not just within the hospital but also within the region.
I conducted mental health workshops and began creating awareness related to mental health and
in the year 2012, I was promoted to being the Unit Manager. That encouraged me even more.
My broken Arabic did not stop me from conducting health education activities for my clients. I
encouraged my diverse group of colleagues belonging to 9 different countries to do the same. I also began engaging my clients in culturally appropriate activities and learning experiences. In the face of criticism, I began to rise.
I ignored negativity that came along my way. I compensated for my lack of language fluency with my determination, hard work and a genuine effort until it began to pay off. Within a year of taking up the management role, my unit was selected as the best unit in terms of compliance with accreditation standards and patient satisfaction. Soon I began participating in accreditation committee meetings and began working on my quest to help other units in the hospital achieve the same standards.
However, by the year 2017, while at the peak of a high rising career, I said ‘goodbye’ to a way of life that I had taken pains to adapt to. My Visa application to the United States which was placed in 2005, was finally approved and finalised. I said my goodbyes to a country where I had established my family and given the best part of my life to. By this time, I was married and had given birth to three adorable kids. I then stepped into United States to seek and find my opportunity there. My tenure in Kuwait had made me a warrior and I soon realised that to be successful in the United States, I had to unlearn and re-learn many of the things that were a part of my adaptation PROCESS IN Kuwait. Where ‘lack of Arabic’ posed a challenge in Kuwait, my English accent raised many an eyebrow here in the US where I had moved.
I soon realised I was lonely and homesick all over again. There wasn’t a soul with whom I could
relate to and I began struggling with anxiety and mental pain. Anticipating failure, I dreaded
answering the telephone at work. I found myself having to repeat myself three to four times
while I struggled to understand what was being said. In addition, I was required to a different
way of providing nursing care. I needed to understand the legal processes, the electronic
health records and the local mental health system here.
All this time, my journal was my best friend and I had grown a deep-rooted passion for writing which soon turned into blogging.
Three years into the system, and a master’s degree later, I am still learning and adapting. I try
to answer any questions pertaining to my colour or accent in a very matter of fact way. The
struggle is real. The pain of rejection and loneliness is genuine but I am a fighter and a warrior.
I have vowed not to let my colour or accent limit the potential within me. When opportunity
doesn’t knock, I build my own doors and continue to fight the stigma associated with mental
illnesses and train fellow nurses who come from other specialties to adapt to the novelties
pertaining to mental health. I mentor them to overcome the initial ‘reality shock’ of working
with people suffering from mental illnesses. Today, I believe in being their advocate and a voice
of the voiceless.
Having said this, I want to encourage my readers today. If I could overcome my challenges, you
can too. Never give in to the temptation of thinking small because others have let you down or
stopped believing in you. When I was rejected for a teaching role in a hospital, I began teaching
nurses within my unit. Later I started my blog where I reach out to thousands. I make myself
available on social media to whomever might need my help. If you want to change the world
begin at the place where you are planted and let your roots grow wide. No matter what the
challenge, always dream big. Train your mind to think optimistically. This will take time and
perseverance but victory will be yours.
Believe and persevere!