The Joy of a Curious Heart

Curious people are my favorite kind of people.

I have learned this over the last seven years of life in Paris. I have hosted more people than I could have anticipated.

I have so many people ask me how to not look like a tourist. How to blend in. I’ve had guests try to be cool about things, unimpressed, unmoved.

But my favorite kinds of people are the curious ones.

There’s a metro stop I take people to when I take them to see the Eiffel Tower. You come out and walk around the corner and, “…and…oh my gosh. There it is…” they say, stopping mid-sentence with mouth hanging open. I get choked up. Yes, there it is.

I’ve had some friends who took great note of the difference between their home culture and my now-home culture. Some people tend to note everything uncomfortable, everything foreign to them.

But in some people, the curiosity wins out over the discomfort. Those are my favorite kinds of people.

They make me remember the beauty that is the wide-eyed, faint-smiled, glowing way I have seen the city. They make me remember the 26-year-old girl who meandered through her new city full of questions with no answers.

There are days that I hate it, but curious people remind me of the beauty of unending questions.

“Why do I see more fathers here playing with their children than in the US?”
“Why is it that in such a health-conscious culture, everyone is smoking?”
“No really, how can a people with such delicious pastries be so thin?”

There is a moment where we have the opportunity to see beyond ourselves into a new world. If we can fight against that feel that others are doing it wrong, it opens up caverns in our hearts we didn’t know existed. We all start out thinking we have a finite capacity to love, but as we dive deeper into the lives and hearts of people unlike ourselves, we learn that we are infinite – there are depths of our hearts that can only be reached by pushing through discomfort. There are places in our capacity to love that will only be found by having a curious heart.

I truly believe that curiosity is the difference between someone being able to adjust and thrive abroad, and those who never truly leave their home country. I’ve seen the difference in people who have come here. The ones who are able to take in the life around them, the ones who are able to observe the intricacies of passers-by – those are the ones that drink deep of the beauty of a new culture. Those are the ones that make it.

So, if you are preparing to travel for the first time, may I encourage you? Walk into your experience with wide eyes and an open heart. Know that you will have terrible days. Really, really terrible days. But know that they are worth it. And don’t ever be ashamed to ask a million questions. Those questions will lead to an adaptive experience that will go beyond your wildest dreams. Those questions will change your life.

And if you have been abroad for a long time, I encourage you to try in whatever way possible to have a fresh perspective. Maybe that looks like hosting a friend in your country, or subscribing to a travel blog focused on your location. Maybe it looks like finally trying that restaurant or taking that other route home. Life abroad gets more comfortable, but don’t forget the adventure.

So what about you? Do you tend to move too quickly through your life abroad, or are you able to stop and consider it on a deeper level? What are some questions that you have about your host culture that might lead to a deeper understanding of the people? How can you become more engaged in your host culture through being curious?

6 Comments

  1. M'Lynn Taylor September 10, 2017

    I agree…curious visitors were always fun to host!!! However, I did tire of some of the “Why? Why? Why?” lol. Because it showed me I STILL didn’t have all the answers and I was STILL a foreigner!

    1. Kelly Delp September 11, 2017

      This is SO true!

    2. Ruth September 12, 2017

      Yes! I was so frustrated with myself the first time I hosted people because I didn’t know all the answers to their questions.

  2. Bayta Schwarz September 11, 2017

    This is perfect for some training I’m doing later in the week with our new interns arriving tomoorow 🙂

    And that Eiffel Tower moment – I totally know what you mean! I’ve taken people there, and that moment when you know what’s around the corner and they don’t, is so fun!

  3. Annalisa September 11, 2017

    Besides my own work, I often translate for other groups. Because I’m not the group leader, I typically don’t get asked the questions; instead, I’m left to just listen to them as they see my adopted country through their fresh (and curious) eyes. They never fail to remind me to never get used to the world around me, to never take it for granted. And every once in a while–when I’m the person they ask–it lets me take them on adventures (usually culinary) that share with them an even-larger view and understanding of the country, and the wonder in their eyes as they taste the new flavors and see the new fruits and vegetables makes me feel like I’ve given them something special…and in return, they’ve given me something special as well.

  4. Caitriana September 13, 2017

    When I was at Bible college, taking a class on cross-cultural work, I remember the lecturer recalling a conference he’d been to, where 3 very experienced Ms were taking part in a panel discussion. They were asked to write down the three characteristics that, in their experience, led to people staying on the field. What all three of them came up with: humility, teachability, and insatiable curiosity! (maybe not all in exactly the same words, but all with the same ideas). “Never stop asking questions” was one thing he emphasised. Sadly, I often forget, or am too lazy to ask. When I do ask, though, I find it often leads to interesting insights into the culture. For example, a lot of cars here will have a sticker on the back shaped like a gecko. I wondered about it for a long time, and eventually asked a local colleague. He told me it’s because the word for “gecko” sounds a bit like the word for “avoid accident”, so it’s a good-luck thing… I’ve never regretted asking, but often regret not asking! So, thanks for the reminder to keep being curious 🙂

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