When you’re leaving your comfort zone it is pretty normal to try to imagine what your new life will look like. If you’re moving to a developing country that can be difficult to do, but the picture I managed to create in my mind’s eye was one of poor roads, limited access to food and water, heat, dust and general chaos. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that I was totally wrong… oh no, Dili is all of those things and more… but for every difficult and uncomfortable situation there is a really awesome one to make up for it.
One of the best features of Dili so far has been the diverse range of people I have encountered and the excellent experiences that have come about because of it. My first two weeks here were spent attending Tetun language classes and, much to everyone’s surprise, every student in my class was from a different country. I was lucky enough to share a classroom with Chris from NZ, his partner Paulina from Poland, an exceptionally bright young woman from the USA called Jenny and a fine gent called Pierre from Indonesia. I must admit, I never imagined sharing a classroom with such a diverse group of people and, despite how much I struggle with new languages, the classes were exceptionally fun thanks to the cultural mix.
After a few weeks of struggling with pronunciation, vocab, grammar and all that jazz we felt like old friends, and Chris and Paulina invited my friend Billy and I on a road trip to the mountains with their friend Phil from the USA.
The roads through the mountains to Maubissi are exceptionally rough, and there were more than a few moments where it occurred to me that my life was very much in the hands of the slightly eccentric New Zealander I have met two weeks before. However, Chris very quickly proved himself to be as good a driver as he is company so any fear subsided and non-stop talking overtook the vehicle.
While it is easy to talk to people from the same place as you (what area did you live in? Where did you study? Do you know *insert popular person’s name here*?), there is something extraordinary about getting to know people whose experiences are nothing like your own. Paulina and Chris grew up on different sides of the world and met while working in South Sudan, while Phil has been an English teacher for nearly a decade and is finishing up his six-month contract teaching in Timor-Leste. Billy and I are far less exciting in comparison… but then again, it isn’t a common thing for people to uproot their lives in comfortable cities like Sydney and Melbourne to move to Dili for a year, so maybe we were not so out of place in that company after all.
The great thing about our weekend away, and many of my interactions with people in Dili thus far, was the shared sense of adventure. We chose where we wanted to drive, what mountains we wanted to climb, where we wanted to stay, and took everything in our stride. For anyone thinking of working overseas I can highly recommend Timor-Leste for the type of expats it attracts, and I am pretty confident that I’ll be able to introduce any friends who visit me to some very cool people.