Connecting the Dots: What Makes Being An “Expat” Such An Experience?
I read Aisha Ashraf’s latest post “The sun will come out… tomorrow’ – patience & expat life” on Expatlog with interest this evening. Aisha brings up some interesting points and my comment to her was, that after reading her thoughts, I felt like we were all behind her, rooting for her family to make the adjustment, sooner rather than later, and intact rather than fragmented. They are making progress and the tone of her post was determined, appreciative, and realistic.
My own reaction was, what is it that makes the expat community so special?
What has your experience been?
I know for me, whenever someone new moves into my neighborhood, I am always cognizant of how hard the transition is and the welcome usually involves a plate of cookies (chocolate chip, no nuts in case of allergies?). But that’s my thing, my nod to knowing how hard it is. Totally not how my first expat move went but it’s what I wish had happened.
Last night on the deck with friends after dinner, we were recounting our moves (over a wonderful bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon) as these friends begin the journey to their 6th home ever, in their 66 years… (coincidentally, also from Texas but not the acquaintance mentioned in this week’s “Black Holes” post as “never having been more than 35 miles away from home”. At 6 they’re close, but not the same).
My husband, in all his 65 years, counted only 7 lifetime moves, and all within a 50 mile radius- but, to his credit, he served in the Marines and has since traveled as a tourist around the globe, so he can relate somewhat.
Inevitably, my friend started her ‘fingers and toes’ tally on me- asking me to recount my life as a vagabond, though finally giving up when I reached 35 cities, saying she couldn’t keep up anymore. So, I do get the “being new in (insert city, state, country here)” feeling.
These transitions that Aisha talks about, and knows how to handle, are the flip side to the initial going abroad, when we are young (maybe?) and naive (perhaps?). Looking back on those first impressions, I see how much we have learned about life and how to modulate the ups and downs, how to handle the crises large and small.
When I first went to Baku, I thought I knew enough, based on my lifetime of changes growing up. But, I recently came across my travel journal from my adventure to Baku back in the early 90s just after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the entries there assure me, I did not! Listen to this reading to see what the big challenges turned out to be in those very early days. It was pretty funny to go back and read these entries.
Travel Journal 1 (click the title link to listen to the audio .wav file)
Arriving to Baku..First Impressions (click the title link to listen to the audio .wav file)
[NB: I hope the .wav files are easy to use. Please let me know if they work or don’t work for your system. This is the first time to try this in my blog, so I am anxious to hear feedback about how it works. Thx!]
All’s Well That Ends Well?
After I got over how many exclamation points I used in this first journal note- everything seemed to be a crisis on that first day- and saw what I was fretting over, I thought to myself, “If only that self had known what was coming down the pike, these things would have been laughable!”
As events turned out, I did get my freight out of Customs in time- barely, at about 10:00pm the night before the Oil & Gas Show opened. I was dead tired but I had to get the computers set up.
One of the set up Techs brought in from Maryland, and who, by the way, had no international experience at all, plugged a computer in and promptly fried all the circuits. I kept telling him to be patient but he knew best. The outlets tested at 340, not our normal 110, voltage. I finally prevailed upon him to just let me find my own converters and I’d be able to salvage the other computers.
After the show this genius actually paid someone $100 to get our equipment out of the building (really!). I had to go pay the guy another $100 to bring them all back in because they had to get a Customs stamp again to be legal for use in the country, or I could go to jail. Such a system, eh?
P.S. Yes, I did manage to find my other tennis shoe. And everyday during the Oil & Gas Show I would sneak one pair of underwear into my bag while no one was looking.
At least when I transitioned back home, no one was walking around Houston (IAH) Airport carrying Russian Калашников, or AK-47, rifles along with big dogs… the kind of hardships we experience at home might be a welcome trade-off after all!
15 Years (and a world of difference) Later…