Expat Living: The Importance of Touch, The Power of Human Interaction

This title, the Importance of Touch,  the Power of Human Interaction, maybe sounds lofty or slightly New Age-y, but it was the most perfect phrase for this week. Something just clicked when I heard Michael Stelzner  (#SocialMediaExaminer) say this during a recent podcast.

Music concert at home, a way of reaching  friends in a more intimate way #Metaforma

Shannon Curtis … #Metaforma

(Michael may have had a slightly different application in mind, but I think it fits here perfectly.)

Several events have come together serendipitously that got me thinking about how much of my life- and how many Life Lessons- came to be as a result of a touch, an interaction with another, or, as Blanche DuBois put it in ‘Streetcar Named Desire’, “the kindness of strangers”.

Maybe it’s the same with you when you stop to think about it?

I’ve written before about how totally ‘foreign’ my repatriation experience was when I finally returned to the United States after a decade abroad in the Caucasus, based in the city of Baku, Azerbaijan.

It’s a Life Lesson that bears repeating: We all know what happens when we “ass-u-me” that everything will go smoothly just because we are going “home”.

I certainly never expected to need help or support. (“What could go wrong?” she said confidently, not realizing the fan was about to be hit big time with a hot mess of …$#@%!)

After all, I had just built a house in Houston. I had permanent roots of sorts, a fall back position, assuming I chose to go there when I repatriated.

Yet, from the moment my flight home was cancelled as I was standing in the airport, emotionally spent from severing all my heart-strings, feeling like I didn’t belong in Baku any longer but unable to physically get myself gone, things found ways to go awry. I needed someone’s touch to make me believe it could ever be alright.

I was fortunate to have a trio of friends, Suad, Sada, and Saida, travel specialists skilled in calming troubled waters.

Saida was there when I called, sitting in the American Express Travel office in Baku, just as I hoped and prayed she would be. She held me up when around me it seemed that life was crashing down.

After several anxious weeks, when I finally landed in Washington DC, by way of a disaster in Alaska and confusion in Houston, I got busy getting on with life as a ‘new American,’ eager to discover what had changed in this city I had so often visited and loved.

As a tourist, I have to admit, DC is pretty great. As a worker, however, often enmeshed in a wall of traffic for hours at a stretch, it can simply be brutal. The analogy I often use to describe the assimilation process here is that of trying to get on a carousel in mid-stride.

Some cultures are like a carousel that never stops long enough for you to get on. Expat assimilation, repatriation, cultural adjustments

You get exhausted running in circles, just trying to get in sync enough to get on. There seems to be some secret language everyone speaks- and without the code words, you’re never getting on the good rides.

I was fortunate to have met Joe, my future husband, a great guy with a Job-like capacity for surviving misfortune (he’d been widowed twice but hadn’t resigned to being alone). I added my travails to his and we forged an inseparable bond early on.

Concentrating on helping him heal allowed me to put my own needs on the back-burner for a long time. We got married after almost 5 years. It’s a sweet story that we would find each other in our times of individual need, and we know it’s this human interaction that saved us in many ways.

But, we were both keenly aware that it’s risky to try to believe any one person will meet 100% of the needs of another.

As good as we were together from that early meeting, Joe knew I still felt like a fish out of water. No one to share expat stories with, no one to talk international politics with. Sure DC will bore you to tears talking about its own ego-politics and dysfunctions, ad infinitum, but try to get a well-versed perspective on life in Ukraine or Turkey/Iraq/Kurdistan… you might as well be fishing for sturgeon in the Potomac!

Fast forward a few years to somewhere in 2012, and by chance I stumbled online across Judy Rickatson, an expat acquaintance I remembered from our mutual Baku days, and who happened to have a blog online. (Read here). I was so excited to have a common memory with someone. Through Judy I “met” Naomi Hattaway, a ball of energy and inclusive sunshine if ever the was one. Though I’ve mentioned this to Naomi once or twice in blog comments, I want to mention again here today how wonderful it has been to have been touched by Naomi’s beautiful spirit. Let the healing begin. I was welcomed to the Expat Partner Online Coffee and began to find my voice again.

It was this chance encounter, this uplifting virtual touch by Naomi that confirmed the power of human interaction. I know there are many others who also would echo this thought about being thankful for the way Naomi chooses to use her gifts.

Interestingly, this past Monday night Joe & I  got a chance to see Naomi in her own element and return the support in a small way. She and her family repatriated last year to Orlando Florida. In an interesting bit of serendipity, Naomi and her family got moved to within 50 miles of Joe and I this summer- talk about good fortune! True to form, Naomi reached out to all her new neighbors, many still strangers themselves, and threw a house party with a twist.

Usually guests bring housewarming gifts to the hosts to welcome their new neighbors. But Todd & Naomi turned that custom on its ear and arranged an awesome music concert for her new friends, provided by a musician-acquaintance of theirs. (That’s Shannon Curtis in the photo above, singing songs from her new #Metaforma release.)

Fifty-plus people who mostly didn’t know each other shared food, wine, music, laughter, and most of all, the touch of a new friend… or five. It was a beautiful community gathering unlike anything I’ve ever been part of before.

There was real human interaction in that setting- over relaxed conversations plans were made to meet at another neighbor’s home, or to get together in other ways. Naomi and I have a lunch planned after the start of school. Through Naomi, I met an expat friend she met in India and hope to follow-up soon on my own. Several others recommended wineries in the area (in addition to drinking wine from the vineyard that literally serves as the backdrop for watching sunsets on their back deck!) Awesome describes both the sunsets and the company.

And, the music? Well, I can tell you this much: we all laughed when we heard someone in the back of Naomi & Todd’s living room whistle his two-thumbs-up approval while applauding! It was unbelievable.

I felt like I knew all these people. The importance of touch and the power of human interaction. These were Naomi’s people, just like they are now ours. (Or vice versa?)

All this to say, people are healed by our interactions more than we know. We have a restorative power in our touch, even if it’s only a virtual word of encouragement. But don’t just take my word for it, here’s someone who describes this so much more eloquently…

The following is a short excerpt from a blog post by Amy Sterling Casil, an older post but one that echoed all these thoughts rolling around my brain along these lines.

Here Amy is describing her first day at her new university, being touched by someone special.

“There are moments upon which our lives turn.  Moments from which we take a step that leads us down a main path in the broad and endless garden of forking paths that are our lives.

This was one of those moments for me.  It was the first, and I still think, perhaps one of the greatest.

* * * * *

It is strange how such feelings can rest in an object.  For me, it’s that copper necklace that Lois Langland noticed, and always liked.  I will never look at it without thinking of her.

On that day, this great woman and great lady, took me physically by the hand and led me from my child’s life into the life of a young woman.  She led me into the life of the academy, the life of the mind, and the precious experience that was and is Scripps.

A simple gesture, really.  Yet something that only those of us with genuine grace, like Lois Langland would do, or think to do.

That day, I received many things, but of them, the greatest of all, was that Lois imparted to me a feeling I had never known before.  It was the first spark of a sense of self that enabled me to grow beyond the shy, self-conscious, frightened and uncertain young girl that I was.  

It was a vitally important feeling that every person needs to experience in their lives.  Having experienced it myself, I came to decide that I too wanted to give this gift back to others.  It’s a very simple thing.  Looking at someone, noticing, paying attention to who they are and responding to them, and not to our own selfish, isolated selves.  That was Lois Langland’s great gift, I believe, and one she gave freely to so many in her long and wonderful life.

What was it that she did for me on that long-ago day?  For the first time in my life, Lois Langland made me feel special.”

Mmmm… The importance of touch… the power of human interaction.

Who will you reach out to this week? Who can you touch, or help to feel special? I hope that each of you find someone, or at least may be open to allowing others into your circles of conversation. Welcome a new expat who’s feeling lost, or a friend who’s struggling to catch the carousel.

As Robin Williams’s untimely passing has highlighted, you just never know what goes on inside or how your interactions may change someone’s outcome for today.

Beyond encouragement and survival, you never know when you will be that butterfly whose wings send change on the winds of tomorrow.

Think about who has made a difference for you, and thank them. Think about how you can make a difference for others, and help them feel the importance of touch and the power of human interaction through you.

#longreads #Metaforma by Shannon Curtis

Read it at the Source:


http://expatriatelife.wordpress.com/2012/05/ … [There’s a Special Place In Hell For Expats…]


11 thoughts on “Expat Living: The Importance of Touch, The Power of Human Interaction

  1. What a great woman your friend Naomi is. We usually live in the same street for years and years and never get to know our neighbours. Lovely gesture! I also find that having lived in a few countries, you just don’t seem to fit in anymore when going back to your home country… you have changed, your friends have changed and so has the country, mentalities…


    • Very true, Sami! I find that we as expats are more open than neighborhoods where everyone has deep roots, but having both experience types creates a perfect blend- one knows the history, and others bring new ideas.

      I agree that Naomi is pretty special and we were lucky to be part of that evening. From all your comments here, I imagine you’re pretty special yourself! I’m glad you’re here.


  2. What a lovely post. Two weeks into our next new expat life in Utrecht, I can feel the warmth of people here (even though I haven’t met another expat to speak of yet) and it helps a lot. There is a generally friendlier feeling about than in other places I’ve lived and that’s been a blessing.


    • How wonderful to hear that things are starting off well!

      It’s interesting to hear first impressions once you arrive in a new place- sometimes we hear that the French are stand-offish, yet Margo Lestz lives it there, or that the Russians are cold yet Polly Barks met and married there. Go figure!

      We wish you continued good luck in getting settled in, and look forward to sharing your future stories from Utrecht!


    • How wonderful to hear that things are starting off well!

      It’s interesting to hear first impressions once you arrive in a new place- sometimes we hear that the French are stand-offish, yet Margo Lestz lives it there, or that the Russians are cold yet Polly Barks met and married there. Go figure!

      We wish you continued good luck in getting settled in, and look forward to sharing your future stories from Utrecht!


  3. I often wish I knew more Canadians here in NY. People think “oh you’re just like Americans.” Hardly!

    I also really value when online friendships become real-life ones; yesterday in NYC I met face a to face a fun group of NYC women who are part on an on-line group, nominally, of writers, ranging in age from me (oldest) to a 26 yr old. We had a great time and lots of lively conversations and hugs. People really need community!


    • Oh, how true!

      I am finding that the communities we build online have the opportunity to create some amazing friendships in the real world because they are based on people you actively *choose* to cultivate commonalities with instead of neighbors or work colleagues you get along with to make life manageable. (Not that neighbors and work colleagues don’t turn out to be besties many times also though.)

      I knew when I met Naomi in person we would have a great time because of what I have seen her invest her time in. I have always thought the same would be true with you as well. What a fun experience your writer’s group must be!


  4. I love this post! I believe that if we all lived like Naomi, we’d build healthier communities.

    My parents taught us to talk to strangers, to keep in touch, visit.

    My mother, all the way in the USA, would tell me to call this or that person, find out how she’s doing. I’ve discovered that it really does make me happy to talk to these older folks.


    • So true! What a wise mother…but an even wiser daughter. 😉

      I’m glad you liked this post and echo these thoughts. What really amazes me is the kind of friends I meet through sharing posts like this. I’m sure that if you and I met today, it would feel like we’d known each other for years- we share that common love for others, reaching out and learning about different cultures.

      Thank you for reminding me- all of us- of the value of staying in touch! You’re a gem!


  5. Pingback: Expat Living: Happy New Year! Embracing Each Other and Sharing Traditions | Life Lessons

  6. Pingback: Expat Living: Home Is Where You Find It– 7 Tips For Finding It Fast(er) | Life Lessons

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