expat

Things I left behind

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Marilyn at Communicating Across Boundaries has challenged TCK’s to write about things they have left behind.

The only place I had ever known

I was born in Burma and lived there for three years before my family moved to my passport country in the USA. I spoke 5 languages and had never lived anyplace else. I lost four of my five languages. We moved into a three bedroom house in Ithaca, NY and when I would find myself in a room all by myself I would start to scream in terror. I had never been alone before. In Burma we had servants and nanny and neighbors who were always around. On our way back to Burma after two years we were in a plane crash and I lost my favorite doll in the fire. I have had trouble with fear of fire ever since.

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Nanny

On leaving Burma after only a year to move to New York I left behind my nanny who had been my constant companion and spoiled me terribly. I didn’t like my school in New York and refused to go back after the first day because the teacher didn’t know my name. My brother told me to get over it and move on.

English

A year later we moved to Mexico City. They didn’t speak English there. I couldn’t talk to anybody or understand the TV. Plus I went to British school so even the English was funny.

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Dogs

We had two beautiful dogs that lived on our compound in Mexico. They belonged to the landlady but spent most of their time at my house. I loved those dogs.

Friends

I only lived in Bogota for one year but I made some really good friends and had a great time. I cried all the way from Bogota to Miami when I left.

Travel

From Bogota we moved to Nigeria and I made some good friends there as well but I was never very attached to it. I was in boarding school in Switzerland for two years and enjoyed the freedom of being able to hop on a train and see all kinds of amazing places. Leaving friends behind in Switzerland and starting over in my passport country was hard. I had a lot of adjustment problems I didn’t understand at the time.

I lost a lot of “things” along the way like dolls, toys, records, books and clothes. But I never missed them the way I did the people. After we left Mexico I lost TV but that never bothered me either. I realized later it put me at a disadvantage with my American peers. But that was only one of many things.

What did you leave behind?

Two Books: Expat Advice And Adventures

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I recently read an e-book on culture shock, “Culture Shock, A Practical Guide”, by H.E. Rybol. The author is a Third Culture Kid who is familiar with both culture shock and reverse culture shock.

She says it is all about being connected to a new place. You need to figure out a way to feel comfortable so you to relax enough to enjoy your surroundings. She provides tips and tools to help. Be prepared, do your homework. Get involved, take a class, join a group.

“We need to let go of preconceived ideas to make room for reality”.

I recently moved from the East Coast to the Mid-West and after reading this book, I am thinking we all probably go into some kind of culture shock when we move anywhere. I think I have some culture shock. I need to get out and see what’s out there, learn my way around a new city, make new friends, figure out where to shop.

These things are common to every move. They are just heightened when we move to a new country where we don’t speak the language or know all the cultural differences.

H.E. Rybol acknowledges it is a process and can be challenging but affirms that it is worth every bit of it and encourages everybody to take that plunge. The rewards are “humility, kindness, gratefulness, and compassion”. You will be a better person.

 

81sP7Jf+nRL._SL1500_Another e-book I read recently was written by two expats getting to know new places. It is called “Two Brauds Abroad, A Departure from Life as We Know It”, by Camille Armantrout and Stephanie De La Garza. The format of the book is in the form of email correspondence between two old friends. Camille is posted to Ghana because of her husband’s work. Stephanie has the travel bug and decides to sell everything and move to Central America and do volunteer work while house sitting.

Although Camille has the stability of her husband’s job she can rely on, she is not living in the lap of luxury. They are upcountry in Kumasi and share a house with several other expats. Their water and electricity are sporadic and they walk or take taxis for transportation.

Africa has its own set of challenges and Camille had her share of culture shock. She writes about the things she finds confusing, horrible, annoying, and uncomfortable. Once she finds a group of local expats she seems to perk up quite a bit and has more of a social life. In the end I am not convinced she had a wonderful experience but she certainly learned a lot and says she would go back.

On more than one occasion she mentions that under different circumstances she would probably not be friends with the expats she met in Ghana but they were all thrown together in a situation that gave them common ground. She also says one of the things she liked about living in Ghana is the lack of air conditioning. From my experience the houses in Africa are built to allow air to flow and air conditioning is not needed.

When Camille returned to the US she went home to the house she had been living in before she left and a small supportive community she knew well. Everybody welcomed her back with open arms and she suffered very little reverse culture shock.

Stephanie had traveled in Central America on holidays and decided she was sick of the rat race in the US and wanted to give it all up and go live in the jungle. She sold her house and all her belongings, quit her job, and moved to Costa Rica to house sit. Her timing was off so she had to rent for a while before moving into the house. She was immersed in the town, lived very simply, and tried to find volunteer work caring for animals.

She also encountered expats everywhere but tried to stay away from them. She wanted to be a part of where she was. Much of her story was about day to day life. The animals and bugs she encountered, the food she found, the cooking she did, the people she met, the relationships she had. When she first arrived she was sick much of the time and lost a lot of weight but it did not discourage her and she eventually regained her energy and moved on. She had spirit.

The last portion of the book is dedicated to practical tips on preparing for departure and things you should take with you. There is some good practical advice in this section.

Camille’s thoughts on culture shock:

“My advice is drink it all in, mind your feet and use your wonder and horror as catalysts for mind boggling epiphanies”.

Excellent!

 

 

On My Own

paintingsIt’s been 27 years since I lived on my own. And funnily enough, I am back in the same place. I left Minnesota 27 years ago and lived in Florida, Washington DC, Moscow, Russia, and Virginia. And now I am back in Minnesota. How did that happen? And back on my own. Back at square one. But older and wiser…..

I have a beautiful apartment that I decorated the way I wanted to. I listen to loud music that I like. I watch trashy movies whenever I want. I cook when I want to and don’t cook when I don’t want to. I can do whatever I want. Make art. Write. Read. Watch mindless TV. Go out. Stay in.

One of my biggest problems is I am way too good at entertaining myself. So much to do so little time. But then I have trouble accounting for my time because I don’t actually accomplish anything.

My day so far …. Worked from home, danced to Los Lobos, Listened to new music I just found on my iPhone, cruised the Internet (can’t remember why), checked for mail (physical mail), checked email, sent email, read an article in National Geographic on Mites (Yuk!), Thought about what to do for dinner (although not very hungry after reading the Mites article), skimmed thorough local paper, re-read part of my journal from 20 years ago, looked at men on Match.com (ugh), thought about some other stuff I should be doing….

Anyway you get the picture. Sometimes I have projects I get obsessive about. Like doing a needlepoint canvas or scanning old photos or writing a book. When I finish a project I think I should do another project. But the project gets in the way of doing all the things above… and then I get stressed because I think I should be working on my project. It’s not really that bad. I can handle it.

And of course feeling guilty about not writing my blog takes up some of my time as well.

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The pictures are of my bedroom walls. I used to paint and these are some of the paintings and drawings still in my possession. My grand-nieces who are still babies are mesmerized by these colorful paintings.

Enough. Now I am off to the “job hunting” portion of my day.

Talk soon.

Christmas In Africa – 1974

69-620x310My first Christmas vacation in college I had a memorable plane trip on my way to Africa. I was to fly from San Francisco to Minneapolis to Nairobi and meet my parents for a two-week camera safari. I had made my flight arrangements through a travel agent in New York and understood that I would change planes in Geneva.

I arrived in Geneva at seven in the morning and went to the transit desk. They told me that I could go into town or get a room at the airport if I wanted because the flight didn’t leave until midnight that night and then they also mentioned that I was wait-listed anyway. What??? I had not looked closely at the ticket. There I was in Geneva, Switzerland. I had a $20 traveler’s check to my name, and I was wait-listed on a flight that left at midnight. There was nothing I could do but wait and see. I spent all day dozing on airport seats and reading my book. I didn’t eat anything because I figured I should save my money and anyway, I was too nervous. It came time to check in for the flight. I went to the gate and they told me I would have to wait until everybody else had boarded the plane. It was agonizing as I watched hundreds of people boarding.

I kept seeing myself stranded in Geneva, eating out of the vending machines and spending Christmas by myself in the terminal. I would have to spend the night in the airport. How would I let my parents know where I was? Finally the airline called the stand-by passengers to the desk. They told me there was one seat left but I had to go downstairs and get my seat assignment. I raced down the stairs but there was nobody there. I waited a while in a panic and then I ran back up the stairs and told them there was nobody down there. Finally a woman got up and said she would go get it for me while I went through security again. As soon as I had my seat assignment, I ran all the way to the plane. I was scared to death they would take off without me. When I reached my seat, I buckled my seat belt and broke into tears of relief.

I arrived in Nairobi the next morning and there was nobody there to meet me. I went to the bank and changed my $20 traveler’s check and figured I would have to take my chances with a taxi. I went out to the parking lot and there were lots of taxis lined up but no people around at all. While I was standing there trying to figure out what to do an airline steward came walking up and I asked him if he knew how I could get a taxi. He said he didn’t know but it wasn’t safe for me to go anywhere in a taxi. He asked his captain if they could give me a ride.

I arrived at the hotel in an airline minibus and rang my parents’ room. No answer. I rang our friends’ room. No answer. I walked all around the hotel lobby and outdoor area. When I returned to the lobby there was my mother sitting on the couch.

She took one look at me and said “What are you doing here?” At this point, I was exhausted, broke, hungry, confused and frankly, a little pissed off. “Thanks, mom.” I said. She replied calmly, not knowing my state of mind. “Your father is out at the airport looking for you”. Communications got really screwed up somehow and they thought I was coming in on a flight from Rome. I wish I could say this was an unfamiliar scenario, but travelling the million miles that I have, this kind of thing happened all the time.

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Kenya was wonderful. We drove around several game parks in Kenya and camped in tents. The tents were fairly large and had cots in them with mosquito nets and a bucket in the back for the toilet. There was a communal dining hall where everybody sat on benches and ate family style.

We were driving through a park just at dusk one day and we came upon a lone baby zebra. The game warden was with us and he seemed upset. We asked him what the problem was and he said the zebra would be dead by dark. He said it must have been separated from the rest of the herd somehow and now it didn’t have a chance. We asked if maybe we could take it with us or help it in some way and of course there was nothing we could do. That was just the way things worked: the world was one big food chain, but it was heartbreaking for me to witness it in person.

We crossed over into Tanzania and went to Ngoro Ngoro, a huge volcanic crater with a large plain inside where wildebeasts, flamingoes, hyenas, lions, rhinos, hippos, and monkeys all co-existed. It had a very prehistoric, eerie feel to it. The only way to get to it was in a four-wheel drive jeep creeping over the edge of the volcanic rock that completely surrounded the area. As we were driving across the middle of the plain we came across a family of rhino. Rhino cannot see very well but they hear well and have a good sense of smell. We were down-wind from them but the noise of the engine must have taken them by surprise because they turned and started to run right at us. The driver immediately turned off the engine. The rhinos froze in their tracks and we did too! Pretty soon the rhinos turned and started to walk away but then changed their minds. We sat perfectly still for about 20 minutes while the mama and papa rhino had a quickie and the baby was the lookout.

Another day at another park we came up behind a herd of elephants that was just crossing the road. There was an auntie at the end and she turned and started running towards us, ears flapping and trunk trumpeting. She took our driver by surprise. He shoved the car in reverse going full speed backwards in retreat. When we were a safe distance away, and the elephants had moved on a little we approached them again. This time when they charged us, the driver just gunned his engine. The elephants were afraid of the noise and backed off. When we returned to camp that day, we were told that it was becoming rarer and rarer to be charged by animals because they were becoming too accustomed to people. That was somewhat good news but really bad news in the larger sense of things.

On the way back to Nairobi we camped at the foot of Kilimanjaro. None of us were adventurous enough to climb it but we enjoyed having it as our backdrop.

On my way to Treetops

On my way to Treetops

We spent New Year’s Eve at the Outspan Hotel. From there we took a bus to Treetops, a famous salt lick with a hotel originally built in a tree. It burned down and has been rebuilt, but as you walked along the corridors you could still see branches coming through the walls. We arrived in the afternoon and had to trek in from the bus. Everybody had tea up on the roof. The baboons were really gutsy and came up and tried to steal women’s handbags. We had been warned about them. At night, animals came for the salt and so there was lots of activity. My friends stayed in the Queen Elizabeth suite. Elizabeth was staying there when her father, George the VI died, in 1952.

 

 

 

Christmas Snacks

IMG_1264I’m off to my cousin’s house for Christmas Eve dinner and I am making Pirozhki to take along for an appetizer. These are Russian pies made with bread dough. As a shortcut, I use ready to cook biscuits from the refrigerator aisle (in the US) and break them apart to make the smaller pies. This year I am making beef and mushroom pirozhki and I decided to try them with green onion and a little garlic instead of the yellow onion. I’m always experimenting…

Have a Happy Holiday!

 

 

Basic dough

1 package active dry yeast (1 Tbsp.)

1/4 cup warm water

1 cup milk

8 Tbsps. butter, cut into bits

1 tsp. salt

2 tsps. sugar

1 whole egg

2 egg yokes

4 1/2 to 5 cups flour

1 whole egg, beaten

Yield: 4 dozen

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Heat the milk to lukewarm and add the butter to it. Stir the milk and butter mixture into the yeast. Add the salt, sugar, egg and egg yolks, mixing well. Gradually stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it lightly until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turning dough to grease the top, and cover with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 48 balls of equal size. On a floured board roll each ball out to a circle 3 1/2 inches in diameter.

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Place a heaping Tbsp. of filling on each circle, then press the edges of the dough together firmly to seal. Gently shape the pies into elongated ovals.

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Place the pies seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until they are just doubled in bulk, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush each pie with the beaten egg. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.

 

FILLINGS

Beef

2 large onions, minced

2 Tbsps. butter

1 lb. lean ground beef

2 tsps. salt

pepper to taste

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Sauté the onions in the butter until transparent. Stir in the beef and cook until done. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Cool.

 

 

Cabbage

4 Tbsps. butter

2 large onions, minced

1 lb. cabbage, finely shredded

1 tsp. dill

2 tsps. salt

pepper to taste

Sauté the onions in the butter. Add the cabbage and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the cabbage is tender but not browned. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool.

Mushrooms

2 Tbsps. butter

2 medium onions, minced

1.5 lbs mushrooms, chopped  (wild or tame)

6 Tbsps. minced fresh parsley

2 tsps. fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions in the butter until soft but not brown. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients, mixing well.

Cool and Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Move Thirty Week Two

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I have to keep reminding myself I have only been here a week. …In my new apartment. I still have boxes everywhere and I can’t find anything. …In my new apartment. My kitchen and bathroom are set up so they are functional and my office space is tolerable but the rest is a disaster. Plus after thinking I had sold my condo and waiting three weeks for it to close, it fell through and I am back to square one. So I will have to pay for two places for a while longer. You may have to come visit me in the poor house. Oh well. Optimism is the key to survival. And I am a survivor. It will all work out in the end.

I left Minnesota 25 years ago after spending nine years here. It is kind of strange to be back. As I drive around, things look vaguely familiar but at the same time I usually have no idea where I am. I kind of feel my way around. I finally think I have conquered the skyway system so I don’t have to stop and study a map to figure out where I am. That felt good. And I can find my way to my parent’s place with no problem after having missed the turn a couple of times. Baby steps. I’ve only been here a week….

Between moving, it being the holidays, my condo problems, and my boxes, I should be a horrible mess but somehow I feel calm. Mostly because these are all things that are out of my control. Except maybe the boxes. I just do what I can and leave the rest to fate. Generally I am happy to be here.

The Twin Cities is 16th on the list of metropolitan areas in the US by size of population with 3.5 million people, whereas Washington DC comes in at 7th with 5.9 million people. I can feel the difference. It isn’t as congested and I don’t have to travel so far to get anywhere. I suppose that has a calming effect also. Plus the people are nice and helpful, generally.

I went to the Mall of America yesterday. It was jammed with holiday shoppers but I never felt crowded like I always did at the mall in Virginia. I actually had a positive experience. I’m not a big shopper but if I needed something in particular I might go back there. It was interesting to watch the people and have a look around. I love Legoland. And I was very surprised to see a Wedding Chapel in the mall.

When I first arrived it was 8 degrees F. Today it is 46. A regular heat wave.

 

 

Some Moving Challenges

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I moved to Minnesota last week. I was living in a hotel until my stuff arrived and two days ago I moved into my new apartment. It is both exciting and challenging. I spend my time wondering where things are and deciding where to put things. I open a box and usually I get distracted thinking about what is in the box and what I should do with it. So then I go and do something else in preparation for organizing what was in the box and then I forget about that box and move things around in closets or open a different box. There are no shortage of boxes. Then for a fleeting moment I think about the holidays and wonder if I should send out Christmas cards. That idea is quickly discarded in favor of New Year’s cards. Problem solved.

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I got the trees up!

 

Soon after arriving I went to Ikea to buy a desk. I had been to Ikea many times in Virginia and so quickly became oriented to my surroundings. On exiting I confidently marched all my stuff to the elevators on the left of the cashiers. There were no elevators. There was an exit to a parking lot. My brother asked me if I had parked on the upper level. Of course I had not so he steered me in another direction to find the elevators. My car was nowhere to be found. It just wasn’t there. As was wandering around looking for my car looked through a glass door to another parking lot on the other side of the building. It was an ‘aha’ moment. My car was over there.

The next day I went to Target and also could not find my car. When I went in I took special notice as to where I parked so I would be sure to find my car. But it was not there. I wheeled my shopping cart up and down several aisles but it just wasn’t there. Then I looked at the building. There were two exits. I must have come out a different exit. When I oriented myself to the other exit, I quickly found my car. It was disorienting to have this happen not only once, but twice.

When I moved to the US from overseas everything was disorienting and unfamiliar. I was not used to shopping at large stores like Target or even large supermarkets. I would find myself overwhelmed with the amount of choices and at times I would shut down in the middle of a store and have to leave. This was different. These stores were familiar in a different place so I had a false sense of confidence about them. This made it even stranger because now the familiar became unfamiliar.

Note to self, check how many exits the building has when parking the car.

 

My Burma memories in photos

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I am re-posting from Eclectic Global Nomad

I was wandering around the National Gallery of Art the other day and stumbled across the exhibit “Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860.” Since I was born in Burma was immediately interested. I walked right in without reading any of the preamble and just started looking around. Many of the photographs were from Amarapura, the capital from 1842 to 1859 under King Tharrawaddy which is now part of Mandalay.

After the Anglo-Burmese war of 1852, the British annexed a part of Burma. This was the second of three wars. The third war in 1885 resulted in the British taking over the entire country. In 1855 Lord Dalhausie, the governor general of India, went on a political visit to Burma.

'The East Gopuram of the Great Pagoda' 1858, Linnaeus Tripe

- See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/burma-memories-photos/2014/10/14#sthash.1VzbRUPr.dpuf

Will I miss my porch?

porchIt is a lovely sunny fall day. As I was sitting on my porch having my morning coffee I thought, “I will miss this”. I will miss my porch and my view. But will I?

I write about places I have lived and I love reconnecting with old friends but have I ever actually missed anyplace?

It has been hard to leave places but the hard part was saying goodbye to friends. It wasn’t the city or the house. When I arrived at my new home in my new city I never wished I was back where I came from.

I am a person who lives in the present. Being a TCK forces you to do that. I become so involved in my new place, trying to fit in, meet new people, find my way around, understand language and culture, I don’t have time to pine for the past.

When I left Colombia I cried all the way from Bogota to Miami. By the time I got to London I was living my new life. Eating gammon steak, gawking at the Beefeaters, loving the theater. When I finally arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, my final destination, I was in such culture shock all my energy went into survival. How to cope in such a strange place. There were no familiar things to relate to, nothing to compare. I had to immerse myself in the present.

The reality is you can’t go back. The unique set of circumstances that made up your life in that point of time will not be the same. Everything will have changed. The city, the people, the house. The experience will be different. After leaving Mexico I went back a couple of times to visit. My neighbors had moved, my friends had moved on, the city had grown. I saw some familiar sites but I was now a visitor, a tourist. The whole dynamic had changed.

I left Minnesota 25 years ago. Since then I have lived in Florida, Washington DC, Moscow, and Virginia. I have lived in 12 different apartments. I don’t miss any of them. I see this move as going back to the future. I don’t expect it to be anything like my previous life in Minnesota. I will be learning about a new place and meeting new people. Some of it will be familiar but much of it will not be. I don’t expect it to be. I don’t want it to be.

When I first moved to Minnesota I didn’t know anything about Third Culture Kids. I was fresh out of college where I had a difficult time adapting to my home country. I didn’t understand why people reacted to me the way they did. When I went for job interviews in Minneapolis, I thought I would bring something special to the table. I clearly could get along with all kinds of people, I was well educated, I was smart. But when the interview was over they would say, “Are you going to finally settle down and stay in one place for a while?”. I didn’t understand the question. What difference did it make?

As I adjusted to Minnesota culture I realized that it was another foreign country. Most people had lived there their whole lives, few people had done much traveling. Although it was a progressive state, many people were conservative. I learned to bury my past even deeper and watched a lot of TV so I would have something to talk to people about.

When we left Moscow, we went to Minnesota and tried to find work. It was right after 9/11 and people were scared. When they saw on my resume that I had lived overseas for the past 9 years, they didn’t want anything to do with me. That is how I ended up in Washington DC.

Minnesota is a much more diverse place these days with large Liberian and Hmong populations. I am also armed with the fact that I know much more about myself. I know how to use my TCK-ness to an advantage without scaring people off. I know I will still be different and there will be people who think I’m odd but it doesn’t bother me anymore. Plus I have lived in the same place for the past 12 years so that should show them I can stick it out.

Starting over at my age in never easy, but who said life is easy?

I might miss my sunny porch on dark winter days…. but probably not.