Sunday, January 29, 2012

Separated by a Common Language

I met Betsy shortly after I arrived in London.  She writes this fabulous blog Betsy Transatlantically and before I made the move across the pond, I began scouring the internet for bloggers who had navigated the expat waters before me. I was deep into research mode and found Betsy's blog in the process. We started emailing and then one day I received the cutest email from her "Blog friends = real friends?".  Definitely!  So we had drinks, and had a blast.  I asked her to write about one of her expat experiences and she sweetly agreed. Thanks Betsy! Drinks on me next time.

Today, grateful for expat friends,


 Separated by A Common Language (or Everything Tastes Like Chicken)
By: Betsy

I came to London to pursue an MA in autumn 2009 and, after a brief hiatus in DC for a job offer, returned to London to work in June 2010; I have lived in London for 17 of the past 27 months.  I identify as a Washingtonian, as a Londoner, and definitely as an expatriate, and I don't think that there's any contradiction in belonging to more than one place at a time.  That being said, sometimes the intersection of different cultures, homes, and languages can prove a bit tricky...

Earlier this January, I caught a flight to New York to spend a long weekend with my grandmother, who is very unwell.  (As my family is Jewish and doesn't celebrate Christmas, my big annual trip to my parents' house falls over Thanksgiving, and so this jaunt was unplanned though unfortunately not entirely unexpected.)  My mother and sister and I went out to lunch for Thai food on my first day in Manhattan where, surprisingly, I hit a snafu.  

I had decided to order the shrimp pad see ew, but when the waitress came by I realized that I had completely forgotten the word for "shrimp."  The only word I could think of was "prawn," which is generally what "shrimp" are called in the UK.  I grasped around my mind, but simply could not come up with "shrimp."  For some reason, I grabbed the closest word I could think of that an American might understand: chicken.

"But, Betsy," my sister said, confused, "didn't you say you wanted it with shrimp?"

"Yes!" I gasped.  "Shrimp!  I want the shrimp pad see ew!"

Everyone - the waitress included - looked at me, bewildered as to why this had been so difficult for me and why I seemed to have needed my sister to translate.

When I explained later, my mother and sister laughed, but didn't see it as a big deal.  It might not be, in the grand scheme of things, but it shook me up a bit because I thought I had been able to firmly compartmentalize my American and English lives and I was proved mistaken.  I did see the humor in the situation, though, and finally I truly understood that English and American are not always the same language!

Friday, January 27, 2012

On Being Weak in the Knees

Almost 18 years ago, in 1994, I moved into Spence Hall at Texas A&M University, (D1OTQ for any former Aggies out there).  Across the hall, I met this beautiful southern California transplant, Heather Redderson, who drove a little red car across America (at night, because it didn't have air conditioning and it was August, y'all) to begin her new life in college.  We were fast friends and I remember plenty of late-night conversations, walks around the quad, laughter and stories about 'boys' (and maybe more than a couple of 'walks of shame'.) I only attended A&M for one semester, but over the years Heather and I would find each other off and on, say hello, and then disappear.  Always, always, I loved our interactions and loved the incredible spirit I saw in her.  And then, via Facebook, we found each other again.  And we slowly began to catch up.  And then she moved to Austin and we would talk for hours  over coffee between our crazy schedules...and we found out that we had this common 'itch', to dig deeper into our core, live more meaningfully, and be more authentic in our life's journeys.  And then we both started, about the same time, realizing we would be moving to England within months of each other.  So I asked Heather to write a post for TECP about her expat experience...and write she did.  This post brought tears to my eyes (and I'm not even pmsing.) Thanks Heather. I love it so much. And I love you, and your journey.

Today, weak in the knees,


On Being Weak in the Knees

By: Heather Redderson

I remember the exact moment when I got off the plane in Rome.  It was January 1996 and I was just beginning a long-term study abroad program in Italy.  I remember the stunningly surreal realization that I was in another country... another world exploding with possibility and life.  That single experience of stepping off that plane resonated in my bones.  And it changed me.  Forever.

Fast forward 13 years to 2009.  The year I decided to throw all caution to the wind and make some changes.  BIG changes.  I was living the life in New York City - making money hand over fist, experiencing professional success like never before, enjoying a bevy of friends who were always up for drinks and laughs, and savoring my apartment in Greenwich Village that I had lovingly curated into my dream home.  But... it wasn't enough. 

Sure, it was 'enough' from society's perspective and I should have been over the moon with my success, with my surroundings.  But I wasn't sleeping, I was extremely unhealthy, I was emotionally drained and constantly stressed-out and I knew something had to give.  At the most random moments – while sitting in a meeting at work, while ordering another glass of wine, while waiting in line to purchase yet another expensive handbag, a memory would suddenly make me go weak in the knees and I would have to stifle a sob.  It was the memory of how I felt that day I stepped off the plane in Italy.  The memory of how free and how new I felt in that solitary moment in time.

And then something began to happen.  Instead of pushing that memory to the back of my mind, I sat with it.  I felt it.  I tended to it.  That single memory gave me the resolve to quit my job, to end the lease on my apartment, and to begin a journey with no destination

The journey has been, in a word, amazing.  I've had many people ask me if I came into money to fund my travels; if I had a ton of money saved before quitting my job.  They are always shocked when I tell them no.  There was no safety net.  For some reason I just trusted that mine was the right journey and I would figure it out along the way.  And I have.

My experience over the last three years has been frightening, exhilarating, freeing, emotional, and at times, overwhelming.  But there is something priceless about knowing, without a doubt, that I am doing what I am meant to do and am exactly where I am meant to be... even when I don't have all the answers.

So, where am I now? 

After spending the last three years traveling the world and finding a curious contentment with my life I recently moved to the UK and currently live in Devon, England.  I am one month away from getting married to the love of my life whom I would never have met had I not been willing to hack out a new path and a new place for myself in this world.  I am pursuing my passions for hiking, photography, yoga and simple living.  I am in the germination phase of creating a yoga retreat in the UK that encapsulates all I have learned in the last three years into an experience that can be shared with others.

I am exploring.

It is no longer a memory of stepping off a plane that makes me weak in the knees.  What does it for me now is life, my soon-to-be husband, a new and fascinating country to explore, and unique memories just waiting for me to find them.

Hello life.  Hello marriage.  Hello United Kingdom.  Let's do this.

Heather spinning prayer wheels on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Climbing Up Your Solsbury Hill

One of my favorite artists is Peter Gabriel.

And one of my favorite songs is Solsbury Hill.

'Solsbury Hill' (as I understand it) was Peter Gabriel's thought journey through the decision to leave Genesis.  His career was taking off with this new band, 'success' (at least the traditional version) was creeping up on him...and yet, his gut was telling him, this was not the right path.

Big decisions are tough for a lot of people, but they completely terrify me.  Mainly because I was never taught as a child how to trust my core instincts.  This was a skill I didn't develop until adulthood.  My parents (via divorce, custody changes, school decisions etc.) made a lot of incredibly large (and poor) decisions on my behalf which skewed my internal compass.
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination

Trusting 'imagination', or my 'gut', is now second nature to me.  But I've worked very hard on it. And even still, big decisions, even when I *know* they are the right ones, seem intimidating at first. 
My heart going boom boom boom
Moving to London was one of those big decisions.  When the Canadian told me we had the opportunity to move to London, I felt incredible excitement while feeling at the same time like throwing up.  But I knew in that exact moment what I would do. And that I would go.  But still, I thought it over incessantly, thinking mostly of all that I would give up in Austin. My friends. My home. My comfort. My familiarity.
To keepin' silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut
Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut 
So I went from day to day
Tho' my life was in a rut 
'Till I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut
I knew it would be a trade-off.  I knew that there would probably be some friends that I might lose in the process (not the core group, but some on the periphery).  I knew that life in Texas would go on. That someone else would live in the house that I built. That I would be moving forward on a totally different trajectory than I'd imagined.  But. It was that constant voice that was telling me that I had to go.  It was important.
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
I listened to this song over. and over. and over. In the moments of doubt, during the meltdowns (particularly after the movers came), during periods of questioning.  I would just imagine myself, climbing Solsbury Hill and sitting there, watching the sun set and thinking "I know this is crazy, but I seriously think I have to go. For my sanity. And to get my life back. And to figure myself out. And to see the world through a different lens, because this one is dull and blurry."
Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes, but still can see
No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me
Today I don't need a replacement
I'll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey," I said, "You can keep my things, they've come to take me home."
We all have our Solsbury Hills.  Those moments when we *know* we have to make the less safe, more radical decision. We might think about it, we might talk it out with friends, but our gut, our imagination, is pushing us forward into the extraordinary unknown. Trust it. Emphatically.  

Solsbury Hill, near Bath, England Via
Today, emphatically,

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Expat Experience

Just over seven months ago, I moved from Austin to London....joining the global fraternity known as 'expat'.  When you live abroad, dealing with life's everyday errands frequently becomes an experience accompanied by a story. Especially at the beginning. You ask a lot of questions, you're always lost, and trying to get the simplest of tasks accomplished seems to take an inordinate amount of time.

You have a palpable awareness of who you are and where you're from because you don't sound like anyone else.  You know that the moment you speak to a local, they will assess you based on your accent.  You know that you will always be 'different'.

I've always known I would live abroad. And I also always knew I'd marry foreigner (I know, Canadian is barely foreign, but still...he has a different passport.  That counts right?).  These were never a question of 'if', simply 'when'.

            "You gotta have a little crazy...."               

Moving to a foreign country, even one who shares a language, is not for the timid.  And it's not for those who love a comfort zone. And it's not for those who resist change.  And it's not for the gotta have a little bit of crazy in you to leave friends, family, comfort food, familiar streets, easy access, and pretty much everything in the world that feels 'normal'.

When I first stepped off the Queen Mary 2 (yes, we took the boat...that's another experience), I thought, "Woman, you have lost your mind."

I'd left Texas where it was warm, and sunny, and summer, and moved to London where, the day I arrived, it was 55 degrees and pouring rain with wind gusts in the 40 mph range.  It took more than a little courage not to turn around, commandeer the ship, and sail to Galveston.

But I didn't.

And here's what I learned.

I thought that moving abroad would change me - and in some ways it has - but really what it's done is expose me *to* me. More of me.

It's like when you start lifting weights and you've never it done it before - the next day your muscles feel like you were in a bar fight.  You didn't even know they existed and now they're screaming at you.  That's how it feels to be an expat.  You experience yourself differently.  You see yourself reflected in people who have preconceived notions about your home country.  You hear yourself say things that are clearly out of place.  Your belief systems are challenged. You are more *you* and you are less *you* than you've ever been before.

And let me tell you, it's extraordinary.  

I've laughed a lot more, I've cried a lot more, I've been in awe a lot more.  You don't realize, that when you're in your comfort zone, you can numb yourself to the human experience. This is, by no means true of everyone, but it was certainly true of me. I knew I was too comfortable and the feeling of 'wonder' just didn't show up in my daily life.  And I was in danger of becoming someone who constantly re-modeled their perfectly adequate house, or needed to keep upgrading their 'things', because I almost wasn't checked in enough realize that wasn't the problem....that it wasn't the house or the things. It was me.

So I left (with 1 Canadian and 1 dog). And moved to London.

Today, making life more extraordinary,