Posts Tagged ‘living overseas’

Feeling Foreign

In behavior, business, cities, culture, immigration, travel, US, women, world on November 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm
American students pledging to the flag in a fo...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s taken a while, but I’ve started to find blogs written by other women living outside their home countries — one in a regional Spanish city, one in a small Italian town and even a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia.

I love their posts because hearing other women describe their lives in a country other than the one in which they were raised helps me feel less foreign. I live only a nine-hour drive away from my hometown and a six-hour drive to the border, but sometimes it feels very far away.

I left Canada, where I was born and started my journalism career, more than 20 years ago to live in the U.S. in a small town 25 miles north of New York City.

I love it — I stare north up the Hudson River to astonishingly beautiful views, can enjoy all the things Manhattan has to offer and have a town so charming its main street has been featured in several films, like The Good Shepherd and The Preacher’s Wife and Mona Lisa Smile.

But even after all these years, I still sometimes feel foreign. I love Thanksgiving — family, friends, gratitude, pumpkin pie — but am left cold by the insane commercialism of Black Friday. (Although Canada, and others, has instead the commercial insanity of Boxing Day sales, which have nothing to do with sports.)

I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I can sing the national anthem. I now know what a “do-over” and a “Hail Mary pass” and “step up to the plate” mean — all these sports references! I know that New Yorkers stand “on line” and that ordering a “double, double” (two sugars, two milks in coffee) or a bloody Caesar (a cocktail) here will elicit only blank stares.

It’s easy enough to memorize the number of senators or why there are so many stars or stripes in the U.S. flag. It’s much more  challenging to play cultural catch-up!

But I never (thank Heaven) had to write the SATs nor freak out over which college to attend and whether or not it was affordable — I attended the University of Toronto whose annual cost (no, this is not missing a zero) was $660 my first year. It now still costs only $5,000 a year for Canadian residents.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe, as I keep a running video in my head of what life might have been like had I stayed in Canada. Of course, there’s no way to know, is there?

I visit Canada up to six times a year, as my parents live there (in separate provinces), as well as dear friends going back decades. Every time, someone asks if or when I’ll move back. With a green card, I can only leave the U.S. for  year at a time, so it would take an amazing job offer to lure me north, and for the moment, none is forthcoming.

In my adolescence, I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico for four months and, at 25, lived in Paris for 10 months. In Mexico, men hissed at me on the street and in buses, two words: juerita and fuerita: little blondie and little foreigner. My very appearance marked me as foreign with my waist-length blond hair and pale skin.

Both experiences changed forever how I saw the world and my place in it; once you’ve made the break away from everything you know, you discover how adaptable you are. You find kind people live everywhere and realize that you can thrive many time zones away from where you’ve always felt best understood.

Have you ever lived outside your native land? Did you enjoy it?

How has it changed you?

The Ex-Pat's Dilemma: Where Exactly Are You From?

In Uncategorized on December 27, 2009 at 8:26 pm
The national flag of Canada.

Image via Wikipedia

Home again in New York after Christmas in Toronto, back in my native Canada. It was fascinating at the border — we drove — watching all the homesick Canucks about to cross the line stocking up on exotica like liquorice allsorts and shortbread (recently put on the markdown rack — why? — at my local Stop ‘n Shop) and all things maple. The sweetie, always in some vague military mode, bought a pile of teeny tiny maple leaf decals to stick along the side of the vehicle, like some battered WWII bomber, to mark every trip north.

License plates around us, two on two Virginia plates, read “CDN MADE” and “CDN QT.” Clearly, I’m not the only ex-pat Canadian living in the U.S. who is as proud of where I come from as grateful, mostly, for the legal chance to live and work in the U.S.

Then the border guard, uncharacteristically said “Caitlin!”

“Um, yes sir?”

“Are you still Canadian?”

“Yeah!” I answered, with a vehemence that shocked my partner. Sort of like asking. “So, are you breathing?”

What on earth prompted the question? And phrased so oddly? Not “a Canadian?” Meaning…?

Did he really mean to ask, which isn’t pertinent legally: “Why aren’t you a U.S. citizen yet?” He could see my green card.

It’s every ex-patriate’s dilemma. When are you no longer an ex-pat and when are you, officially, an immigrant? When you assume the citizenship of your adopted land? Does it matter? To whom and why?

I carry a Canadian passport, have the legal right to apply for an American one, after “naturalizing” but can also, I believe, still claim an Irish passport as well, thanks to my Irish-born great-grandfather. How James Bond-ian it would be to have three, legally; Canadians do not have to give up their citizenship if they become American citizens. As someone who loves to travel and hopes to retire, at least part-time, in France, all this would be helpful.

For all of you who now live somewhere you were not born, nor have not (yet?) assumed a second (or third) citizenship, where does your loyalty lie? What, if anything, would change it?

Kids, Travel And Weaning In Lapland

In parenting, travel, women on October 12, 2009 at 5:03 pm
Masai Mara Tribe Women 2

Masai tribesmen; image by The Dilly Lama via Flickr

Having a mom who’s a travel writer has meant great adventures for Wilf and Reg, sons of British journalist and author Sara Wheeler. Wilf, now 12, has already seen a polar bear and met the tribesmen of the Masai Mara, although his mom was warned that his infant noises might attract lions thinking he was a dying impala.

I was driven from Vancouver, my birthplace, to Mexico, when I was two, my parents taking the back seat out of the car for the journey. Ever since, I’ve reveled in travel, counting the weeks or months until my next trip. This week — Atlanta! I’m psyched, having found a female freelance photographer there who’ll spend the day with me exploring. I’m only going there for a board meeting, my first time in that city, but tacked on two extra days for fun.

I first flew alone, to Antigua, when I was six, to meet my mom. As she traveled with world alone for many years, years later, I’d fly in to meet her in Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru and Fiji, places I’m not sure I’d ever have gotten to on my own time and dime for years, if at all. We slurped room service tomato soup while suffering altitude sickness in Cuzco, froze our asses off on a train through the Andes at midnight, got frisked by the police coming home from midnight mass in Cartagena, and snorkeled amid blue starfish in Fiji. She created an addict! Now I spend every spare penny planning the next trip, our apartment filled with our photos from places visited and memories treasured, from Malta to Paris to Juno Beach to the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

I think the greatest gift you can give your kids is the insatiable hunger to keep a current passport, get out into the world, and the confidence to make themselves, and others, at home once they’re out there. Here’s a fun blog by American ex-pat and mom Karen Van Drie, living and working in Prague. And one of my favorite experts on life overseas is fellow Canadian Robin Pascoe, who runs, which she began after leaving life as a journo to follow her diplomat husband around Asia.

If you’re suffering a little cabin fever — it’s a cold, gray day here in New York — these offer a quick, cheap escape.


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