Here’s a lovely blog post by a Romanian woman who has wandered the world, reflecting on the ten things she’s learned in her ten years away from her native land.
And a powerful set of posts from one of my favorite expat sites.
I left my hometown, Toronto, in August 1986 to move to Montreal, where I worked for 18 months as a newspaper reporter. While living there, I soon fell in love with a tall, thin, handsome medical student in his final year of medicine at McGill. I knew from the minute we met he was going to move to New Hampshire the following year for a four-year residency. Loving him (and we were discussing marriage within months of our meeting) meant leaving behind family, friends, country, culture and a well-established career.
I remember distinctly my excitement at obtaining my “green card” through my mother, who was then an American citizen. I also felt tremendous fear as I crossed that border for a new life, like a raindrop falling into the ocean. The U.S. has 10 times as many people as Canada.
How would I ever create a new identity for myself?
Here are five things my 22 years here have taught me:
Identity is mutable.
It’s a deeply Buddhist issue to detach your ego from your identity. By clinging ferociously to one specific identity, we shut off other possibilities of what we might (have) become. In my time in the U.S. I’ve swung wildly in income, now earning barely 25 percent of my staff salary from 2006. Scary? Yes. But I don’t define my value by my income anymore.
Trying new roles is freeing, fun and can lead to all sorts of unimagined outcomes.
In my years here, I’ve become a nationally ranked saber fencer; competed twice in a major national sailing competition; sold two books to major publishers; learned how to hit a softball to the outfield and seen one of my books sold to China. At home, where people “knew” me so well, I doubt I would have tried on so many new roles.
What won’t kill you does make you stronger.
I’ve survived being a crime victim several times; three orthopedic surgeries; divorce; job loss; the loss of several women I thought were friends for life. I’m still here and still fine.
Being an “outsider” is a huge advantage for a writer.
I’ve known this since I got my first New York City magazine staff job, thanks to my fluent French, a rarity in my field. Since then, both of my books have been well-reviewed and appreciated for their fresh eye on eternal and widely-accepted American verities — guns are good and low-wage labor is normal. Neither assumption is shared by many people outside the borders of the U.S. and it takes an outsider’s eye to see it, and call it. (Some of the nation’s best-known and most respected writers and editors have come to the U.S. from elsewhere.)
Home is wherever you make it.
I think every ex-patriate feels a little lost after a while. You no longer fit, or unquestioningly accept, your former cultural norms and assumptions — but neither, necessarily, do you adopt them wholesale from wherever you are living. Home becomes your family, your friends, your nest, your passport.
If you’ve been an ex-pat, or are one now, how has it changed you?