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Posts Tagged ‘living abroad’

Where is home for you in the world?

In behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, immigration, life, travel, urban life, US, world on January 7, 2015 at 8:50 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m writing this post from London, where I’m visiting for nine days, staying with Cadence, a fellow blogger who writes Small Dog Syndrome. She and her husband moved here a year ago and are settling into a city that — according to yesterday’s newspaper front page — is bursting at the seams.

I believe it!

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I just spent two weeks in Paris, another major city, but London feels really jammed to me. If one more person bumps into me with their body, backpack or suitcase, I may scream!

Cadence loves it here and hopes to stay here permanently.

She also spent much of her younger life — still in her late 20s — living all over the world in a military family: Belgium, England, Guam, Virginia, Germany.

It may well be that early exposure to the world through residence shapes us permanently for it; I was born in Vancouver, Canada; moved to London at two; to Toronto at five, to Montreal twice, to Mexico at 14, to Paris at 25, to New Hampshire at 30 and — finally! — to New York at 32.

I like having lived in five countries and speaking two foreign languages, French and Spanish. It makes me realize that every place has some kindness and welcome, but some are far better fits for me than others. I loathed rural New Hampshire, (no diversity, stuffy, no work available), and, much as I adore visiting Montreal, as a resident I hated its punishing taxes, long winter and high crime rate.

I like London, and have visited many times and lived here ages two to five. But I find its scale overwhelming and too often exhausting. I’m limiting my activities to one or two a day because of it…knowing I could do twice as much even in New York, where cabs are cheaper or Paris where Metro stops are a hell of a lot closer to one another — 548 metres apart on average.

I prefer Paris.

Which makes me wonder — what is it about a place, whether it’s a cabin in the woods, or a penthouse city apartment or a shared flat in a foreign country — that makes it feel (most) like home to us?

Maybe because I’m a journalist and my husband is a photographer and photo editor — or because we have fairly adventurous friends — we know many people, non-native, now living happily very far from where they were born or raised, in rural Austria, Shanghai, Eindhoven, Rome, South Africa, New Zealand, Paris, Plymouth, Cairo, Manhattan, Toronto, Rhode Island, Australia…

For me, Paris is the city I was welcomed at 25 into a prestigious, challenging and generous journalism fellowship that lasted eight months. So my memories of it are forever somewhat colored by nostalgia and gratitude for a life-changing experience and the warmth and love I felt during that time.

On my many visits back since then, though, I still feel the same way…more so than in New York (I moved to a NYC suburb in 1989).

More than Montreal, where I have lived twice, in my late 20s and when I was 12.

One of my favorite Toronto sights -- the ferry to the Islands

One of my favorite Toronto sights — the ferry to the Islands

More than Toronto, where I lived ages 5 to 30.

The place I feel at home is a combination of things: climate, the light, the way people speak and dress and behave, its political and economic and cultural values. It’s what things cost and how much of them I can actually afford.

It’s how quickly and easily I can navigate my way around by public transit, on foot, by car, by taxi, by bicycle.

It’s how much sunlight there is on a cold afternoon in February. How much humidity there is. How much it rains or snows — or doesn’t.

Basically, regardless of other circumstances, how happy are you when you wake up there every morning?

Even newly divorced, unemployed, lonely, I was glad to be living in New York.

The view from our NY balcony -- we have great river views

The view from our NY balcony — we have great river views

But also how much silence and natural beauty it also offers — parks and old trees and a river and lakes. (London beats Paris hollow on that score!)

History, and hopefully plenty of it, at least a few centuries’ worth, with buildings and streets filled with stories.

And yet…it needs to be open socially and professionally as well, which can be a tricky-to-crazy-frustrating combination if you arrive as an adult who didn’t attend the same schools, ages five through graduate school, as all your would-be new friends, colleagues and neighbors.

I moved to a suburb of New York City in June 1989, just in time for the first of three recessions in the ensuing 20 years. Not fun! I had to re-invent in every respect.

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14

But choosing to live in Tarrytown, which I love, has been a great decision; the town is 25 miles north of Manhattan, which I can reach within 40 minutes by train or car. We have a terrific quality of life for a decent price.

(Here’s a blog post I wrote about 20 reasons why I love living there.)

I chose New York for a variety of reasons:

— My mother was born there, so I had some curiosity about it

— It’s the center of American journalism and publishing, my field

— It’s New York!

— Culture, history, energy, art, architecture…all the urban stuff I enjoy

Having said that, and all due respect to the many other places in the U.S. that people love, I wouldn’t move within the U.S. It’s too hard to establish yourself in New York and the only other city that appeals to me is L.A. which my husband vetoed.

If we move when we retire, which we’re discussing, we’re trying to choose between my native Canada, France, his home state of New Mexico…or, if at all possible, some combination of these.

Jose misses his mountains and a sense of Hispanic community.

But I miss speaking French and I miss my Canadian friends.

How about you?

What makes home home for you?

 

The Ex-Pat’s Life…Where’s Home?

In behavior, blogging, culture, domestic life, family, life, travel, US on October 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm
Postcard of McGill University, Toronto, Ontari...

McGlll University, a long time ago! Image via Wikipedia

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.

Everything!

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?

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?

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