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Posts Tagged ‘living overseas’

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?

 

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 expatexpert.com, 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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