Sunday, 16 December 2012

When I No Longer Feel Like an Expat

I no longer feel like an expat.

I'm not sure when I started to feel less like an expat and more like a local. It may have happened gradually, sneaking up on me over time. Or several triggers combining to create a sense of home and belonging. Maybe I never was an outsider, the result of marriage and family here in Sydney.

The usual expat issues including the culture, food, politics and the weather never felt all that alien to me. The links to Britain and my long-term relationship with an Australian woman made it so. But a foreign country is still foreign until something changes along the way.

Whatever the tipping point, I no longer feel the same.

When I walk my dog, Milo, along the shore of Curl Curl lagoon and we both stretch out on the sand, me on my stomach, him rolling around on his back, I feel contented. At peace. This isn't the home I envisaged or dreamed of but, over time, it's become just that. A home.

Home.  Photo credit: russellvjward

Other subtleties have crept up on me. Events and experiences coming together to ensure a greater connectedness to this place, leaving me feeling less like a traveller or short-term resident passing through and more like a part of the local fabric of life.

The time I walked into my local coffee shop and the staff stopped what they were doing to ask about my wife and newborn boy.

"When is Sarah coming in to show us Elliot? How is she feeling? We feel like we haven't seen you all in ages". Asking about my life and my family made me feel included. One of the regulars. A valued friend.

The time after training with the Warrior and the team at his Newport home when it dawned on me that over the years I've become one of the original crew.

After having given blood, sweat and tears to the four tonnes of sand on Muscle Beach, I've formed friendships that will surely endure. Mark, Nige, Tiges, Piggy, Joey, Eighth Wonder, the King, Bucky, Benny and more. All good friends and committed training buddies. We've come far as a team and we've gone through much physical and mental pain together. It's a weekly routine and habit I'd struggle to give up.

Or the time when I took citizenship in Australia.

It not only strengthened my connection to this place but the country took me in its firm grasp. From the right to vote to providing future security to my family, it gave me a permanency if I so desired it. It gave me options and a place to grow. It gave me somewhere different that I could call home.

The time four weeks ago when we had our first child.

From friends descending on the baby shower to the many calls of congratulation, the flowers, the cards, the visits, the messages, the baked goods, neighbours stopping to greet us in the street, invites to people's houses. All of this has reinforced our place in the grand scheme of things.

We can confidently call ourselves part of this Northern Beaches community and we have people who care and who value us being here. We're no longer seen as transient or passers-by, but as locals and neighbours, confidants and loyal friends.

Friends and friendship.

Of all the things in this life lived abroad, friends and friendship are at the centre of what makes me feel less like an expat. Not the environment, not the way of life, not the opportunities that have presented themselves.

Of all the things on this overseas adventure, friends and friendship are the essence of what makes me feel more like a local. Friends and friendship are what make me feel like I'm home.

When did you stop feeling like an expat and more like a local? What were the things that made you realise your new environment now felt like home?

This expat post was sponsored by Western Union, who is running a promotion that allows you to send money to the UK with no transfer fee. With expensive Christmas just around the corner, here’s a sure fire way to save some money this year. If you’re sending money to the UK, why pay $22 to your bank when you can pay $0 with Western Union. And, just in case you think the rate may be worse than one of the big 4 banks, it isn’t. In fact, it’s the best of the lot. To try out the service, go to the website here and happy sending!

As part of this sponsored post, Western Union would like to give away a hamper of classic English sweets to one reader of ISOALLO. To win, leave a comment below and I'll put all the names of commenters in a hat and pick out a winner on New Year's Day. I'll announce the winner on the Facebook page and will also update this post with the winning name. Australian residents only. Giveaway closes on 31 December 2012.

With over 510,000 locations in over 200 countries and territories worldwide, Western Union is the global leader in money transfer. In 2012, a new ‘bank deposit’ service launched, giving customers the opportunity to send either cash from an agent location, or online via their debit or credit card to all banks within the countries where the service is live, including the UK & Ireland.

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Monday, 3 December 2012

Travellers and Expats Write: Taking the Risk

Why do travelers, expats and cultural spelunkers always want to write about their experiences? Showing off? Seen so much they have to share it all? Too much time on their hands?

I’ll hold my hands up and admit I'm guiltier than most. I have no qualms about wanting to share my life, the places I visit, the things I get up to, people I meet, ups and downs, pros and cons, highs and lows. It's my necessary fix. Once I started, I found I couldn't stop.

Whether it's describing a life lived abroad in a far-flung post, unique travel experiences on the hiking trails of Nepal, or sharing how easy it is to jump on a train at New York, ride a bike in the south of France or book affordable flights to Lanzarote, lovers of travel and expat adventurers can’t help but write about it.

Today’s guest blogger, Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, is one such cultural spelunker. With a husband from Ireland, a daughter from Vietnam, nearly five years as an expat in Shanghai, China, and an insatiable appetite for place, how could she not be? She’s also an author with an MFA degree in fiction writing, 18 years of experience as a writing instructor, a writerhead passionista, and the curator of #38Write, a monthly series of online writing workshops for place-passionate culture junkies around the world.

I've known Kristin through the blogosphere for the past couple of years and have much admiration and respect for Kristin and her work, including her fabulous writing workshops. I'm extremely pleased to have her guest post on ISOALLO and hope to have her back here very soon. In this post, Kristin explores the traveler and expat desire to write and shares details of her next writing workshop...

Folks who have never lived as expats often ask me two questions:
  1. “Why does it seem like so many expats have such a deep desire to write?”
  2.  “As a writing instructor, why do you like to work with expats so much?”

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (HJgun)

The answers are easy:
  1. As many of you already know (preaching to the choir here…), expats long to write because when you move from your home country to a host country, you are (willingly) ripped from everything you know and trust and are hurled into a whirlwind of discomfort, cultural confusion, language challenges, brilliant epiphanies, self-discovery, revelation, hysterically funny stuff, a new sense of home, and so much more. Being replaced, displaced, and/or misplaced in the world stirs a wild desire to share story, to say to people (on the page), “Oh, my god, you will not believe what I saw/felt/heard/ate/did/learned/etc., today.” In other words, when your world pops, you want to write about it. 
  2. As a writer, I’ve been a place-passionate cultural spelunker since the beginning of time (which you can read more about at Poets & Writers magazine). My first novel, Thirsty, grew out of my relationship to my hometown in the U.S. (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’ve written an endless number of essays about a nearly 600,000-acre ranch I lived on in New Mexico (check out “On the Ranch”). And since living in China, it’s become a bit of an understatement to say that I’m obsessively writing about it (proof here).

For years, friends laughed because every time I opened my mouth, I started telling a story that began with “On the ranch…”

Now they laugh because every time I open my mouth these days, I start with “In China…”

As a teacher, I’m equally passionate about helping other place-passionate cultural spelunkers get their stories on the page, whether they’re expats, repats, travelers, homebodies, or astronauts. I’m also rather partial to working with writers who take risks in life because, at its core, writing is about taking risks. What could be riskier than sitting alone in a room with a pen or keyboard and your own imagination?

Six months, I started an online writing workshop series called #38Write with writers like you and me in mind—intrepid, curious folks with a bent for cultural exploration. It’s been a smash. Last month, 16 writers in 9 countries (including Russell!) wrote about habits. Some write fiction; others write nonfiction. Writers get feedback from me, as well as from each other. They connect and talk shop on Twitter. All, despite the miles, time zones, mountains, language challenges, and oceans that separate us.

In December, the #38Write theme is “At the Party!” and writers all over the world will be heading to parties in their home or host countries, whooping it up in a variety of ways, and writing about it.

Come join the fun, put your voice out there (la, la, la, laaaaa), and get a story on the page.

CONNECT: If you’d like to learn more or if you’d like to register for one of Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s #38Write workshops, grab a cup of coffee and pop over to her website and blog WRITERHEAD. Registration for December’s #38Write workshop is open until December 4.

You can also tweet Kristin at @kbairokeeffe, friend her on Facebook, and/or check out the #38Write group boards on Pinterest.

As an expat or traveller, do you find you have a deep desire to write? What are the kinds of things you do to help move your writing along - workshops, online courses, writing groups?

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