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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Lynne Door on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home too early

Lynne Door Emerald City to Kansas Collage

The Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles); Lynne Door portrait, taken in her home (supplied).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. Today’s subject is Lynne Door, a graphic designer and self-proclaimed “typophile” who runs her own business specializing in branding, web design and print. Originally from New England, Lynne is now based in California, but she also managed to squeeze in two years living, working and studying in Singapore. Let’s hear about how that overseas experience affected her life.

—ML Awanohara

To Oz? To Oz!

My boyfriend (now husband!) and I had been dating just a little over a month (I had known him for a year before that), but we knew there was something good between us. So when he received an offer from his company to work in business development in Singapore, we had an open and honest conversation and agreed it was something we both wanted to do together. We said: “Why not do this? Let’s have fun, let’s go do this and experience it together!” We couldn’t think of any reasons not to move, and if our relationship didn’t work out in the process, it would be okay, I would just fly home. At least we’d given it a shot. That’s why we were both willing to take the chance.

Follow the yellow brick road…

Well, the first feeling was, “Uh oh, I’m not a local anymore!” That felt weird and a little scary. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. Especially since I only knew English. Luckily, Singapore is Asia for Beginners insofar as one of the main languages is English. At least I could navigate down the yellow brick road so to speak and converse with the people I encountered along the way.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

I had the pleasure of both working and going to school in Singapore, so my experience was very broad. I worked for a local Singaporean advertising/design company while also attending LASALLE College of the Arts to continue my studies towards a graphic design degree. Every day I would go from encountering people within a corporate business environment to hanging out with a group of young, artsy students. I had never lived outside of the United States before and was completely enthralled. The whole experience gave me a much broader perspective on myself and others. Ultimately what I learned was no matter where you are on the globe, we’re all human and ultimately we all go about our day with the same intentions. It’s only geography—and a smile goes a long way!

Oh dear! I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas!

While working for the Singaporean company, I did experience an unusual business practice. “Scolding” is where managers shout at employees for doing something wrong in front of other colleagues and/or behind closed doors. For the manager it’s a way of getting everyone’s attention and reminding employees who is in charge and why mistakes won’t be tolerated. I remember my scolding like it was yesterday, the repeated shouts of “Why did you do this?”, “How could you do this?” and “What were you thinking?”. I was absolutely speechless. I felt perplexed and completely thrown off by such aggressive managerial behavior. After the incident, I told him I would have responded more positively had we sat and calmly talked about the situation with the team. Looking back, I think we both realized we had a significant culture clash.

I feel as if I’d known you all the time, but I couldn’t have, could I?

LynneDoor_Singapore

Lynne with her Singaporean student friends at LASALLE College of the Arts, a cherished photo (supplied).

I made some great friends at the design school and discovered the world isn’t such a big place. I keep this photo of me with my classmates on my desk. I just love it! It was an amazing time for me and hold them all so dear to my heart.

Going so soon?…Why, my little party’s just beginning!

We stayed in Singapore just two years. While it felt good to return to California life, I don’t know if I’d agree that there’s no place like home. In the comfort of being “home,” I went back to my usual routines, shutting out my surroundings. Whereas in unfamiliar territory, you need to be present every moment: observing, exploring, absorbing, learning about all that’s around you, making decisions. That’s the beauty of travel, expat life and experiencing new places, it opens up the mind completely. It’s invigorating and stimulating in every way—mentally, emotionally and physically. I miss those feelings! And I believe it can’t happen any other way but when traveling to new, unknown places!

LynneDoor_PalmSprings

Lynne with her husband, Jim, at their favorite Mexican restaurant in Palm Springs (supplied).

* * *

Thank you, Lynne, for being willing to be Dorothy and show us the yellow-brick-road you experienced in Singapore, as well as your mixed feelings about returning home. Having lived in Japan, I think I can relate to the “scolding” experience that took place in your Singaporean office. Definitely a Wicked-Witch-of-the-West moment! Readers, any questions for Lynne? If you’re curious about her design work, be sure to visit her design site, where you can peruse her personal collection of “wanderlust” photos. You can also follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Finally, if you need a cover for that book you’re writing, Lynne can help you with that as well! (She designed the cover for HE Rybol’s Culture Shock. HE Rybol is of course our Culture Shock Toolbox columnist.)

STAY TUNED for our next fab post!

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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Amy Rogerson on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home (for just six months)

Amy Rogerson wrapping up warm in the UK at Christmas (her own photo); the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Amy Rogerson wrapping up warm in the UK at Christmas (her own photo); the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. This month our subject is Amy Rogerson, an Englishwoman who blogs at The Tide That Left about trailing her husband (aka “Mr Tide”), at breathless pace, all around the globe. The couple now live in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, but in the past four years have also made homes in South Africa, Angola, Qatar, Russia, and Libya. As we catch up with Amy, she is back to the UK (as of April 7th) for a six-month stay. What is it like going “home” again after such a life of adventure? Without further ado, let’s dig into a slice of Amy’s “back to Kansas” story.

—ML Awanohara

To Oz? To Oz!

I didn’t really choose expat life. Rather, it chose me when I fell head over heels in love with a nomadic man. I met my husband five years ago in his final weeks in the UK before he moved to Libya. We continued our relationship long distance for a year, but eventually knew that one of us had to move. I was in a job that made me miserable, whilst he was welcoming new opportunities at work, so it seemed for the best that I move to Benghazi to be with him.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Moving to Libya was so far beyond my comfort zone that I shocked both myself and those who loved me most. All I knew is that I wanted to be with the man I loved. I never expected my life to become that of a serial expat. As well as living in Libya, we’ve also lived in Russia, Qatar, Angola, South Africa and Tanzania together. In fact, my home is still in Tanzania; repatriation to the UK is just a temporary move for a project I am working on, and I fully intend to return to Dar es Salaam and my wonderful husband in just under six months from now.

We’ve been gone such a long time…

I’m surprised at how much I’ve grown to love my new lifestyle. I’d never wanted to travel or live abroad before I met my husband, but now I struggle with the idea of ever “going back to Kansas” permanently (not that I don’t think I will one day!). I’ve discovered that life can be different from what I was brought up to believe. If choosing the expat life has meant I’ve had to say goodbye to any dreams I had of the picket fence, the family home, the stable job—that isn’t going to happen, at least not for a while—it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

Living in six countries in four years, I’ve learned to adapt to change. Nothing stays the same, and I’ve had to be flexible. That flexibility doesn’t just apply to where we live and work, or what our holiday plans are. I’ve also had to learn that there is not just one way of doing something, especially once I started working for a South American company in the Middle East and now in Africa. I’ve had no choice but to get my head round different ways of doing things that I used to believe we do best “at home”. As a Brit working with people from different parts of the world, I’ve often felt as though my colleagues and I weren’t talking the same language when it came to business practices and relationships. But I’ve come to see that instead of believing the British way is right, it helps if I can open my mind to other approaches, some of which may work if you’re willing to give them a try. With time I’ve been able to overcome the differences and pick up skills that will no doubt help me in future.

No place like home?!

Repatriation is bitter-sweet for me. I didn’t really want to return to the UK right now, but circumstances have dictated otherwise. Having been gone from the UK for four years I’m really struggling with settling back in. Much of what I knew before now seems unfamiliar. My time abroad has coloured my behaviour and expectations. In a sense, I’m having to relearn some of that most basic stuff that I found so hard to let go of when I became an expat.

Oh dear! I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas!

I once thought huge shopping centres where I could buy everything I needed in one go were the perfect solution to hectic British life. Now I find myself shying away from the crowds of people, the flashy goods, and the elevated prices for things with a short shelf life. During my life abroad, I often missed the choices that were available to me in the UK, be it in the supermarket, on the high street, even on the television, but now I just feel overwhelmed and a tad spoilt by all the options. In adapting to new ways of living and thinking abroad, I no longer completely fit in the country I was born and raised in. Perhaps I need to look at this six-month repatriation like a new expat assignment and approach it like I would any other move. I need to be open to adapting. I need to forgive myself for not “feeling at home” immediately when I wouldn’t ask that of myself anywhere else. I’m incredibly lucky to have so many wonderful connections here in the UK. I expect it won’t be long before I feel more settled at home than I do after a few weeks. One thing I do know: the call of expat life hasn’t quietened yet.

* * *

Thank you, Amy, for such an honest, heart-felt account about what it feels like to go home again, if only for half a year. It’s interesting that you’re now having to apply the adaptability you learned from expat life to feeling more at home in your native UK. Readers, can you relate to what Amy says?

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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Linda Janssen on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home

Linda Janssen author photo; the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Linda Janssen author photo; the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a brand new series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. To kick it off, we are delighted to have Linda Janssen at the Displaced Nation for the first time. As many of you know, she blogs at Adventures in Expatland and is the author of  The Emotionally Resilient Expat. Until recently, she was an expat in the Netherlands. Without further ado, here is Linda’s riff on the classic tale.

—ML Awanohara

Follow (your own) yellow brick road…

For me, moving abroad has always been a matter of “not if, but when”simply a natural evolution of how life has unfolded. I’m married to an adult Third Culture Kid, and we both have studied and worked in and around the international arena throughout our careers. We always looked for an opportunity to take the next obvious step of moving our family overseas to live in another culture.

I can certainly see The Wizard of Oz as an apt metaphor for what we were seeking (i.e., the movie’s characters searching for brains, courage, heart and home). We wanted to soak up as much knowledge, information andmost importantly—firsthand experiences about this incredible world we live in, and our place within that. We wanted to go beyond the “what if” stage of dreaming about making such a move, muster our courage to go outside our comfort zone and just do it. There was such a strong emotional pull to embracing the wayfaring soul within us, we felt compelled to heed this call of the heart.

Unlike Dorothy, though, I had a growing sense that home is wherever you make your life, and I looked forward to learning how that might carry over in a different culture.

“You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” – Glinda

Throughout the years we lived in the Netherlands and during these early months of repatriation, I’ve reflected continually on lessons learned—many of which will reverberate for the rest of our lives. In that respect, I think the overarching insight I’ve taken away from our cross-cultural experience is that lessons are never simply learned and put away. We learn and relearn and learn anew from our life experiences; like the turning of a kaleidoscope, the prisms offer us alternative perspectives and new ways of viewing ourselves and our lives.

Living in another culture afforded wonderful opportunities to learn to live more in the moment amid the barrage of new experiences, a deeper sense of our common humanity despite nuanced differences, and even some difficult challenges. It taught me about a tiny slice of our world, but also so much more about myself and my place in it.

Another lesson that echoes is the importance of relationships, not only of family and friends, but of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to make the connections with others which ground you in your life. It’s easy for us to fall into the trapoften unconsciouslyof feeling as though we’ve got these social/emotional connections covered. It’s when we’re complacent about developing new relationships that we risk being blindsided by loss of people and places which matter to us, or of biding our time until the next move.

There’s no place like home?!

In some ways, yes, absolutely, there is a sense of belonging experienced in returning to our own culture. But there can also be moments of alienation and feeling apart from or not in synch with aspects of that as well. We’ve found treating repatriation as we would a new cross-cultural experience has helped, because both we and the people/culture around us have changed in the intervening years, and I think that’s a healthy attitude to have throughout life.

Returning to the United States has deepened my understanding that while home does have elements of place within it, it is our loved onesfamily and closest friendsthat make a place “home.” We feel that this is our home-base, where we want to be and return to, from which we will launch ourselves on new adventures in the years ahead. We’re part of a larger global community, and that’s reflected in our connectedness with others here and around the world, and my husband’s and my recent decisions to pursue careers in international consulting.

“Not in Kansas any more” feelings?

So far, there haven’t been any particularly cataclysmic events to speak of, more a series of small moments when we’re reminded we’re in new territory. After all, life is a series of cross-cultural experiences, isn’t it?

* * *

Thank you, Linda! And thanks for being so willing to trade the Alice in Wonderland meme (something your blog has in common with ours) for the Wizard of Oz! Readers, any comments or questions for the extraordinary Linda? After reading this, I am harboring the suspicion that Linda is actually Glinda—the Good Witch of the expat world! On that note, be sure to check out her book, The Emotionally Resilient Expat, which is chock full of material about how to engage, adapt, and thrive across cultures.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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