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.
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 and—most 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 trap—often unconsciously—of 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 ones—family and closest friends—that 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?
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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!
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