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TCK TALENT: In response to “Where are you from?” a few more TCKs wax poetic

Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is back with a second round of poems composed by Third Culture Kids in answer to that vexed “where are you from?” question.

Hello Displaced Nationers, global nomads, expats, Third Culture Kids and other curious travelers! Since the last time my column appeared, I trust you have moved on from an enjoyable summer (or winter, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere) to a splendid fall (or spring).

In celebration of the change in seasons, I’d like to present the second post in my series of TCK poetry here at the TCK Talent column. If you missed the first, be sure to check it out here. As I explained then, the poems are the work of a group of 11th and 12th graders at an international school in Malta. Their teacher wanted them to think more deeply about what “home” means for them, given that they are all growing up in more than one country.

Perhaps because I never even lived in the country of my ancestry (Lebanon), I find it endlessly fascinating to read what these young people had to say in response to the fundamental TCK question: where are you from? The older I get, the more I realize that, although there are places I feel more connected to and that hold a big piece of my heart, I’m definitely not “from” any of these places. I don’t belong entirely to any of them.

And by now I’ve also grown used to the bittersweet flavor of living in-between. At the same time, I feel confident that, given the choice, I would do it all over again—because the sweet far outweighs the bitter.

See what you think of the poems below, readers. Are the young writers on the road to the place where I am now: can they taste more sweet than bitter?

* * *

Where I’m From
By Arabella Ovesen

I am from the tall coconut tree
towering over a blue sea
where the Rhum Runner runs
under the midnight sun.
I’m from the yellow, luxurious castle
Azzurra where father taught me to dazzle.

But one day we went up north,
back to the Vikings’ home
where they work back and forth
in a frozen zone.
And that day, I lost my
Spice Ilse throne.

I’m from the pure white snow
of the Northern Pole.
From being surprised;  
At the age of fourteen,
they didn’t want to survive.
I’m from time being slow, dark.
A place where Caribbean purity
lost its innocence,
and left a burnt mark.


Arabella is from Grenada; she has also lived in Malta and Sweden.

Where I’m From
By Clarissa Meyringer

I am from trams
From steel and cement
I am from cold, glistening snow,
It feels like whipped cream.
I am from the towering pines,
giants whose evergreen leaves
were sharp like knives.

I’m from horses of stone
From Fabio and Ben
I’m from the jokers
And the loners
From turning and turmoil
I’m from shadows,
Seen, never heard or spoken of.

I’m from the shallow sea, crystalline.
From the late night snacks
of my grandmother,
The dangerous soccer fan tales of my uncle
I’m from lore and religion, Supernatural;
A friendship with Luci, Castiel and an alliance with Crowley.

On a wall in my room is a drawing
Colors bright
A breathtaking sight
A crayon mess
I am from that place—
Chaotic and free—
Everchanging.

Clarissa is Austrian-Italian; she was living in Malta at the time of writing.

Where I’m From
By Gianluca Chincoli

I’m from the mixed sounds of farm animals
The mud, those painful marble stairs, and a giant old farmhouse.
I am from fresh air and immense woods
Extending in all directions like a green ocean.

I’m from those two spiteful creatures
That made my life a horror and a fight since the beginning.
I am from big toothless smiles to every stranger
And all those cheeky jokes we crew of three planned every day.

I’m from the wind of the night and the day,
Warm and cold, strong and weak like a zephyr.
On those plastic crafts with sails it was always a tough adventure
But the prizes were always priceless.

I’m from the screamings of my father
New experiences, like no one else in the world.
I am from the orange porch of golden sunsets,
Where the wolf was acting drama in front of the innocent children.

From Italy, Gianluca has been living in Malta.

* * *

We love to hear from our readers, so please leave any thoughts, questions, suggestions, and yes, poetry in the comments!

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents, Dounia Bertuccelli has lived in France, UK, Australia, Philippines, Mexico, and the USA—but never in Lebanon. She writes about her experiences growing up as a TCK and adjusting as an adult TCK on her blog Next Stop, which is a collection of prose, poetry and photography. She also serves as the managing editor of The Black Expat; Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine; and is a freelance writer and editor. Currently based on the East Coast of the United States, she is happily married to a fellow TCK who shares her love for travel, music and good food. To learn more about Dounia, please read her interview with former TCK Talent columnist Lisa Liang. You can also follow her on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
All photos from Pixabay except:
– Photo of Rum Runner boat in Grenada: 1252 Rhum Runner II in Grenada (19), by Mark Morgan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
– Photo of Italian football fans: AC Mailand – VfL Wolfsburg (2:2), by funky1opti via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
– NOTE: The final photo (from Pixabay) is of a hiking path in the Garda Mountains, in northern Italy.

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WONDERLANDED: “Can you make me a Manhattan?” by A. Spaice

Can you make me a Manhattan Collage

Drink a Manhattan at Eat Me in Bangkok. Photo credit: “Alice 15,” by AForestFrolic via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Eat Me Restaurant, Bangkok; Manhattan cocktail via Pixabay.

A couple of days ago, we wonder-landed in Phnom Penh with serial expat writer, artist and sometime photographer A. Spaice. She told us falling down rabbit holes in Europe and Asia has sparked her imagination in untold ways—not least by convincing her that a Mad Hatter’s tea Party would not be complete without champagne and an opera singer.

Spaice ended her musings on the expat writer’s life on this fittingly dramatic note:

Knowing it’s the connection that I write for now, instead of the “art,” I’m moving into a different channel. I trust this current, because it feels good. It moves, it flows. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, it even likes to dance.

Today she offers a sample of her work that seeks to connect with others who have wonder-landed and lived to tell the story—whether in words, photos, or other forms of creative expression. It’s an except from her short book Bangkok, which she produced as a kind of roman à clef after taking a trip from her current home of Phnom Penh to the Thai capital. Bangkok marks the first in an unconventional short book series she is planning, titled n+1.

Cover art for Bangkok, by A. Plaice.

Cover art for Bangkok, by A. Spaice

* * *

Excerpt from Bangkok

The story principally concerns Karin Malhotra’s attempt to reconnect with an old female friend in Bangkok, Thailand, the Land of Smiles, only to discover they are no longer that compatible. But in this passage, Karin is about to meet someone new, another displaced creative, a magazine editor who has professed an interest in her work…

“CAN YOU MAKE ME A MANHATTAN?” I asked, truly wondering. “Of course.” This was supposed to be the best bar on this side of Bangkok, according to the gay couple that seemed like good people to ask the day before. I wanted a comfortable place. Not too conspicuous, not too loud. But I didn’t expect it to have the kind of name it did. Eat Me.

Still, the guy from the magazine had said “yes,” to meet me there. I muttered something about the name and how I’d heard about it from a bunch of people (two being a bunch) and thought it could work for a conversation space.

He was taller than I’d pictured, and seemed like he might have been French, because of the two-kiss thing that the Europeans like to do when they meet you for the first time. For some reason, he was extremely close to the lips on the second one, but that was kind of flattering, in a way, because he had a rich dark musty scent and I rather liked it.

“So,” he said. “You’re Karin Malhotra. We meet at last.”

At last? Hadn’t we just talked online like, twice? Business conversation making, that was the agenda today.

“Tell me about what you do.”

Oh, boy. Here it was. The test. I hadn’t really prepared for this. I was going to have to wing it. Really, at the end of the day, pretty much everything good that’s come to my life has come of winging it, I realized. With that thought in the forefront of my mind, I got into character. “I make space. I know that might sound odd, but I was meant to be an architect. Designing physical spaces with bricks and glass and maybe new materials but not concrete because in Kyoto I got a giant magazine with Tadao Ando teahouses all in these sad greys which got me depressed for a while because the ones they have in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai and stuff? They have these lovely bamboo colors and textures and earth tones. Which is better. Anyway, I didn’t become an architect for lots of reasons, the biggest one being that I don’t like projects that take more than three or four months to finish. With books, you know, you can take years to write books, but I got into eBooks and nothing more than like a two-hour read, you know? People like that. Short and sweet.”

“Uh-huh.”

“People like it because we are so time-poor right now. Modern people, that is. I’m talking about the malaise of the Western progressive world, where we have books and medicine but we have nothing to get happy about because our souls aren’t nourished properly in the time we’re growing up.

“What I’ve been doing, what I’ve just started since putting the brakes on my own design studio, which you’ll never believe this but is the second time I’ve done that. The first time I just felt compelled to do the same thing again, when we moved from Seattle to Durham NC. Durham is in North Carolina. Have you been there?”

“No. I rarely go to America. I can’t say that I’d ever want to live there, and visiting is a trial.”

“So you’re actually from…”

“Vienna.”

Oh. Memories of college.

Schubert.

Nabokov.

A bottle of Sauvignon blanc.

“Yes, I knew someone from your country once.” I stammered. I wanted to forget about that, but you can’t really forget about those ones you fall for at first sight. Why was I talking about that, though? That was weird. “He was a colleague.” A lie. But… so?

“Where did you work together?”

Shite. I was going to have to keep going with this one? “Oh, just a small firm in Tokyo. They did architecture, but had a base in Los Angeles. I thought I’d make it to Los Angeles because I knew my husband was big into the West Coast, drier air and all. But we wound up in Seattle. It took a while to get there from our time in Japan, though.”

“I love Japanese teas, they are the best.”

“I prefer Darjeeling to everything, personally. But I do love those whisks from those places they have in Kyoto.”

“Are your genetics from India?”

Wow. That was a first. No one put it that way before. Are my genetics from India?

“Yes,” I said. Not barking at them that I’m from the outskirts of Detroit. I hate the where-are-you-from question but I still ask other people, for some reason. I guess it’s habit? Smalltalk.

My bar companion brushed his dark brown hair with his hand, and I noticed that it had a few stray grays. This was interesting. When did I ever think men with gray hair could be attractive? This was news. Maybe it had something to do with turning almost-forty. A round number.

“I have never been to India,” said Glenn. He had a really long last name that I couldn’t pronounce, much less remember to spell. What was the custom in Austria when greeting someone? Was it two kisses like the French, or three like the Swiss? I tried to remember how it had been in those couple of weeks with

“But I intend to go. This winter, in fact.” Glenn was all business, and that reminded me to focus. Not on his hair and his hands and his blue eyes, so puzzlingly deep, but the agenda. “I have to get more writers from that part of the world.”

“You do?”

“Yes. We want to diversify the magazine. It’s far too European for its own good. I really want to bring in some new voices. From afar. From the East. That’s why I contacted you. You seem to have… an Indian-sounding name. I’m sorry… I guess I just assumed…”

“Oh, that’s fine,” I said, waving it away. The truth was it wasn’t fine. Why did my stupid name have to make me into an Indian person automatically? I’d been there enough times to know that the gender bias there is ridiculous and horrid and people aren’t nice within their families, especially to daughters. Goodness knows I’d put up with enough of that growing up with my mother. My complicit brother and father, standing by while she’d hurl psychological abuse upon stones. I hated thinking about those days, and pushed aside the thought as if it were one of Glenn’s locks. I had to stop myself from reaching out to touch his crown, to see if he might notice that kind of action. Just out of curiosity, I’d say, if he asked. Not trying to get with you or anything. Just like the look of you, and enjoy studying your features. High, strong cheekbones made him look a little feminine, but his hands were rough from, what? Magazine work couldn’t possibly be physical.

“Were you always in the publishing industry?”

He took a sip of a new drink that arrived, a tall slim glass that contained a mojito. Kind of a girly drink, wasn’t it?

“No,” he said. “I was a joiner in the past.” “A what?” “Joinery. It’s a kind of carpentry, but specialized. I trained in Germany for it, for about four years. That’s where I met my partner.” “Your… partner?” “He’s a joiner, too, yes.” He. I recalibrated, and quickly. “Ah.”

The waiter came around and saved me. “Another drink?”

* * *

Readers, what did you make of this portion of A. Spaice’s expat-life story? Among other things, I think she has nailed the down-the-rabbit-hole feeling of no longer knowing who you really are or anyone else is, once you have wonder-landed.

Interested to read more of Bangkok? It’s available for purchase at Gumroad and Amazon.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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For this Salzburg-based New Englander and fine-art photographer, a picture says…

Kosovo selfie by Dave Long

Morguefiles; Kosovo selfie by Dave Long.

Hello, Displaced Nationers! I am standing in for A Picture Says… columnist James King, who unfortunately can’t be with us this month. James left the choice up to me, so I’ve extended an invitation to Dave Long, a U.S.-born photographer living in Salzburg, Austria. I discovered Dave through his involvement with under a grey sky…, the personal Web site of Paul Scraton, a Brit living in Berlin, Germany. Paul plans to produce a quarterly journal called Elsewhere, as reported in a recent Displaced Dispatch.

(What, not a subscriber to our esteemed Dispatch? Get on the list NOW!!)

Dave specializes in commercial and fine-art photography, with an emphasis on dramatic landscapes, extreme sports and historical architecture.

I was further intrigued upon visiting his photography site, where I discovered he has just self-published a book called Daheim Away from Home, available on Blurb.com. Daheim is German for “home”, and Dave explains that after 15 years of living in Salzburg, a “city full of cultural and historical wonder,” he “has finally come to terms that this truly is his new home.”

He also says that he wrote the photo captions in a “mix of English and German that is the reality of everyday life for an expatriate.”

And now it’s time to meet Dave and hear which of his photos he thinks speak at least 1,000 words.

Hmmm… But are these speaking in German or English—or both?! Let’s find out, shall we?

* * *

Welcome, Dave, to the Displaced Nation. Let’s start as James usually does, by asking where you were born and when you spread your wings to start traveling.
I was born and raised in Massachusetts, USA. My folks split up when I was ten and I bounced between two houses every other day/weekend for several years. I think that set me up for the flexibility you need when traveling. After hosting an exchange student from Switzerland who ultimately became a great friend, all I wanted to do was go abroad and learn a second language. By the time I got to college, I was already looking into semester programs in Europe. After a few adventurous bus trips across America, I finally left U.S. shores in 1999. With snowboarding as a top priority in those days, I wound up in Austria.

“High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…”

Is that where you’re living now?
Yes. Fifteen years later, two new languages and my own tricultural family, I am living in Salzburg, a small city nestled into the northern ridge of the Alps.

I think we’ve all heard of it thanks to Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music. But I’m curious, why did you choose Salzburg as your base?
The city is bursting with cultural flair, historic relevance, architectural splendor and immediate access to crystal clear lakes and imposing mountains. Not to mention the best of all four seasons. Basically everything a budding photographer could dream of. My wife, also from elsewhere, found a great education here, and we’ve both been fortunate to find good jobs. We’ve never had a reason to leave.

Wow, it sounds as idyllic as it looked in the film! I understand you’ve lived in Austria for 15 years. How many other countries have you visited during that time?
Nearly every country in the EU plus Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and Tunisia. And, though I’ve only lived in Austria since leaving the United States, I’ve spent extensive time in Switzerland and in Kosovo on account of friends and in-laws.

“I’ve always longed for adventure/To do the things I’ve never dared…”

And now I’m excited to get into the substance of our interview, the photos, especially as I’ve been to your photography site and find your work pretty amazing. Let’s start off by having you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of the so-called “displaced” life of global residency and travel.
I’ve often traveled the Balkans, visiting friends and more recently, in-laws. I took this first shot in Prishtina, Kosovo, in 2007. It captures the moment when I realized that I would never have seen a United Nations SUV that had been dirtied by actual service in a war-torn region,had I failed to venture beyond my small town in New England.

“Peace Keeping Is Dirty Work,” by Dave Long

Definitely a “You’re not in Kansas any more” moment! What’s next?
High in the Alps, at a friend’s cabin in the forest, our mixed group of Austrians and Americans ultimately turned to light-painting after more than a few rounds of local Schnapps. I’ve found nostalgia to be a rare, but welcome, companion during my life abroad.

“Austria—Schnapps and Nostalgia,” by Dave Long

Having been abroad for as long as you, I can really relate to the nostalgia so wonderfully expressed in this shot. And your last one?
Playing lead guitar with an Austrian brass band to rowdy crowds at rural beer tent festivals was definitely not something I envisioned when I left home years ago. Had I known how much fun it is, I probably would have left even sooner.

"Austria—On Stage at Beer Tent," by Dave Long

“Austria—On Stage at Beer Tent,” by Dave Long

What a fabulous photo!

“These are a few of my favorite things…”

Moving on: Tell me the top three locations where you’ve enjoyed taking photos thus far—and can you offer an example from each place?
I love taking photos no matter where I am! If I had to choose, though, it would be:

  1. The Balkans, for their mysterious mountain landscapes, breathtaking shores and a tragic history you can often read from the walls of buildings;
  2. New England because I spent the first 20 years of my life there and now return as a traveler who views everything through the eyes of a photographer;
  3. And finally Salzburg, because it’s nearly impossible to take a bad photo here.

And now for the examples. Here is Struga, Macedonia, in the late afternoon, which brings out the raw beauty of this historic lake town.

“Struga—Raw Beauty,” by Dave Long

Next I’ll share a photo of Lowell, Massachusetts. Growing up nearby, I never paid much attention to the red brick factories. Now they seem like original backdrops in Hollywood films about the industrial revolution or working-class boxing legends.

"Lowell—Brick Reality," by Dave Long

“Lowell—Brick Reality,” by Dave Long

Finally, I offer two from Salzburg. Here is one of an Austrian girl in traditional dress reaching out across space and time to grasp the hand of a boy from an immigrant family. (Unfortunately, that’s a politically sensitive topic here, and all over Europe, these days.) I captured it while testing a new lens at Salzburg’s version of the Oktoberfest (called Ruperti Kirtag).

"Salzburg—Time and Space," by Dave Long

“Salzburg—Time and Space,” by Dave Long

The second one is a staged photo shoot with an athletic friend of mine showcasing not only the unique layout of the city but the quality of life for those who live here. My friend claims it’s more fun to run through the cobblestone streets Mozart once roamed than on a treadmill in a stuffy fitness studio. (I don’t run so can only take his word for it.)

“Salzburg—The Runner,” by Dave Long

I love seeing the range of the places where you’ve been—definitely speaks to the displaced life! Okay, time to move on an ethical question. I know the last photo you shared was staged with a friend, but I wonder: do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so?
I’d be concerned about a photographer who didn’t sense the importance of a subject’s privacy. That said though, some of the best street photos are those that capture a person’s candid nature. This sort of photography is difficult in Europe because the laws are extremely restrictive. I’ve found the best approach is to take the photo you see, then approach the subject in a friendly way, explain you’re a photographer and that the person has just created or been part of a unique/beautiful/extraordinary moment that you captured. If they ask, share the photo and if it works out, ask them to sign a model release so you can publish the photo later.

“How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”

And now over to the technical nitty gritty. What kind of camera and lenses do you use?
From 2005 to 2008 I was the editor in chief and co-founder of “packed magazine,” a free bimonthly magazine distributed at hostels all over Europe. We wound up acquiring a Sony a100 for the magazine, the first SLR Sony released after taking over Minolta. I’ve been a Sony man ever since, having owned the a700 and a77. I’ve also stuck to prosumer lenses from various brands because so far that’s all I’ve ever needed to get the job done. It’s always been important for me to have the full focal range from 8mm fish-eye up to 300mm tele in various forms of primes and zoom (those are aps-c focal lengths). I love my kit, but I’m keenly looking forward to building a new set based around Sony’s compact full frame a7 line of e-mount cameras and lenses. I’m slowly and stubbornly learning (admitting) that full frame bodies simply produce a level of quality that just isn’t possible with an aps-c sensor.

I’m not sure I followed that last part, but I’ll leave it to others, more technical than I am, to work out. What about post-processing software?
I only shoot in RAW format and post-process in Camera Raw, Photomatix Pro and Photoshop.

“I have confidence in confidence alone…”

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
For the traveler: Just do it! Seek the unknown. But also be open to the possibility of staying in a place that seems like it’s trying to keep you if it feels right. For the photographer: Enjoy the mid-day hours by not planning on taking any photos. At the most, snap some candid street photos and macro stuff as it comes. Explore the destination by day and keep track of places you’d like to shoot later during the golden hour or early next morning (with your tripod!). Also never return to your hotel/hostel/etc the same way you left!

Editor’s note: All subheds are lyrics from Sound of Music songs.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Dave’s experiences? If you have any questions for him about his European adventure and/or photos, please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Dave and his creative works better, I suggest you visit his photography site. And don’t forget about his book, Daheim Away from Home.

(If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed by James King for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (2/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportWelcome back to the holiday party we are throwing for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Second in a three-part series (Part One here).

The second third of 2012 brought quite an intriguing (albeit as random as ever) bunch of nomads our way — intriguing because most of them have had experience with spouses from other cultures, suggesting that the point made by one of their number, Wendy Williams, about the globalization of love has some validity. They are:

  • Wendy Williams, the Canadian who is as happy as Larry living with her Austrian husband and their daughter in Vienna.
  • Suzanne Kamata, an American writer who went to Japan on the JET program, married a Japanese man, and made her home on Shikoku Island.
  • Isabelle Bryer, a French artist who feels as though she’s on a permanent vacation because of landing in LA — she’s lived there for years with her American husband and family.
  • Jeff Jung, formerly of corporate America but now an entrepreneur who promotes career breaks from his new base in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Lynne Murphy, the lovely lexicologist who landed in — I want to say “London” for the alliteration, but it’s Sussex, UK. And yes, despite not being the marrying type, she now treasures her wedding ring of Welsh gold!
  • Melissa Stoey, the former expat in Britain who, despite no longer living in the UK, has a half-British son and remains passionate about all things British.
  • Antrese Wood, the American artist who is busy painting her way around Argentina, having married into the culture.

I’m happy to say that three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I’ve spent less time at my desk and more time travelling since the publication of my book, The Globalisation of Love. Given the title, I guess I should have expected it.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
Since I have “gone native” in Austria, I will be skiing during the holidays. Yipppeeee!

What do you most look forward to eating?
I most look forward to eating a Germknödel, which is a big ball of dough filled with plum sauce and covered in melted butter. Apparently, it has 1,000 calories and I savour every last one. If no one is looking, I lick the plate.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. A Nile Adventure — cruising and other stories, by Kim Molyneaux — a light-hearted story of one family’s journey to and adventures in Egypt, both ancient and modern.
  2. Mint Tea to Maori Tattoo!, by Carolina Veranen-Phillips, an account from a fearless female backpacker — is there anywhere she hasn’t been?!
  3. Secrets of a Summer Village, by Saskia Akyil: an intercultural coming-of-age novel for young adults, but a cute read for adults, too.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
More time with friends & family and more writing, the two of which are completely counter-productive in my case.

Any upcoming travel plans?
I am only happy when I have a plane ticket in my pocket so there are always trips planned. Didn’t René Descartes write, “I travel, therefore I am” — or something like that? The year will start with Germany, Ukraine, Spain and Canada.

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I sold my debut YA novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, about a biracial (Japanese/American) girl who travels to Paris with her sculptor Mom, to GemmaMedia. It will be published in May 2013. I was also honored to receive a grant for my work-in-progress, a mother/daughter travel memoir, from the Sustainable Arts Foundation.

How will you be spending the holidays?
We are planning a little jaunt to Osaka between Christmas and New Year’s, but mostly, we’ll be staying at home.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
I’m looking forward to eating fried chicken and Christmas cake, which is what we traditionally have here in Japan on Christmas Eve. There are all kinds of Christmas cakes, but my family likes the kind made of ice cream.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. The Girl with Borrowed Wings is a beautifully written contemporary paranormal novel featuring a biracial Third Culture Kid. The author herself, Rinsai Rossetti, is a TCK. She wrote this book when she was a student at Dartmouth. It’s unique and lovely and captures that in-between feeling of those who live in lots of different countries.
  2. I also enjoyed I Taste Fire, Earth, Rain: Elements of a Life with a Sherpa, by Caryl Sherpa, an American woman who went on a round-the-world trip and fell in love with a Sherpa while trekking in Nepal.
  3. Oh, and Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm. Exercise more (same as last year). Also, I resolve to finish a draft of my next novel.

Last but not least, any upcoming travel plans?
Yes! I’m planning on taking my daughter to Paris.

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Since the interview, I launched my first book, The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook. It’s available online at most major book stores in both print and e-versions. And, we’re on the verge of launching Season 1 of our TV show, The Career Break Travel Show, internationally. It includes adventures in South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and Patagonia. We’re just waiting for the new channel to launch.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
After spending a quiet Christmas in Bogotá, I’ll head off to Washington, DC for my best friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Then I’m off to Texas to see my parents for about ten days.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
As far as food goes, I’m most looking forward to turkey and my dad’s award-winning BBQ.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
This year I read Dream. Save. Do., by Betsy and Warren Talbot. It’s a great book to help people achieve whatever goal they have.

Speaking of goals, any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Personally, I need to drop a bit of weight. I spent too much time writing and editing in 2012! Professionally, I want to see The Career Break Travel Show find its audience so we can head out to film Season 2!

Last but not least, any exciting travel plans?
I plan to travel for the filming of our second season (countries still to be determined). I also have the chance to go to Romania to volunteer at a bear rescue with Oyster Worldwide. It’ll be a mini-career break for me. I can’t wait.

* * *

Readers, this lot seems just as productive, if not more so, than the last one! Any questions for them — don’t you want to know their secret?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by the Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue — she wraps up 2012 by paying a visit to several of this year’s questioners: did they take her advice?!

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads.

RANDOM NOMAD: Jessica Festa, Backpacker, Offbeat Traveler & Locavore

Place of birth: Long Island, New York, USA
Passport: USA — but I’m planning on starting the papers for my Italian passport soon (my grandparents were born there).
Overseas history: Australia (Sydney): 2008. I’ve also backpacked through western Europe (for partying and food!), South America (for surreal landscapes and hiking trails), and Southeast Asia/China and Ghana (for volunteer projects).
Occupation: Freelance travel writer. I have my own site and also write for Gadling, Viator and Matador, among others.
Cyberspace coordinates: Jessie on a Journey — Taking you beyond the guidebook (travel-zine); @JessonaJourney (Twitter handle); Jessie on a Journey (FB page for backpacking community); and Jessie on a Journey (Pinterest).

What made you leave the United States for the Land of Oz?
I chose Australia for studying abroad because I wanted to be able to communicate in English — it was my first time going abroad alone.

On your site you describe yourself as a “natural backpacker.” How did you find living in one country?
It’s so different living somewhere than just traveling to it. When you have a part-time job, class schedule, gym membership, local hangout, go-to grocery store, etc, you really begin to feel a strong connection to a place. Sydney is such a great city. That said, I did not give up my backpacking habit entirely. I also traveled a lot through Australia when studying!

Tell me about the moment on your travels when you felt the most displaced.
I had many moments like that when I did a homestay for a month in Ghana, in West Africa. I was doing orphanage work, and absolutely loved the experience — but the culture is just completely different. Especially in city areas, it’s very loud and chaotic, and people will shout at you and grab your skin to feel if it’s real. They don’t get many tourists, so they’re just curious and wanting to get to know you — but sometimes it got a little too intense.

When have you felt the most comfortable?
In Sydney. I actually called my family crying the night before my flight back to New York, saying I had a new home and would not be returning. I had this camaraderie with my neighbors and so many connections to the community, I really felt like a local.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
My collection of paintings, jewelry and handcrafted items:

  • Ghanaian artwork and wooden masks
  • Handmade jewelry from Sydney and Bolivia
  • A handwoven purse from Peru
  • Alpaca socks from Ecuador
  • Banksy artwork from the UK
  • Masapán (bread dough art) from Calderón, Ecuador
  • A hand-sewn water-bottle holder from Thailand

You are also invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on the menu?

Appetizer: Locro, a thick soup with potatoes, avocado, cheese and vegetables from the Andes.
Main: A pesto pasta with some kind of meat mixed in from the Cinque Terre in Italy.
Dessert: Salzburger Nockerl, a sweet soufflé from Austria.
Drink: Malbec wine from Argentina.

I wonder if you could also add a word or expression from one or more of the countries you’ve visited to the Displaced Nation’s argot.
“No worries” from Australia. Such a great phrase for life. I have it tattooed on my foot!

This week you received a “Food Alice” from the Displaced Nation for your post about the first time you tried cuy, or guinea pig, in Ecuador — you said your dinner reminded you of your pet guinea pig, Joey, named after a school crush. So, does food play a big role in your travels?
For me it’s about trying new things. It doesn’t need to be in the fanciest restaurant or prepared by a Michelin chef, just something truly local. For example, in South America while many of the other backpackers went to guidebook-rated restaurants, I always opted for the tiny, simple, dimly-lit local hangouts. I ate 2- and 3-course meals for a $1, and the food was fresh and local. It was exactly what everyday people in the community were having, and that was important to me.

If you were to design a world tour based on food, what would be your top five recommendations?
1) Mendoza, Argentina — try asado (barbecued meat) with a glass of Malbec.
2) Cinque Terre, Italy — try the pesto pasta that I served to you in my meal!
3) Naples, Italy — try the pizza.
4) Cuzco, Peru — try the cuy (guinea pig) or, if you’re too squeamish, the lomo saltado: strips of marinated steak served over white rice and with French fries.
5) Munich, Germany — try the brätwurst. It is like no other sausage I’ve ever tasted, and tastes so much better in Germany!

To be honest, I’m not so sure about going to Cuzco for cuy.
Really? I love it. I’m planning to go back, and possibly move, to Peru or Ecuador in March. I’m already looking forward to getting my fill of cuy again!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Jessica Festa into The Displaced Nation? At least she’s not planning to serve us guinea pig for dinner — that’s a mercy! (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Jessie — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, which will most likely be on food. (No, we haven’t finished gorging ourselves yet!)

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img: Jessie Festa enjoying one of the biggest and best empanadas in all of Peru, at the Point Hostels in Máncora (May 2012).

RANDOM NOMAD: Wendy Williams, Canadian Expat in Austria

Place of birth: Northern Ontario, Canada
Passport: Canadian, and apparently I can live in Austria forever now with my unlimited Aufenhaltsbewilligung.
Overseas history: Austria (present), Germany, Switzerland, Slovak Republic, UK. I have also worked on a project basis for extended periods in Sweden, Tunisia, Holland and Estonia.
Occupation: Author*
Cyberspace coordinates: The Glolo Blog; The Globalisation of Love (Facebook page); and @WilliamsGloLo (Twitter handle)
*Wendy Williams is the author of The Globalisation of Love, one of the top books for expats in 2011.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Burning curiosity! I just love to know what is around the next corner — and the corner after that, too. My grandparents are all immigrants to Canada from Europe, and I guess listening to their stories about their homelands got me thinking that “home” can be very different and it can be anywhere.

Is anyone else in your family “displaced” besides your grandparents?
I am the only of my siblings who went back across the pond, as my grandmother would say — though they certainly come to visit me in Austria (and to ski!).

You’ve lived in quite a few places in Europe before moving to Vienna with your Austrian husband. Does any one moment of that time abroad stand out as your “most displaced”?
While vacationing on one of the Canary Islands, which belong to Spain, I fell ill and required an injection in my, ahem, gluteus maximus. It was 1995, when the so-called Turbot War took place between Canada and Spain — a dispute over fishing rights along the coast of Canada that challenged international diplomatic relations between the two countries. The doctor held up the rather long needle and said, “So, you’re from Canada are you? You like to fish?” I remember thinking, “Uh-oh, this is going to hurt!” It may be conjecture, but I felt the jab of the needle was particularly forceful.

Is there any particular moment that stands out as your “least displaced”?
It happens all the time while skiing in Austria. I grew up skiing on a tiny little bump of a hill and always dreamed about the long alpine slopes of Austria. I was lucky enough to marry an Austrian who is also a passionate skier, and we ski frequently throughout the winter. I feel right at home as I swish, swish down the slopes. I enjoy the après ski, too!

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Georgia in the Caucasus: Antique brass candle holders
From Murano, a series of islands in the Venetian Lagoon: A red Murano chandelier
From Morocco: An onyx stone bathroom sink
From Austria: An 18th-century Tyrolean kitchen table
From France: A yellow ceramic Pernot jug
My house is a diary of my travels through life, and as you can see, I plan to continue living that way on The Displaced Nation — even though it will entail dragging in a rather large and heavy suitcase!

You are invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on your menu?

Appetizer: My husband’s pumpkin soup with 100% pure Austrian pumpkin seed oil
Salad: Arugula mixed salad with blue cheese, grapes, cranberries, pear and pistachios — as served at the Loriot in Washington, D.C.
Main course: Viennese Schnitzel with potato salad … of course!
Dessert: My mom’s lemon meringue pie
Drinks: Bubbly to start — Crémant d’Alsace is one of my favourites; and for the main course, red wine from Burgenland in Austria.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
Actually, I would like to loan you an expression that my husband picked it up while living in Australia: Happy as Larry. (I picked it up from him while living in Austria.)

This month we are looking into parties and celebrations abroad. What has been your most memorable party or celebration since you became “displaced” from your native land?
The celebration of my 10th wedding anniversary, in 2008! My husband and I had about 50 friends in a small restaurant in Vienna that served elegant, locally-sourced organic food. An opera singer sang “‘O Sole Mio” so beautifully we thought the wine glasses would burst like in a cartoon. We gave a speech about our 10 years together and then announced what we had planned for the upcoming years — I was four months pregnant. The crowd went wild with excitement and gave a 10-minute standing ovation amongst congratulatory hugs, tears and high fives. It was total kitsch and corny Hollywood romance — and we loved every minute of it!

The Displaced Nation has just turned one year old. Can you give us some advice on themes to cover in our second year — anything you think should be on our radar?
Multicultural couples — what I call GloLo couples — usually meet in interesting ways. Chance and coincidence often conspire to bring two people together. It would be fun if The Displaced Nation could feature some stories from GloLo couples about how they met — and whether their displaced lives brought them together — and how they worked things out so they can stay together.

Editor’s note: In February Wendy Williams contributed a post to The Displaced Nation that has remained very popular: Why “expat” is a misleading term for multicultural couples.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Wendy William into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Wendy — find amusing.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, as she discovers that Oliver’s mum and her own mother have more in common than she’d realized. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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img: Wendy wrapped up against the elements — but is she in Austria, her adopted home, or Northern Ontario, her birthplace? (Hint: It was minus 25 degrees Celsius.)

Why “expat” is a misleading term for multicultural couples

Today we welcome author and “global love” expert Wendy Williams to The Displaced Nation. A Canadian, she lives in Vienna with her Austrian husband and their daughter. But is she an expat or an immigrant? Yes, that old chestnut! Except…Williams has a novel way of addressing it.

“At the risk of sounding like a snooty intellectual or immigrant diva, I think it’s time to clear up some confusion about the term ‘expat,'” I announced to a features editor recently.

“Oh no,” she warned me, “don’t get bogged down with tedious definitions and classifications. Just write something about the joys and the dramas of being an expat couple. And offer some good advice, too,” she added cheerily.

As the author of The Globalisation of Love — a book about multicultural romance and marriage — I am frequently asked for advice on “expat relationships.” And that’s my whole point today — what is an expat relationship, anyway? And are multicultural couples and expat couples one and the same?

An “expat couple” — what exactly does that mean?

Expat is a term that is bandied about, dare I say recklessly, to describe someone who is living in a foreign country and it is often used to describe couples where one or more partners are foreign born.

Exhibit A: I am Canadian and my husband is Austrian. We live in Vienna. Often we are referred to as an “expat couple” — or even as an “expat family” if our born-in-Austria daughter is included. Granted, I have pretty high standing as matriarch of my family of three, yet does just one “expat” in the family make us an “expat family”? My husband and daughter are living in the country where they were born after all. Other than a bit of English and a lot of peanut butter that I smuggle in from Canada, there is very little “expat” about them.

Yet expat is a label given to anyone with any kind of international flair.

So, time to get to the heart of this worldly weighty matter. An “expatriate,” in my understanding, as well as that of Merriam Webster and even Wikipedia, is “any person living in a different country from where he or she is a citizen.”

Expats usually start their international lives on assignment for a multinational corporation — unless they are Australian, in which case they begin by bussing tables in London’s grottier pubs or teaching Dutch guests to ski in Austria.

Typically, expats enjoy a long list of job perks to deal with the “stresses” of life abroad so they get free rent, paid trips back to the motherland and private school for the kids. Paying income tax seems to be optional. Expats are like visitors to a country: they deal with external issues like culture, language, and religion. Usually they live from one to five years in a given location “making the most of it” exploring the region and learning about the local culture. They always know they will be going home at some point, even if there are more international postings along the way.

Vs a “GloLo couple” — now there’s a precise label!

A multicultural relationship, by contrast, is one where each partner is from a different country or culture. Multicultural couples — or what I call “GloLo couples” in The Globalisation of Love (blatant self-promotion, I know) — deal with issues like culture, language, and religion within the relationship. GloLo couples do not usually have the job perks of expats because they work locally, so they pay their own rent, they have to pay taxes and their kids go to the local school.

Whether they live in his country or her country — or swing back and forth between the two countries every few years — there is a sense of permanence about the geography. The imported partner is an immigrant really, although “immigrant” has taken on some negative connotations in our nilly-willy live-here-work-there globalized society.

Barring bureaucracy and ludicrous immigration laws (Austria, this means you!), GloLo partners may even gain citizenship in the country into which they have married. At the risk of more shameless self-promotion, I call it the “globalization of love.”

So here is my point: An expat couple and a multicultural couple are not necessarily the same relationship constellation and should not be confused with one another. An expat couple can be a GloLo couple if they have different nationalities, however a GloLo couple is not necessarily an expat couple, even if one partner is an expatriate. It is only when a GloLo couple live in a third neutral country that they become an expat couple as well.

Aren’t you glad we cleared that up?

Meanwhile, the features editor still wants some advice on dealing with the joys and the dramas of being an expat couple though. Hmm, how about make the most of it, explore the region and learn about the local culture?

And my advice for multicultural couples? Well, there’s this book I should tell you about…

Question for readers: How do you define “expat” vs “immigrant” — and does Williams’s “glo-lo” term strike you as being useful?

WENDY WILLIAMS is the author of The Globalisation of Love, which was featured in The Displaced Nation’s post Best of 2011: Books for, by and about expats. You can learn more about Williams and her book at her author site, The Globalisation of Love.

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, an introduction to March’s Cleopatra(!) theme…

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BOOK REVIEW: “The Globalisation of Love,” by Wendy Williams

Writer Wendy Williams has described her new book, The Globalisation of Love, as being about “global love stories, inter-cultural romance and marriage.” A Canadian expat living with her Austrian husband in Vienna, it is of little surprise that Williams is interested in intercultural romances and her book could be best described as an expat take on the self-help, relationship genre — a Men Are from Mödling, Women Are from Vancouver, if you will.

As Williams writes,

…one of the most profound effects on globalisation is that people from everywhere are falling in love with people from everywhere else. There is a world of romance happening out there and it is called the globalisation of love.

That is certainly reflected in the readership of The Displaced Nation, where a large number of you, myself included, are involved in inter-cultural relationships or marriages so I imagine there are those among you or friends you know who may need this book with its advice and anecdotes on how to circumnavigate the occasionally choppy waters and discombobulating experiences of being, in Williams’s neologism, a GloLo couple. Williams explains the problems a GloLo couple may experience in dealing with parents-in-law, marriage ceremonies, immigration officials — all that “fun” stuff many of us have experienced.

Williams has a very conversational turn-of-phrase and peppers her book with references to romantic comedies, and I suspect her style will delight and grate in equal measure. Whether you find yourself charmed by the idea of a GloTini cocktail (recipe included in the book) is probably a fair indicator of whether you are going to curl up with The Globalisation of Love or hurl it across your living room.

With each topic tackled, Williams brings up case studies from a whole ranges of GloLo couples that she has interviewed. For me, this is undoubtably where the book is strongest as you find yourself either charmed or cringing at the experiences of each couple. Williams, also brings in the story of her own marriage, always in a disarmingly self-deprecating way, so at times The Globalisation of Love reads almost like a quasi-memoir.

I do think there are drawbacks. The over-classification of GloLo couples can quickly become confusing. At times I felt that I required some kind of chart to work out what sort of GloLo I’m defined under, though I suspect I probably snugly fit into what Williams classifies as “the scoffer.” The quick, breezy glossing over of the issue of mail-order brides did not sit comfortably with me, and I also thought the look at those who meet on the Internet was a missed opportunity. I’ve heard of a number of people who have found their partner via the Web — not through a dating site, but from regularly participating on a discussion forum centered around an area both partners have a common interest. This often involves those who previously wouldn’t have entered into a GloLo relationship, and perhaps have never once traveled out of their home country despite starting a relationship with someone on the other side of the globe.

While by no means a book that is going to radically change your opinion on self-help, relationship books, it is a worthwhile addition to the genre.

You can buy The Globalisation of Love here.

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, a displaced Q about the Ideal Christmas Holiday.

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I’ll (not) be home for Christmas: A holiday travel yarn

Today we welcome Kat Selvocki to The Displaced Nation as a guest blogger. A retired roller derby skater and yogini who has lived in New York City for the past six years, Selvocki is en route to Sydney, Australia, to start a new chapter in her life as a yoga teacher. In this travel yarn, she contemplates being in Europe for the holidays, without any family.

When I left Brooklyn on September 27, I had every intention of arriving in Australia by December 23. That way, even though I was away from my parents and brother for the first time ever on Christmas, I would at least be able to spend the holiday with my cousins on the other side of the globe.

One of the first rules of travel is that things never go exactly as planned. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve been in Europe for two months with no sign of purchasing a plane ticket to Australia.

By the time I finished the first leg of my travels — two weeks in Iceland volunteering on farms — I had a feeling I’d be in Europe longer than initially expected. My one hesitation was that, after spending thirty some years celebrating Christmas with my family, the idea of spending it alone scared the hell out of me.

I spent a solo New Year’s Eve in my Queens apartment in 2007; I’d decided I didn’t feel like venturing out and about into the craziness of New York that night. Though I don’t especially enjoy that particular holiday, there was something upsetting about wishing myself a happy new year. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake.

Central Europe works its charm

I arrived in Prague the day before Thanksgiving and was greeted by friends who immediately invited me to spend Christmas with them in Austria.

Prague is one of my favorite cities in the world, and the holiday season is one of the best times to be there, its Christkindlmarkts being among the best in Europe. Mugs of glühwein (mulled wine), tubes of bread coated with cinnamon, palačinky (Czech crêpes) dripping with lemon and sugar, the glimmer of fairy lights, handicrafts for sale, Christmas trees, live concerts — what’s not to like?

Though I didn’t have the space in my bags this time around to purchase any gifts at the markets, I was happy to return for some of my favorite Czech treats. As I perused the stands one chilly Saturday, I happily munched on lázeňské oplatky, large round spa wafers served with chocolate filling sandwiched in between.

The flavor brought back memories of Christmas Eve dinners of my youth, spent with my paternal grandparents. Though my grandmother and grandfather were both born in the United States, they continued some traditions passed down from their Polish parents. On December 24, my grandmother would serve a meatless meal at their house: fish that my grandfather had caught that fall, homemade pierogi (the Polish equivalent of ravioli, stuffed with potato and cheese), and vegetables from their friend’s farm.

We began the meal with those wafers, breaking pieces from each other’s opłatek as a symbol of forgiveness and the spirit of Christmas, as well as a reminder of the importance of family.

The ghost of holidays past

Prague was also where I spent my first Thanksgiving away from home, in 2002. I was on a study abroad program with American University, and all of us had gathered to celebrate at one of our favorite pubs, where our program director had reserved several long tables for us, piled with food — mostly Czech versions of traditional Thanksgiving dishes like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. The American ideas were there, but the execution and seasonings were distinctly Czech.

(At least this was an improvement over a Thanksgiving dinner that a friend of mine had during her Parisian semester abroad, where bowls of peanut butter were served alongside the turkey and roasted vegetables.)

At my table, my tall anarchist friend with a mohawk carved the turkey. After we’d feasted, several classmates took over the restaurant’s upright bass and piano as the rest of us cheered and clapped.

Most of us had met only three months earlier, but there was a tight bond between us that day.

I called home later in the evening. My cousin’s husband answered the phone, and at first he couldn’t believe it was me, all the way from Europe. He yelled to the rest of my family to get on the phone. Though I probably used up my phone card, it was worth it.

My mother came to visit me in Prague not long afterwards. She, too, couldn’t resist the siren song of all the beautiful handmade items at the holiday markets. She settled on a blown glass ornament covered with simple stars made out of straw. It still hangs on my parents’ tree today, an annual reminder of when she and I traveled together.

Holidays are all about the 3 Fs: Family, Friends & (especially!) Food

My family and I have always enjoyed the culinary traditions associated with each of the holidays, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. While Christmas was always tops for me as a kid, over the years my allegiance has shifted, and I now look forward the most to sharing the Thanksgiving meal with my nearest and dearest. (This may have been triggered by extended Christmas vacations in college, which so often seemed to end in ridiculous battles with my parents.)

Last month, I was lucky enough to celebrate Thanksgiving twice — each time with a mix of American travelers/expats and international friends.

At the first of these dinners, which took place in Prague, my Belgian friend asked the Americans in the room about the significance of Thanksgiving. While I think he might have meant historically, I replied with the answer that is truest to me: Thanksgiving is about eating lots of food and spending time with people you love.

On that occasion, friends new and old shared their talents in the kitchen. One friend made a traditional Austrian stuffing, while another roasted three Cornish hens and taught us how to make mulled wine. We mashed potatoes together — both white spuds and sweet — and roasted a colorful array of vegetables. I offered my baking talents with a pear-plum pie, inspired by a drink I’d had the night before.

The small kitchen of our rented apartment quickly filled with the mingling scents of cinnamon and cloves, parsley and chives.

I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

The lingering fairy tale of New York

Some of my holiday nostalgia also relates to my recent past — to the six years I’ve just spent living and working as a volunteer manager in New York City. There may be no place more magical than Central Europe, but there’s also something I’ll always miss about being in Manhattan during the holidays.

During each of the six years that I lived in New York, I would have periods of doubt over whether I wanted to stay. But then December would come along and I’d fall in love with the city all over again.

Some of my fondest memories are of walking around late at night gazing at the major Christmas displays in the shop windows. I preferred viewing the windows at that time, with fewer tourists around and the street lamps casting an atmospheric glow.

My favorites were always Bergdorf Goodman’s windows; I could stand and stare at those for hours and never quite take in all of the perfectly arranged details.

And, while my friends are currently lamenting the unseasonably warm weather in New York, I’m cherishing the memories of December nights when I would get off the subway in Brooklyn or Queens and walk home through a fresh layer of snow, surrounded by silent streets.

Volunteerism, burning bright

Still, the náměstís of Prague and plätze of Graz have proved to be a pretty good distraction, as has the volunteer work that I did in Iceland, when I first arrived in Europe.

After visiting Iceland in November of last year, I wanted to go back again and, after a bit of research, learned that there were a few Icelandic farms looking for volunteer labor.

Assisting with the end-of-season harvest — a time of year when farms need all the hands they can get: it seemed like the perfect way to experience one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen, along with learning new skills.

At the organic farm I went to near Egilsstaðir in northeastern Iceland, called Vallanes, there were 11 of us volunteering (4 Americans, 3 Germans, 1 Italian, 1 Tasmanian, 1 Singaporean, and 1 Belgian), plus two paid workers (1 German and 1 Icelander, in case you’re curious).

The friendships we all formed in the turnip fields and the kitchen were an unexpected bonus.

Though it was sad to leave when the season ended, the spirit of Vallanes remains with me as I contemplate the next chapter of my life, the adventure of setting up as a yoga instructor in Sydney.

The saying that your friends are the family you choose becomes more true for me every year. This year, the holidays might not be the same as they were when I was young, and while I miss my family and it’s hard to be away, I’m enjoying the opportunity to soak up — and create — new traditions of my own while sharing the ones with which I was raised. Traveling alone has opened my heart to a variety of new people and experiences.

All of it feels right somehow, at this current crossroads — which led me to leave the familiarity of my old job, New York, and the United States to pursue a new career halfway around the world.

This New Year’s Eve will see me in Vienna. I will not be alone but with a mix of expats and native Austrians, drinking red wine and watching fireworks — concluding a year of transitions and ringing in what I hope will be an exciting new life overseas in 2012.

NOTE: You can read more about Kat Selvocki’s travel adventures on her blog, Pierced Hearts and True Love, and sample some of her gluten-free baking recipes at Kat of All Trades. You can also hire her to give you personalized yoga lessons over Skype; details on KatSelvocki.com

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, a list of 2011 books for, by, and about expats.

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

Related posts:

Images (top to bottom): Staromestske namesti (Old Town Square in Prague) decked out for the holidays; waffle stall at the Christkindlmarkt in Graz; Bergdorf Goodman’s window, 2010; mulled wine in preparation for an Austrian Thanksgiving dinner. All photos by the multi-talented (yes, she does photography, too!) Kat Selvocki.

Gotta helmet? Time to burn some rubber, have a real travel adventure

The Displaced Nation has dedicated the month of September to the ideas within Robert Pirsig’s classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But enough with theory. What’s it really like to see the world from the back of a motorcycle — and what are us more timid types missing out on? Rubber hits the road today with Matthew Cashmore, aka The London Biker. Braaaaown… brraaoom…… rrooaaarr………. Take it away, Matthew! NOTE: This post has not been edited for British spelling.

There are some things in life that just have to be done. Laying on your back staring at the stars, wondering which ones are dead and which are still blazing. Getting so drunk on cider that you can no longer stand (perhaps that’s just me). Or travelling the world by motorcycle.

The last, many people would say, is optional. But it’s not. If you feel as I do, motorcycle travel is as essential to life as water or food, then there is only one way to do it.

I’m not the first to point out that seeing the world from a motorcycle is better than any other means of travel — just dig out a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or my personal favourite, Jupiter’s Travels, by Ted Simon.* You’ll only read a quarter of each book before you discover why this method of travel trumps the rest. You’re part of the world in which you’re travelling. There is nothing between you, the elements and the people with whom you interact.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see much of the world. I’ve backpacked, travelled by plane to amazing cities, jumped on buses or driven cars. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can match the experience of the wind rushing past your head trying to knock you off your bike, as you hurtle between towns and villages. And nothing can give you a greater grin than riding across the bay in San Francisco on the back of a growling Harley — safe in the knowledge that in a car this would be just another American highway.

If you don’t ride in the rain, you don’t ride…

It does take a certain amount of effort, though. This summer I did a short run from London out to Budapest via France, Germany, Austria and then into Hungry. The return leg took me through northern Croatia, Slovenia, back into Austria and up into the Alps over into Italy and then back over the Stelvio Pass into Switzerland, France and finally home. It rained the entire trip. Every single morning I was greeted with sheets of rain. I was beginning to suspect it was actually following me to Budapest. Each night I was soaked to the skin — even with the most expensive rain gear. Each night I was dog tired, and I really had to question what I was doing. What kind of a nut case chooses to spend his summer holiday riding a motorbike half way across Europe in the rain?

The reason I, and many others like me, do this is because you can ride for eight days in the rain — and then out of nowhere the clouds will clear and you’ll be presented with a road of perfect grace. A strip of tarmac that sings as you press on, a view that leaves you crying because of its beauty. Something you would never have seen had you been in a car or a bus. Something you’ve had to work to achieve — and it’s even more beautiful for that.

A parable of the hospitality shown to bikers

On the Budapest trip I found myself at the top of the Austrian Alps. I was running a day behind because I’d had a stomach bug back in Budapest. I was determined to make up that lost day so that I could still get over the pass into Switzerland ahead of a (yet another) rain front. I had been riding for ten hours, I had another six ahead of me, and I was already on my fourth change of clothes. I was incredibly fed up. Why on earth was I doing this?

I pulled into the first service stop I’d seen for about 150 miles, 2000 metres above sea level and hidden by cloud, rain and spray. Filling the bike up with petrol I spotted a small restaurant complete with a hotel — bliss, escape! I headed inside, dripping water everywhere. As I walked through the door I must have looked like a monster from the deep. I was dressed head to foot in every single piece of waterproof gear I could find — complete with an army surplus poncho. The restaurant manager took one look at me and ordered me onto a piece of lino, where I promptly created a rather large puddle. She demanded I remove my clothing leaving me standing there in just my thermals. I shivered, waiting for her next command. Did they have ways of making me warm?

My gear was whisked off (it came back nearly dry and very warm), and I was pointed in the direction of the shower and given a hot towel. I emerged a different man. Clean clothes, warm, and for the first time in two days, dry. Ushered to a seat, I took the opportunity to eat well — feasting on sausage and strudel, the best Austria had to offer. Buoyed by such amazing hospitality I got back on the bike and rode on. As I rounded the first corner the rain stopped and I hit Italy, sun, and the kind of twisty roads God clearly made for bikers.

I could say this was a one off, but the more I travel the world by motorbike the more I come to realise that the very thing that makes you vulnerable is the very thing that makes you approachable. It’s different if you’re travelling with other bikers, but when you’re on your own it’s a perfect combination of being totally exposed to the environment and more importantly to people.

This is what makes travelling by motorcycle so special. The openness, the access, the smells, the sounds, the people who are curious because you’ve rolled into town in something other than a bus or 4×4. If you want to experience, to imbibe, the world through which you travel…there is only one option. Gotta helmet?

* Suggested further reading:

Matthew Cashmore works in digital publishing. He keeps track of his “random thoughts” on his blog, The London Biker. He also has a YouTube channel, where he posts videos about his life on the road, camp cooking and related topics.

img: Matthew Cashmore in Budapest, July 2011.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, on the diner food that has played a part in many an American road trip.

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