The Displaced Nation

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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: Ruth Van Reken’s creative life as Adult Third Culture Kid

Columnist Doreen Brett is back, and she’s accompanied by someone whose “homes” have ranged from Africa to the American Midwest, and who knows better than any of us here what it means to feel culturally displaced. Hm, who else could it be other than the indomitable Ruth Van Reken? —ML Awanohara

Hello Displaced Nationers! It is my pleasure to present to you Ruth Van Reken, an expert in cross-cultural identity and globally mobile families. She is renowned internationally for her compassion, knowledge and insight into what it means to be a child growing up among worlds, otherwise known as a Third Culture Kid.

An American, Ruth was born in Kano, Nigeria, to missionary parents. Although her mom was raised in Chicago, being a TCK is a tradition on the paternal side of her family: her father, too, was a TCK (he was born in Rasht, Iran, then known as Persia, where his parents lived). It’s a tradition Ruth has continued: both her children and first grandchild are TCKs.

Among her many accomplishments, Ruth is co-founder and past chairperson of Families in Global Transition (FIGT), a forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them, the signature event being an annual conference. She is also the co-author, with David Pollock, of the now-classic Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, soon to be out in its third edition.

Ruth often speaks about issues related to the global lifestyle and has developed the website Cross Cultural Kids as a hub for children of refugees, immigrants, minorities, career expatriates, mixed race, and bicultural families. The way she sees it, not just TCKs but all children who have experienced a globalized upbringing or some form of displacement from their parents’ home/culture are forming a “new normal” in today’s globalizing world.

Now let’s hear about Ruth’s own experiences of living in various locations abroad—and how those locations have fed her creative life.

* * *

Ruth, I understand you’ve just celebrated your 72nd birthday. Happy birthday! And welcome to the Displaced Nation. As I mentioned just now, you were born and grew up in Nigeria. What I didn’t mention is that you lived in Liberia and Kenya as an adult, with your husband and family. How did you come to spend so much of your life in Africa?

Spending 13 years of my childhood in Nigeria was the result of my parents deciding to accept a teaching job in that country. Later, when I got married, my husband and I chose to live and work in Liberia—he as a pediatrician, and me as a nurse. It didn’t go quite to plan. I didn’t end up doing nursing because they were trying to use Liberians for nursing, and we couldn’t get visas to visit my parents in Nigeria even though I had grown up there and loved the country. It was postwar, and all the Nigerians cared about is that I had an American passport. When I finally got to visit my parents, it was a journey of clarification for me. Nigeria wasn’t my world. There had been big changes politically. There were soldiers in the airport. I still really loved the country but could see it wasn’t mine. Later we moved to Kenya.

Would you say it’s normal to live in this way?

For some of us, for whom the seeds are planted early, it’s normal to live like this. Some may think that it’s radical, or how would you dare. But for me it’s the way life is, and it’s good. My hardest move was from Kenya to my current home of Indianapolis, when I thought my travels are over! I’ve come to enjoy where I live right now, but at the time, I thought the international lifestyle was missing. Everybody’s lived here forever and is the same.

How did you keep from feeling isolated through your many moves?

Feeling isolated? I’m an EE (Extreme Extrovert)! There are always people, as long as you don’t demand that they have to be just like you. My hobby is that I like to talk, and I also like to go out, even if it’s to shop for groceries in a little mud hut someplace. So I never felt isolated. Africa is a very social environment. It’s warm all year. In Kenya I joined an International Women’s Club. We had a group of 17 women of 14 different nationalities meeting together every week.

Many of us expats or people who’ve grown up as Third Culture Kids gravitate towards global cities as that’s where we think we’ll find work and our “tribe.” Has that been your experience?

Chicago is quite a global city now, but it was very different when I first moved back home, pre-immigration days. My family lived in a neighborhood where everyone was segregated into traditional communities. That’s why, when I came back as a 13-year-old, everybody was from there and white, and although I looked like I should fit, I didn’t. That was a bad year for me. After one year, I did the chameleon thing and pretended to blend in. I would not tell anyone I was from Africa.

What about when you moved your own family back to the United States?

When my husband and I moved back to Indianapolis, we chose the suburbs as we were specifically looking at schools for the kids. I saw one school and thought, “Everyone looks the same. My kids won’t fit in here.” We found a school where the kids had many looks—a school with multi-nationalities and multi-backgrounds. I felt our kids are going to fit in here better, they have more space to be themselves. You know, somebody here once said: “You think you know everything and you’re so proud because you’ve been everywhere.” I was shocked and horrified. I told her:

“If I just try to be the suburban housewife, then I have a place. But if I ever let you know who I am, then I have no place.”

How did your life in Kenya compare to this?

Kenya was easier for me. When we were sitting with the other expats, we would often be talking about who we are and where they’ve been. That conversation was acceptable for that group. I realized that I don’t understand my neighbor’s job in tech, and he doesn’t understand mine, but we can be great friends on a million other subjects. You can make a bridge of the human story. The more stories we share, the more we connect in those spaces of humanity. In time, I found my space.

I know from reading your books that you think TCKs have special gifts.

I think the biggest gift of being a TCK is that I can connect, and I am sure you do too, to the humanity in people who don’t look like me, and who are from different backgrounds. We can connect with different cultures in some ways. We understand how much the human heart wants to belong.

Can you give us a concrete illustration of a work of yours that was nurtured out of the places you have lived in?

Although my parents were teachers for local schools, they sent me to an international boarding school when I was six years old, as was the norm, so I would learn American history and culture and be prepared for repatriation. I was there for three years, and after that I spent a year in the United States with my gran. Finally, my mother asked if I would like to be home schooled, so from fourth grade onwards, she taught me lessons in her classrooms in the Nigerian schools. I was able to connect to my family, I had Nigerian friends, I learnt the language and played games with them. Years later, when my husband and I had been in Liberia for some time, my daughter wanted to go to boarding school because all her friends were going there. I got depressed, with unresolved grief from my childhood. That was a discovery for me, of the impact of transition on my life. I started writing letters to my parents as if I were six years old again. These then became my memoir, Letters I Never Sent: A Global Nomad’s Journey from Hurt to Healing. Here’s an excerpt:

May 1958. “Today we’re leaving Africa… It’s unbearable to think that I may never again see my home or closest friends or the country that I love so much. It’s sort of like a death—to lose your whole world in one moment.”

Readers responded that they’d felt this way too. This was when I first heard of “TCK”. My first book wasn’t a conscious choice. My second book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, which I co-wrote with David Pollock, was bigger than me and my story. I traveled to 50 different countries for the TCK work.

And let me tell you about my home here in Indianapolis. When I first arrived, my life in boxes, I put up some African things on the walls. My daughter’s friend took it all down, and said you’re in America now. But my bookcase still has musical instruments from all around the world. Every culture makes music through four ways—percussion, string, wind, and brass. These are the same four ways to make music all over the world. This display, too, is a creative expression of my life.

You still live in Indianapolis. Does that city feed your creativity as well?

With immigration, I realized the world was coming to Indianapolis, but people here weren’t attuned to it (for example, in human resources and schools). I started seminars here, and with the help of some friends with organizational skills, my efforts grew into Families in Global Transitions (FIGT).

What’s next for you, travel-wise and creativity-wise: will you stay put where you are or are other cities/artistic activities on your horizon?

On September 8th, we will be releasing the third edition of Third Culture Kids, with more stories and more diversity of TCKs. My interest is in the innumerable ways people are growing up cross-culturally now. I think a lot of Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs) feel lost and aren’t feeling internally where they belong. Human beings need a place to fit, we need to find new ways to name identity so people can belong in positive ways. They should be able to say: Given the reality of my life, I can accept where I’ve come from instead of trying to fix what’s different about me.

Do you have any parting advice for your fellow ATCKs?

Come for the next Families in Global Transitions (FIGT). I think we find our tribe there. You don’t have to explain yourselves to the group. And whatever project you’re working on, that book, that website, there’s an empowerment to go back and continue and finish the writing, finish the project.

Ruth, your story resonates with me in so many ways! Thank you for sharing it.

* * *

Readers, any further questions for the amazing Ruth Van Reken on her thoughts about place, displacement, and the connection between the communities you’ve lived in and creativity? Any authors or other international creatives you’d like to see Doreen interview in future posts? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

STAY TUNED for this coming week’s fab posts.

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Related posts:

Photo credits:
Opening collage: 245 Kano City Nigeria 1995, by David Holt via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Chicago Skyline from Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois, by Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Waterside Stores (Monrovia, Liberia), by Mark Fischer via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); 774 Redbud Lane (Greenwood, Indiana), by Bart Everson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); photo of Kenya via Pixabay and photo of Ruth supplied.

Photo of girl via Pixabay.

Book covers supplied.

2013 Holiday Special: Notable books for, by and about expats

Looking for last-minute gifts—or have your holiday celebrations brought you to the point where you might need an escape for yourself?

In the tradition of looking back at the past year’s highlights, I present, on behalf of the Displaced Nation team, a list of books for, by, and about expats that were featured in some way on this site in 2013.

Click on the category that interests you:

  4. COOKBOOK (singular because we have only one!)
  • Books in each category are arranged from most to least recent.
  • Unless otherwise noted, books are self-published.

Go on, download a few! It’s the time of the year to be generous to one’s fellow human beings. That said, on the Displaced Nation it’s always the season to support the creative output of those who’ve embraced the life of global residency and travel.

* * *


Shemlan Ebook_coverShemlan: A Deadly Tragedy (November 2013)
Author: Alexander McNabb
Genre: International thriller
Synopsis: The third in McNabb’s Levant Cycle, Shemlan tells the story of a retired British foreign service officer who, dying from cancer, returns to Beirut in hopes of meeting the Lebanese love of his youth one last time. But then his past catches up with him, threatening to do him in before the disease does—until British spy Gerald Lynch gallops to the rescue…
Expat credentials: Born in London, McNabb has lived in the Middle East for more than a quarter century. He often receives praise for getting the historical and cultural details right in his books.
How we heard about: We encountered McNabb a year ago when we were doing a series of food posts! We love his books and are giving away Shemlan this month, as well as doing an offer for Displaced Dispatch subscribers on all three books in the cycle. Check it out!

ImperfectPairings_cover_pmImperfect Pairings (May 2013)
Author: Jackie Townsend
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: American career woman Jamie had not intended to fall in love—and to a foreigner no less, a man who tells her his name is Jack, short for John, but it’s really short for Giovanni. Insanely handsome and intense but unreadable, Giovanni has left a complicated family life back home in Italy. Is this more than Jamie signed up for?
Displaced credentials: In real life, Townsend is married to an Italian and has spent 16 years backing and forthing to her husband’s family in Italy.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara, who rightly or wrongly considers herself something of an expert on cross-cultural marriage, read the book on her Kindle and was so impressed with its depiction of cross-cultural relationship woes that she asked Townsend to be our featured author of November. Read the interview.

SuiteDubai-cover_dropshadowSuite Dubai (April 2013)
Author: Callista Fox
Genre: “New adult” lit
Synopsis: As Callista tells it, the book grew out of a story that entered her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?”
Expat credentials: Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. She went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. Now back in the United States, she thinks of herself as an adult Third Culture Kid, or TCK.
How we heard about: Noticing our fondness for serial fiction (see Kate Allison’s book below), Fox sent us a note saying she’d written a serial novel reflecting her experience of growing up in the Middle East. We responded by asking if we could publish her series in even smaller parts. Part 1 and Part 2 have already gone up, and there are six more parts to come in 2014. Warning: Highly addictive!

Libby'sLifeTakingFlight_coverLibby’s Life: Taking Flight (April 2013)
Author: Kate Allison
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: 30-something Libby Patrick is just regaining some post-baby control over her life when a change in husband’s job means they must move from their English home to Woodhaven, a town in rural Massachusetts. The book is Libby’s journal covering the first year of her life as trailing spouse.
Expat credentials: Born and raised in Britain, Kate has lived in the United States with her family for almost two decades.
How we heard about: We were the first to know! Kate is a founding member of the Displaced Nation and has been publishing regular episodes of Libby’s Life (on which the book is based) since the blog began. She has accrued countless fans, the most faithful of whom is Janice. (Libby to Janice: xoxo for your support in 2013!)

APlaceintheWorld_coverA Place in the World (March 2013)
Author: Cinda Crabbe MacKinnon
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: Third Culture Kid Alicia meets a young Colombian man at college in the United States. She follows him to Bogotá and the pair end up marrying and settling on his family’s remote coffee finca (farm) in the Andes. Educated as a biologist, Alicia revels in the surrounding cloud-forest. But then her idyllic life starts to unravel…
Expat credentials: Crabbe MacKinnon grew up in several countries as a military brat and diplomatic kid and, though she has since repatriated to the United States, still thinks of Latin America as home.
How we heard about: Crabbe MacKinnon commented on one of Elizabeth Liang’s “TCK Talent” posts and ended up becoming October’s featured author. Read the interview. We love her and her work, and are sure you will, too!

CoffeeandVodka_coverCoffee and Vodka (March 2013)
Author: Helena Halme
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: A Finnish family emigrate to Sweden in the 1970s and find themselves in turmoil, caused partly by the displacement, but also by the cracks in family dynamics. At its heart, the book reveals what it is like for a young girl to be uprooted and transplanted to a country where she doesn’t speak the language and is despised for her nationality.
Expat credentials: Halme grew up in Tampere, central Finland, and moved to Britain at the age of 22 via Stockholm and Helsinki, after marrying “The Englishman” (how she always refers to him on her blog, Helena’s London Life). She spent her first ten years in Britain working as journalist and translator for the BBC. She and The Englishman now live in North London.
How we heard about: Halme is a big favorite of ours! She was one of our earliest Random Nomads as well as serving as an expat style icon back in the days when we covered fashion. More recently, Kate Allison reviewed Halme’s first book: The Englishman: Can Love Go the Distance?, and we did a giveaway of Coffee and Vodka. And that’s not all: Halme’s latest book, The Red King of Helsinki, received an “Alice” Award in July. (As noted then, the Alices could hardly ignore a book of that title!)

MonkeyLoveAndMurder_dropshadowMonkey Love and Murder (February 2013)
Author: Edith McClinton
Genre: Adventure mystery
Synopsis: A jungle environment in Suriname (spider monkeys and all) is the setting for a closed-door mystery surrounding the death of the renowned director of the International Wildlife Conservation followed by the machete murder of one of the researchers. None of this bodes well for poor Emma Parks, who has joined the research project on a whim. (So much for that budding primatologist career!)
Expat credentials: MacClintock volunteered for the Peace Corps in Suriname for two years, and joined a monkey research project afterwards.
How we heard about: One of our Random Nomads, Patricia Winton, referred us to the now-defunct blog Novel Adventurers, where Edith was one of the writers. We invited her to guest blog for us about the muses behind her monkey mystery.

ArchangelofMercy_dropshadowArchangel of Mercy (Berkley – Penguin Group, December 2012)
Author: Christina Ashcroft
Genre: Paranormal romance
Synopsis: The first storyline in Ashcroft’s new series focusing on a group of angels and archangels and the lives of the people they come in contact with every day.
Expat credentials: Ashcroft is an expat Brit who now lives in Western Australia with her high school sweetheart and their three children.
How we heard about it: We encountered Christina online and asked her to be one of our Random Nomads for a Valentine’s Day special. In that interview, she said she attributes her success as a writer at least in part to her expat status: “I’ve often wondered whether my career would have followed the same route if we’d stayed in the UK. While I’ve always loved writing it wasn’t until we moved to Australia that I decided to to write with the aim of publication.”

SpiritofLostAngels_dropshadowSpirit of Lost Angels (May 2012)
Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Historical novel
Synopsis: Set against a backdrop of rural France during the French Revolution, the story centers on Victoire Charpentier, a young peasant woman whose mother was executed for witchcraft and who herself suffers abuse at the hands of a nobleman. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt aristocracy?
Expat credentials: Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years.
How we heard about: The redoubtable JJ Marsh (see below) interviewed Perrat on writing a location to life, for her monthly column, “Location, Locution.”

BehindClosedDoors_dropshadowBehind Closed Doors (June 2012)
Author: JJ Marsh
Genre: Crime mixed with literary fiction
Synopsis: A smart, technologically sophisticated mystery set in Zürich and surrounding countries, featuring a bipolar detective named Beatrice Stubbs, and quite a few surprises… NOTE: JJ Marsh was listed in the Guardian “readers’ recommended self-published authors” this year, for Behind Closed Doors.
Expat credentials: JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, she has finally settled in Switzerland.
How we heard about: We owe displaced author Helena Halme (see above) a king’s ransom for telling us about JJ, who since April has been contributing a monthly “Location, Locution” column. Don’t miss her posts under any circumstances! Highly stimulating and cerebral.

snowdrops_dropshadowSnowdrops (Anchor/Random House, February 2011)
Author: AD Miller
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Lawyer Nick Platt trades his dull British life for pushing paper in Moscow at the turn of the 21st century. He is soon seduced by a culture he fancies himself above. Snowdrops was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011.
Expat credentials: British born and educated at Cambridge and Princeton, Andrew Miller joined The Economist and was appointed, in 2004, to become their Moscow correspondent. He covered, among other things, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.
How we heard about: JJ Marsh interviewed AD this past July about bringing foreign locations to life in fiction.

odessa_brit_cover_smallMoonlight in Odessa (Bloomsbury, August 2010)
Author: Janet Skeslien Charles
Genre: Women’s fiction
Synopsis: With an engineering degree and perfect English, Daria longs for a life beyond Odessa, Ukraine. And then she moonlights for a dating agency that facilitates hasty, long-distance matches between lustful American men and impoverished Ukrainian women. Her big chance?
Expat credentials: Skeslien Charles went to Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Fellow, living through blackouts, heatless winters, corruption and so on. She stayed for two years before returning to the U.S. Then she found a job in France and met her husband. She now lives in Paris but leads a multicultural life. As she puts it: “The novel is set in Odessa, Ukraine. My agent is English. My editor’s assistant is Japanese-Danish, my copy editor is from New Zealand. I’m American. The book was written in France and typeset in Scotland. My first fan letter came from a Swede.”
How we heard about: JJ Marsh picked Skeslien Charles’s brain on “location, locution”, in her November column.


AddictedtoLove_cover_dropshadowAddicted to Love (April 2013)
Author: Lana Penrose
Synopsis: Penrose is the kind of Australian who throws herself wholeheartedly into adventure, which is why her years spend living in Europe have merited not one but three memoirs! This one is the third. In the first memoir (published by Penguin/Viking), To Hellas and Back, she marries the love of her life, an Australian Greek, and accompanies him back to Greece, only to find him becoming increasingly Greek and herself increasingly isolated. In the second, Kickstart My Heart, she moves to London, single and desperate to find love again. And in this third memoir, she returns to Greece, where she encounters a seemingly perfect man named Adonis. (Hey, she never gives up!)
Expat credentials: From Sydney originally (she is back there now), Penrose lived in Athens for five years before moving to London.
How we heard about it: We happened across Penrose online and asked her to guest-post for us a year ago on what it was like to spend Christmas in Greece. At that time, we also did a giveaway of her first memoir. We invited her back this past April to write about Addicted to Love.

MagicCarpetSeduction_cover_pmMagic Carpet Seduction: Travel Tales Off the Beaten Path (May 2013)
Author: Lisa Egle
Synopsis: Travel with the author to China, Latin America, Turkey and the Middle East, and watch while she takes risks off the beaten path, and dances with strangers in strange lands…
Expat credentials: Egle characterizes herself as a lover of offbeat travel. She’s been to 36 countries on five continents and has been an expat twice: in Ecuador for a year and half, and in Spain for a year.
How we heard about: We got to know Egle first through her blog, Chicky Bus, and when we heard she’d put out a book, asked her to be one of our featured authors. Read the interview.

Pilgrimage-Cover_pmRunning the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 Miles to Enlightenment (Volcano Press, January 2013)
Author: Amy Chavez
Synopsis: After losing her job at a Japanese university, Chavez undertakes a solo journey running Japan’s 900-mile Buddhist pilgrimage, a distance equal to running from San Diego, California to Oregon. A Buddhist priest who is also a friend gives her “cosmic tools” to take with her.
Expat credentials: American expat Amy Chavez has been a columnist for Japan’s oldest English-language newspaper, The Japan Times, since 1997. She lives with her husband and cat on Shiraishi Island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.
How we heard about: We interviewed Chavez about her pilgrimage, and what it took to write the book, in April.

Don'tNeedtheWholeDog_dropshadowDon’t Need the Whole Dog! (December 2012)
Author: Tony James Slater
Synopsis: In the summer of 2004, Slater went to Ecuador, thinking that the experience would turn him into a man. He went back to his native England fueled by a burning desire to do something that mattered—and, ideally, to get the heck out of England in the process. He dreamed of going to Thailand and becoming a professional diver. This is the story of what happened next.
Expat credentials: A Brit, Slater now lives in Perth, Australia, with his Australian wife.
How we heard about: Slater made himself known to us for failing to include his first book, The Bear That Ate My Pants: Adventures of a Real Idiot Abroad, about his time volunteering at an animal shelter in Ecuador, in our 2011 holiday round-up. He probably should have left well enough alone, though, as next thing he knew, we had him writing for the Displaced Nation. His post on the world’s best parties remains one of our most popular!

TruckinginEnglish-dropshadowTrucking in English (December 2012)
Author: Carolyn Steele
Synopsis: This is the tale of what happens when a middle-aged mum from England decides to actually drive 18-wheelers across North America instead of just dreaming about it. Nothing goes well, but that’s why there’s a book.
Expat credentials: Born and bred in London, Carolyn and her son are now Canadian citizens and live permanently in Kitchener, Ontario.
How we heard about: One of our featured authors in 2012, Martin Crosbie, sent Steele our way, and Kate Allison reviewed her book in March. Steele later contributed an amusing post to our “New vs Olde World” series, about the difficulties of mastering the Canadian “R”.

Finding-Rome-on-the-Map-of-Love_dropshadowFinding Rome on the Map of Love (September 2012)
Author: Estelle Jobson
Synopsis: When her Italian diplomat boyfriend gets posted to Rome, Jobson throws up her career in publishing in her native South Africa to accompany him. There, she reinvents herself as Signora Stella, a casalinga (housewife). The book captures a year’s worth of quirky observations about life amongst the Italians.
Expat credentials: Originally from South Africa, Jobson now lives in Geneva, where she works as a writer and editor.
How we heard about: Jobson was our featured author in February. Her book and sense of humor are terrific!

Travels with George Book CoverTravels with George: A Memoir Through the Italy of My Childhood (April 2012)
Author: Olga Vannucci
Synopsis: In five separate trips to Italy with her young son, George, in tow, Vannucci strolls and hikes through the landscapes of her Italian childhood. She looks at Italy both as local native and awed visitor.
Expat credentials: Born in Italy, Vannucci lived in Brazil and came to the United States to attend Brown University. She lives in rural New Jersey with her son.
How we heard about: Vannucci was our featured author in September. Read the interview. We loved this quote from her son: “Where are we going? How much longer? I have something in my shoe. I want to go back. Why are we doing this? Do you know where we are? Do you know where we’re going? Mammaaaaaaa!”

AreWeThereYet_cover_dropshadowAre We There Yet? Travels with My Frontline Family (May 2009)
Author: Rosie Whitehouse
Synopsis: A vivid, funny, and very human account of the author’s travels with her family through war-torn Europe.
Expat credentials: Whitehouse spent five years as a housewife in the war-torn Balkans married to a correspondent of The Economist, caring for their growing family.
How we heard about: We happened across Whitehouse’s work online and asked her to be a featured author last summer. Read the interview. She’s absolutely fascinating, as one might expect of the kind of woman who trails her spouse into a war zone.

HoneyfromtheLion_coverHoney from the Lion: An African Journey (Dutton Adult, 1988)
Author: Wendy Laura Belcher
Synopsis: Brought up in Africa, Belcher returned to Ghana in the early 1980s to work with a “national linguistic group” that is spreading literary into rural areas by translating the Bible into native languages. A coming-of-age story that was called “lyrical” by the New York Times when first issued.
Expat credentials: An adult Third Culture Kid, Belcher grew up in East and West Africa, where she became fascinated with the richness of Ghanaian and Ethiopian intellectual traditions. She is now an assistant professor of African literature at Princeton.
How we heard about: Elizabeth Liang interviewed Belcher for her TCK Talent series.

Handbooks & Guidebooks

cathy_feign_coverKeep Your Life, Family and Career Intact While Living Abroad, 3rd Ed. (Stvdio Media, September 2013)
Author: Cathy Tsang-Feign
Synopsis: A survival manual for those who are living abroad, with real-life examples and easy-to-understand explanations about the unique issues faced by expats: from preparing to move, to daily life overseas, to returning home.
Expat credentials: Tsang-Feign is an American psychologist who lives in Hong Kong, specializing in expat psychology and adjustment issues. She has also lived in London.
How we heard about: When Kate Allison learned about the book, she decided it merited one of our “Alice” awards for the understanding displayed of the “through the looking glass” complex.

realitycheck_bookcoverReality Check: Life in Brazil through the eyes of a foreigner (September 2013)
Author: Mark Hillary
Synopsis: Targeted at those who plan on living, working or just visiting Brazil, it covers issues such as the difficulties of finding new friends, using a new language, and finding a job. Also provided is some background on the fast-changing society in Brazil that resulted in extensive street protests during 2013.
Expat credentials: Hillary is a British writer who moved to Brazil in 2010, bought a home, started a company, and has experienced both difficulties and joys.
How we heard about it: Andy Martin, another Brit in Brazil and a writer for the Displaced Nation in 2013, is a friend of Hillary’s and was jealous he’d produced a book that is not only a practical guide but also provides much of the cultural backdrop an international resident needs for a country as complex as Brazil. The next best thing, Martin thought, would be to do an interview with Hillary, which he delivered in two parts. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

TERE_cover_dropshadowThe Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime, July 2013)
Author: Linda A. Janssen
Synopsis: A guide for those facing the challenge of cross-cultural living, with candid personal stories from experienced expats and cross-culturals, and a wealth of practical tools, techniques and best practices for developing the emotional resilience for ensuring a successful transition.
Expat credentials: Janssen lived for several years in the Netherlands while her husband, an adult TCK, worked in the Hague. She recently repatriated to the United States.
How we heard about: We’ve had many satisfying interactions with Janssen since starting the Displaced Nation and were thrilled to hear about her new book—a natural for one of this year’s “Alice” awards, particularly as Janssen has been running a popular blog called Adventures in Expatland.

AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmAn American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City (May 2013)
Author: Maggie Foxhole (Megan Farrell)
Synopsis: Aimed at those who are moving or traveling to São Paulo, it is designed to be a companion on the journey through the ups and down, ins and outs, and the curious roundabouts of life in that city.
Expat credentials: Megan/Maggie moved to Brazil with her Brazilian husband and their daughter. She keeps a blog: Born Again Brazilian.
How we heard about: Farrell/Foxhole was one of our early Random Nomads. She kept in touch and we were very pleased to learn about her book, which ML Awanohara read and admired for its comprehensiveness. Andy Martin, a Brit who also lives in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, reviewed the book for our site this past July.

101reasons_dropshadow101 Reasons to Live Abroad and 100 Reasons Not to (March 2013)
Author: Chris Alden
Synopsis: Targeted at the wannabe expat, the aim is to help you discover if living abroad is right for you. It’s an uplifting guide to the positive sides of life as an expatriate and a reality check about the challenges that relocation brings.
Expat credentials: A professional writer, Alden lived for three years in a beautiful village in the Troodos foothills of Cyprus, which resulted in his first travel guidebook: 250 Things to Do in Cyprus on a Sunny Day.
How we heard about: Alden was the recipient of one our “Alice” awards for this book. We were impressed that he offered a final, 101st reason to live abroad for those of us who, having been offered as many as a hundred reasons both for and against, still find ourselves dithering…

career-break-travelers-handbook_dropshadowThe Career Break Traveler’s Handbook (September 2012)
Author: Jeffrey Jung
Synopsis: Intended to inspire people to go for it and take the break they’ve been seeking from their jobs and go travel, with tips and tricks Jung learned from his own and other career breakers’ experiences.
Expat credentials: Having left the corporate ladder, Jung now lives in Colombia, where he founded his own business to help others do the same:
How we heard about: Jung was one of our Random Nomads. He let us know about his book, and we reviewed it this past February. Not that he needed our help—it also got a shout-out in Forbes!

finding-your-feet-in-chicago-3D-Book CoverFinding Your Feet in Chicago: The Essential Guide for Expat Families (Summertime Publishing, August 2012)
Author: Véronique Martin-Place
Synopsis: A down-to-earth pocket guide to help expats settle into the USA’s third largest city with their families.
Expat credentials: As the wife of a French diplomat (they have two daughters), Martin-Place is accustomed to moving around the world. Chicago was one of her more enjoyable stops, but she also enjoyed Sri Lanka(!). The family is now in Shanghai.
How we heard about: ML Awanohara had interviewed Martin-Place on her blog, Seeing the Elephant. She had fun interviewing her again, this time about the process of composing a guidebook.


FromtheGlobalScottishKitchen_cover_tdnFrom the Global Scottish Kitchen (Self-published, November 2012)
Author: Sharon Lorimer
Genre: Cooking
Synopsis: Recipes based on Scottish cuisine but influenced by the restaurants and other kinds of cuisines Lorimer has experienced as an expat: e.g., Cock a’ Leekie Udon!
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, Lorimer now lives in New York City and is married to an Asian American.
How we heard about it: We interviewed Lorimer about her decision to start up Doshebu, a business providing training to company employees being sent abroad on the “art” of being an expat.

* * *

Questions: Have you read any of the above works and if so, what did you think of them? And can you suggest other works to add to the list? My colleagues and I look forward to reading your comments below!

STAY TUNED for some upcoming posts, though we’ll be taking a bit of a break over the holidays!

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

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And the September 2013 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Used under license

© Iamezan |
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not (and why aren’t you? off with your head!), listen up. Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present an “Alice Award” to a writer or other kind of creative person who we think has a special handle on the curious and unreal, who knows what it means to be truly displaced as a global resident or voyager. Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement to their advantage, as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honors September’s four Alice recipients.

Starting with the most recent, and this time with annotations, they are (drumroll…):

1) SHERRY OTT, travel photographer and blogger

Source: Photographing Vietnam’s Rainy Season,” on Everything Everywhere
Posted on: 20 September 2013

From a cultural experience and photography standpoint, inclement weather seasons are a wonderful opportunity to see how the locals really live in situations that we would deem less desirable. You get a true feel for the country and local culture and traditions through the “tough” times. On top of it you get introduced to a number of new products that are used in that inclement weather season that you probably never even dreamed of…

Citation: Sherry, we have to stop you there. Right now we are picturing Alice sloshing through her own tears:

As she said these words her foot slipped, and in another moment, splash! she was up to her chin in salt water. Her first idea was that she had somehow fallen into the sea, “and in that case I can go back by railway,” she said to herself.

But what interests us about you, Sherry—what’s curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might put it—is that, unlike her, you were not having a pool-of-tears moment. As you set foot in Saigon at the height of the monsoon season, your first thought was, my, how lucky I am to see “the skies open up and pour down their wrath on city streets.” And you know what, Sherry? We agree with you. Unlike Alice, who had no means of transport except possibly the train, you had your own motorbike. Also unlike her, you were privy to some unusual sights: double-headed ponchos and ponchos with headlight windows! Poor Alice, on the other hand, when she heard something splashing about in a pool a little ways off, thought she might encounter a walrus or hippopotamus, only to find … a mouse.

2) ALYSSA JAMES Canadian blogger, journalist, traveler

Source: How fast can you slow travel?” on Matador Network
Posted on: 13 September 2013

Because of regulations on how long a truck driver is allowed to be on the road in a day, I was able to explore the city [of Chicago] for exactly 1 hour and 19 minutes.

In those 79 minutes, I was still able to slow travel. I visited the sculpture and centerpiece of Millennium Park known as the Bean (actually called Cloud Gate) and went to the Art Institute. More importantly, I talked with people who lived there. I received interesting insights about the place I wouldn’t have gathered otherwise, like where to get the most delicious Chicago-style pizza ever (Giordano’s deep-dish, double-crusted and stuffed deliciousness).

Citation: Alyssa, we appreciate that you were able to plumb the depths of the Windy City, the largest city in the Midwest, America’s third largest, in just over an hour (hey, that’s no mean feat given how deep the pizza is!). And all this without the benefit of the Queen’s insights in Through the Looking Glass:

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Our only question is, had you followed the Queen’s advice and run twice as fast, do you think you might have at least sampled the stuffed pizza? And of course, had you run twice as fast, you could have sampled it guilt-free! That’s a thought. Next time, perhaps?

3)  ANNE COPELAND, founder and Executive Director of The Interchange Institute

Source: “Tiger Moms, Bébés, and Warm Eskimos” on FIGT blog
Posted on: 1 September 2013

[A]s an interculturalist, I’m at once fascinated, excited … and disappointed by these accounts of parenting in other cultures…. In each case, the message is roughly, “Here’s a new and superior way to raise your children; the result is better than what you’re doing; try it, you’ll like it.” But nowhere do they describe the deep values underlying the parenting choices, the ultimate goals for the kind of adult parents are trying to raise, or the cultural milieu into which the children will be expected to grow.

Citation: Anne, we feel certain that Alice could relate to your woes. She was, after all, rather discombobulated by what she saw of the Duchess’s parenting style. To quote from her account:

While the Duchess sang the second verse of the song, she kept tossing the baby violently up and down, and the poor little thing howled so, that Alice could hardly hear the words:—
“I speak severely to my boy,
I beat him when he sneezes;
For he can thoroughly enjoy
The pepper when he pleases!”

Just imagine, a child that enjoys unlimited amounts of pepper thanks to harsh parenting. It totally makes sense in the Wonderland context. Except…achoo! or should we say: hach-chu (Bengali), hāt-chī (Cantonese), atsjú (Hungarian), aatsjoo (Norwegian), or atchoum (French)? In any case, some sort of onomatopoeia must be required. Parenting may vary from place to place, but not sneezing! But wait, the Japanese say hakushon. Are they trying to stifle the sneeze while frantically searching for a face mask? (Anne, please tell us: will intercultural wonders ever cease?)

4)  NIKKI HODGSON, blogger & traveler

Source: “What is lost (and gained) when the traveler settles down” on Matador Network
Posted on: 16 August 2013

“…Every day that passes separates me from the places I used to belong to, the places I learned to belong to. As I dig my roots deeper into the rocky Colorado soil, I must relinquish my grasp of the banks of the Neckar where I first studied abroad, the mountains of Grenoble that stood guard over me as I fell apart, the dusty hills of Bethlehem where I put myself back together.

And I know that I will never belong to these places the way I once did.”

Citation: Nikki, you put us in mind of Alice’s sister, who like you after your travels, was old and wise enough to know that Wonderland wouldn’t, couldn’t last. Here is the relevant passage:

So she sat on, with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality—the grass would be only rustling in the wind, and the pool rippling to the waving of the reeds…

Crazy Wonderland or dull reality? Or, in your case: dusty hills or rocky soil? That is THE expat question… Not much of a choice, is it?

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award?  We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on these weekly sources of inspiration. Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for our next post!

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance whether you’re one of our Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Marry a diplomat, travel the world and write expat guides: Talking to new author Véronique Martin-Place

Veronique and her bookAs some readers may know, before the Displaced Nation, I had my own blog, called “Seen the Elephant” — which I used as an outlet while struggling to readjust to life in America after having lived abroad, in England and Japan, for quite a few years. (The name for the blog came from the expression used by Victorian travelers: “Been there, done that, seen the elephant.” Which is how I felt…)

It was because of that blog that I got to know today’s guest, Véronique Martin-Place, since she, too, was quite active in the expat blogging world.

And when I found out she was a Frenchwoman living in Chicago, I was intrigued. What did she make of the city of broad shoulders, jazz, and deep-dish pizza?

I asked her this and a host of other questions in an interview for my blog. For starters, she said that she and her family — her husband is a French diplomat and they have two young daughters — were gradually finding their feet in Chicago. (She did not, however, mention she was planning to write a book of that title!) She didn’t entirely approve of America’s throw-away society and still cooked every day for her family — she even offered her recipe for “real” vinaigrette in the comments. She also reported she’d seen plenty of elephants while living in Sri Lanka (her husband’s second assignment, after Norway).

Véronique leads life in the fast lane. A little over three years since our conversation, I find that she has written the definitive expat guide to Chicago: Finding Your Feet in Chicago — The essential guide for expat families (Summertime, 2012). And she is already putting her feet down in a brand new city, one of the world’s trendiest… Here is our exchange:

Bonjour, Véronique! When we last spoke, toward the end of 2010, you told me you’d arrived in Chicago with hopes of getting a job, but then the recession hit, so you’d started up your own writing business. When did you hatch the plan to write a book for expats in the Windy City?
I was already thinking about it when we connected. After witnessing several incidences of culture shock at my daughters’ school, I realized I wasn’t alone in having troubles. Several families from different parts of the world had moved to Chicago around the same time. All of us were in need of information and advice. Meanwhile, I’d started up my blog, Expat Forever, to share my experiences about Chicago — tips on where to settle, which schools to choose, etc. I looked around for local guidebooks to recommend — but there was nothing. So I decided to write one myself.

finding-your-feet-in-chicago-3D-Book CoverThat reminds me of the famous quote by Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” How long did it take you to produce the book?
From the idea to holding the book in my hands, it took one year and a half! Writing the book directly in English was difficult at the beginning, since English is not my native language. But after a while, I got used to it.

Besides writing in English, what was the most challenging part of the process?
Editing the manuscript. I decided to hire an editor to help with the task.

I know from our previous conversation that having fresh, healthy food is important to you — after all, that’s part of being French! I also seem to recall that you were not a fan of Chicago pizza. You said it was too heavy. But did you cover it in your book?
Of course! I have a chapter dedicated to “Having fun in Chicago,” which includes a section on family-friendly dining out. Before giving my top 10 Chicago child-friendly restaurants, I explain what the Chicago specialties are and insist that children (and their parents) MUST try them. That includes Chicago-style pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs.

What has been the response thus far?
Rather good, I think. I’ve gotten only five-stars comments on Amazon!

Which sections are the most popular?
Readers say they like having so much practical information on family-related topics — not just the advice itself, but all the personal anecdotes and testimonials I include from expat parents. I talked to lots of them and wrote up their stories as “blog posts” or interviews. The stories really speak to the kinds of anxieties most expats have — and they make the book an easy, fun read.

And now your husband has moved on to a diplomatic post in Shanghai! Tell me, does ANYTHING about China remind you of the United States, or are these two countries poles apart?
The United States and China are definitely different cultures — but one similarity struck me right away. Both are consumerist societies. In the US, everything is done to make you purchase and there are plenty of opportunities for you to part with your money. Here in Shanghai, it seems that the only occupation is “shopping.” It’s the only activity people urge you to do from the moment you arrive — visit malls, markets, supermarkets and so on. And I can tell you they have tons of malls, tons of markets (from traditional, the kinds that sell crickets and flowers, to modern, selling electronics, furniture, shoes, and so on), and many, many supermarkets.

How did you prepare yourself and your two daughters for the move?
We didn’t have the chance to make a look-see visit. But six months before moving to Chicago, I’d gone to Shanghai on business, so I had a picture of what to expect: a very urbanized and polluted city. That is also why we decided to settle in the new and “green” development area of Shanghai that is called Pudong.

Did your daughters have any idea of the change they were in for?
My husband and I found some videos about the city on the Internet for them to watch. Fortunately, they’d studied some Mandarin at their American elementary school, so already knew a lot about Chinese traditions and stories. To be honest, I think we learned as much from them about cultural matters as they learned from us on the practical aspects. It was real team work!

I know it’s still early days, but what have you enjoyed the most about living in Shanghai?
Perhaps surprisingly, the fact I can bike! In Pudong, there are a lot of protected biking trails, so it allows me to discover independently this part of the city, and it’s much faster than by foot. But I don’t bike in Puxi (the other side of the Huangpu River, which divides the city into two regions: Pudong, where I live, and Puxi, the city’s historic center). It’s too dangerous.

What is the feature you enjoy the least?
Shanghai is extremely urbanized and I miss greenery. Also, it is very polluted, though less so than Beijing.

What is the top piece of advice you’d give to anyone thinking of becoming an expat in that part of the world — particularly a trailing spouse?
I have five — and actually, they’re for anywhere, not just Shanghai:
1) Learn the language.
2) Get involved in your local community.
3) Keep doing your (or start new) hobbies and/or sports.
4) Discover your surroundings little by little, and you’ll eventually come to know the city as well as the content of your pocket.
5) If you are an accompanying spouse and cannot work locally, go back to school and get new skills, or volunteer to do something you can use professionally upon returning home for good.

And now I have to ask you the obvious question: any plans to write Finding Your Feet in Shanghai?
Many people have indeed asked me that question. And I must admit, the idea was in the back of my mind when I first started my book for expats in Chicago. I thought to myself, this can be the first in a collection, and the next one will be about the city where my husband gets posted next. But at least at this point, I don’t think I’ll write an expat guide to Shanghai. One reason is that there are already lots of books, magazines as well as Web sites for expats in this city. There isn’t the same need as there was in Chicago. But another reason is that my time here is so limited. My husband’s post is for just three years. I’d have to spend all of my time doing research and interviews, getting to know the city like my pocket. And that’s before I can start writing. My book on Chicago was released a couple of weeks after I left to fly to Shanghai — which didn’t give me any time for promoting it locally. I found that very frustrating and wouldn’t want to repeat the experience. Books these days have to be promoted like crazy, and although you can do a lot of it online, I don’t think online promotions can replace interacting with readers in person.

But surely you’ll write another book?
I may not write another book for expat families living in Shanghai, but I already know I will write another book about expatriation. Actually, I have already started it. But I cannot say much more. It is too early.

Aha! You are always so mysterious… Last but not least, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Rien Ne S’oppose a la Nuit (Nothing Holds Back the Night), by Delphine de Vigan.
2. Favorite literary genre: Memoirs — but also novels, illustrated books like the ones of Danny Gregory (I love his writings and drawings), and carnets de voyage (travel journals). And I have to confess that I still read a lot of children books, especially picture books. My dream is to write and illustrate one.
3. Reading habits on a plane: Something fun and easy to read on my Kindle! I travel light.
4. The one book you’d require the president of France to read, and why: My book, of course! I’m joking. I would like him to read Les mots pour le dire (The Words to Say It), by Marie Cardinal. Everyone should read it.
5. Favorite books as a child: Astérix and Obélix comic book stories, by René Goscinny (illustrated by Albert Uderzo) and Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), by Antoine de Saint Exupéry.
6. Favorite heroine: Anna Karenina
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: There are several — all alive and all women: Robin Pascoe, the author of four books about expatriation; Anne Lamott; Annie Ernaux; and the aforementioned Delphine De Vigan.
8. Your reading habits: Every evening, at least one hour, and Sundays as much as I can.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Hidden in Paris, by Corine Gantz
10. The book you plan to read next: The Help (but I got the French translation), by Kathryn Stockett.

* * *

Wow, what a stimulating list! Readers, any questions or comments for Véronique while we have her attention? Ce qu’est une femme extraordinaire — I think you’ll agree!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Images: Véronique Martin-Place with her Chicago book; the book cover in 3D (author’s own photos).

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (1/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportThe holiday season is here — the perfect time for the Displaced Nation to catch up with 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? First in a three-part series.

In the first part of 2012, quite an array of Random Nomads arrived at the Displaced Nation’s gates, including:

  • Toni Hargis, a Brit married to an American and living in Chicago (she goes by the moniker “Expat Mum”);
  • Megan Farrell, an American married to a Brazilian and living in São Paulo;
  • Liv Hambrett, an Australian moving cities in Germany to be with her SG (Significant German);
  • Lei Lei Clavey, an Australian working in New York City’s fashion industry; and
  • Annabel Kantaria, an Englishwoman living in Dubai (one of the Telegraph Expat bloggers).

Unfortunately, Liv and Lei Lei cannot be with us today as they’ve both headed back to their native Australia. Lei Lei is living in Perth with her boyfriend — and still feeling somewhat displaced as she’s from Melbourne. (Still, her mum, one of our featured authors, Gabrielle Wang, is glad she’s a little closer.)

Liv — who has moved her blog, A Big Life, over to her portfolio site — says she is “now hopelessly pulled in opposing directions by my home country and adopted home, Germany.” Back with her family in Sydney, she is planning a return to Germany in early 2013. Between now and then, SG will have completed his maiden voyage to Oz to pay her a visit.

But now let’s start the party with the three Random Nomads who still qualify as expats. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

ToniHargis_Xmas1) TONI HARGIS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I got a new gig writing for BBC America’s “Mind the Gap” column, which is very exciting. I have also just completed a 55,000-word manuscript for a new expat book which should be coming out late Spring 2013. Can’t give any more details at the moment I’m afraid.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
We have been going to Copper Mountain, Colorado for the last few years and this year will be the same.

What do you most look forward to eating?
My husband goes mad cooking “skier’s dinners” as he calls them — gumbo, lasagna, chili etc. He will also probably take care of most of the Xmas dinner. Unfortunately, I usually suffer from mild altitude sickness so food isn’t always at the top of my list!

Can you recommend any books you read in 2012 that speak to the displaced life? 
Yes, I read three great books this year on that theme, all from Summertime Publishers:

  1. Expat Life Slice by Slice, by Apple Gidley, which is memoir style and chronicles her (so far) amazing expat adventures.
  2. Finding Your Feet in Chicago, which is a great book for newly arrived expats to the Windy City, by Veronique Martin-Place.
  3. Sunshine Soup: Nourishing the Global Soul, by Jo Parfitt, which came out in 2011 and is a lovely novel set in Dubai about expat women there. (Jo is the founder of Summertime Publishers.)

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm…. I try not to make resolutions because it can just be a set up for failure and bitterness (just kidding). There will be a lot of background work to do on my upcoming book, so I suppose my resolution should be to keep my energy levels up and work hard while not ignoring my children for too long!

Last but not least, do you have any upcoming travel plans?
Other than Colorado, I have no definite plans but there will be the annual summer trip to England and perhaps a trip somewhere else in Europe if we can fit it in.

meganfarrell_xmas2) MEGAN FARRELL

Hi there, Megan. Have you had any big changes since we last spoke?
I am currently writing a book, titled American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks to Surviving South America’s Largest City, which will be available via Amazon in the next few weeks. And we moved from Jardim Paulista to Higienópolis. The Higienópolis neighborhood feels much more family friendly to me, without losing options for great restaurants and activities.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
For the holidays, we will be visiting Petrópolis (Brazil’s “City of Emperors” and a lovely mountain resort) and Búzios (known for its magnificent beaches and crystal-clear water), both towns in the state of Rio de Janeiro. I am looking forward to the beach and mountain time.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Churrasco (Brazilian style barbecue)!

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown, by Paul Theroux. I’m also reading Eat, Pray, Love again, but this time in Portuguese (Comer Rezar Amar).

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
I do. My resolutions are to spend more time working on my writing projects and further develop my business. I currently guide executives and managers in their business communications to help them gain advantages in the global market, but I really need to expand my marketing strategy. I also have a large list of São Paulo experiences I have yet to enjoy.

Do you have any upcoming travel plans?
I’m hoping to get back to the States early this year and hit not only Chicago but also Los Angeles and New York City.

AnnabelKantaria_Xmas3) ANNABEL KANTARIA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
None to speak of.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
We love to spend Christmas in Dubai as the weather is exactly how a British summer day should be: clear, sunny, blue sky and temperatures of about 28°C (around 82°F).

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
We always have a big Christmas lunch in the garden with friends. This year another friend is playing host to us. I feel very lucky as she is practically the “Martha Stewart” of Dubai and I just know the food, decor and company will be divine. I’m vegetarian, so I won’t be eating turkey — I think we’re barbecuing this year.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
I read a new book called The Expats, by Chris Pavone, but I was more inspired to revisit old favorites such as White Mischief, by James Fox.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
To finish writing my book, find an agent and/or publisher and get it published!

Any upcoming travel plans?
We usually go away in the February half-term holidays. Last year we visited family in Kenya before taking a few days in the Seychelles. This year I’m looking East — maybe Thailand, Malaysia (I’ve always wanted to go to Langkawi) or perhaps Bali.

* * *

Readers, before we lose these three Random Nomads to their various holiday (and half-term) adventures, do you have any more questions? Perhaps some of you are wondering, like I am, how they manage to be so productive — each of them has children but also a book to publish in 2013!

STAY TUNED for another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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

Talking with former expat Meagan Adele Lopez about travel, romance & novel/screenplay writing

Earlier this week I caught up with Meagan Adele Lopez, actor, world traveler, blogger and now a first-time author. She self-published her novel, Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers, in October of last year. It was featured on The Displaced Nation’s post Best of 2011: Books for, by and about expats.

Meagan — who is also known as MAL and the Lady Who Lunches (after her blog of that title) — may have just three questions, but I had quite a few more! I wanted to find out what inspired her to write her book, which she is now attempting to turn into a screenplay — the story behind the story…

Here’s what she had to say.

Meagan, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve been around a bit — I mean that in the nicest possible sense! Would you mind telling us a bit about your background — where you grew up, what you studied?
Do you mean I’ve been around as in I’ve lived for a long time, or do you mean I’ve traveled loads? (I won’t bother going to the other possibility!) Actually, I am getting up there in age — just six more months of my twenties; but there’s no need to rub it in, Tony! Just kidding. I think I’ll be relieved to be out of my twenties. What a crazy ride they were!

No, of course I wasn’t referring to your age — I’m an English gentleman, remember? I meant, you’ve lived in quite a few places — and that was before you moved abroad.
By the time I was 12 years old, I had lived in 12 different houses, and four different states. I pretty much grew up in a suburb of Baltimore called Towson. I say “pretty much” because I also lived in Tennessee and New Jersey for two years in between. But Towson is where I call home.

You have a passion for acting. When did you develop it?
Since I was eight years old, acting was all I wanted to do. For high school, I auditioned for a conservatory arts school called Baltimore School for the Arts (it boasts Jada Pinkett, Josh Charles and Tupac as students), where I was lucky enough to be trained by professional actors everyday.

Funnily enough, I wanted to be an actor, too. What drew you to the profession?
I had this fear that my life would pass too fast, and acting was somehow a way to slow down time, and be “in the moment.” Nowadays I find that writing is what does this for me. I am able to record thoughts and moments forever. Very existential, I know.

But you haven’t completely lost your passion for acting — I see you’ve instilled it in your main character, Adele (“Del”), in Three Questions. And I noticed there’s a mention of a horror film in your author’s bio — could you tell us a bit about that?
About the horror film? Oh no, you really don’t want to know about that (wink). But okay, my first starring role was in a horror movie called Sleepy Hollow High, about students who believe that the legend of Sleepy Hollow is real. It’s one of those films that is so cheesy and kitschy that it might be considered entertaining at some level. At the time, I was just excited to be in something, but it certainly wasn’t Oscar-worthy — ahem — at all. 

And you also got into some major motion pictures?
My first speaking role in a big Hollywood movie was as a cocktail guest in Traffic, with Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas — now there’s an Oscar worthy film. Unfortunately, my lines got cut — but you can still see me shaking Michael Douglas’s hand. I got my Screen Actors Guild card from acting in small parts in Enemy of the State, a spy-thriller starring Will Smith, and The Replacements, a college football film starring Keanu Reeves. Numb3rs was my first TV show.

Wow — you gave all that up to become a writer?
I got disillusioned with acting after working in casting for four years. I saw how completely random and superficial some of the choices can be for who gets cast. I’d gotten into acting for a much more altruistic goal — I wanted to make a difference in how people see the world — but ultimately realized that the place where I could make a real difference, because I have control over my own success, was with writing. Without great content, after all, actors couldn’t do their job!

Well you’re having plenty of success with writing. In addition to the book (which we’ll come to, don’t worry!), you started up a popular expat blog, A Lady Who Lunches, while you were living in the UK. Now that you’ve repatriated, and are living in Chicago, are you still keeping it up?
When I got to Chicago, the blog went through a bit of an identity crisis. Even though I’d never lived in that city, writing about the adventures of a newbie Chicagoan didn’t really interest me. Especially since I was no longer lunching — I was working, hard. Though I still have the same URL and twitter handle (@theladylunches), I now call the blog by my own name, and I’m glad I’ve kept it up. It’s a built-in fan platform that has helped me to sell my novel.

You’re also something of a social media guru. Are there any secrets you can impart to other bloggers about building an audience?
I didn’t set out for the blog to become popular (and thank you for saying so). It was a lot of ground work, as well as trial and error. You can’t expect results from a blog unless you’re updating it frequently, creating a community with other similar, like-minded people, and engaging with them on a consistent basis. My biggest piece of advice to other bloggers is to take a course in SEO. I never really paid attention to SEO, and it wasn’t until I took a course that I realized the importance of knowing the basics. Simple things like: are people even searching for the topics that you’re writing? Are you wasting two hours of writing time on a topic that gets only 100 hits per month?

Now let’s turn to Three Questions, which follows the developing love between two young people — who have only met each other once, by chance, on a night out in Las Vegas. The love interest, Guy, is from England, as is your real-life boyfriend, Jock. So what I’d like to know is, just how much of the book is autobiographical?
This is a question that Jock and I dodge quite often! I would say that about sixty percent of the book is autobiographical. There are many similar personality characteristics between Guy (Del’s boyfriend) and Jock, and between Del and me, Even the outline of the story conforms quite closely to what happened to Jock and me. Jock and I did meet in Las Vegas before his trip to Africa, and we did write letters back and forth to get to know each other. Hey — they always say to write about what you know, so that’s what I did! However, “how” things happened — and obviously the ending — are all very different.

One of my favorite aspects of the book was the use of the three questions in each email between Del and Guy, which the couple used to get to know one another during their long separation. It’s genius! Where did the idea for that come from?
Thanks, Tony! It came from Jock, actually. He used to play a questions game with his mates in England when they were out at the pubs. They were quirky questions like “If you were an animal, what would you be?” When Jock went traveling through Africa and we had only met that one night, he decided to take a slightly different spin on it, and ask me three VERY different questions to get to know me. It was such a great way to get to know someone, and build up the intensity and connection. I highly recommend it for anyone who has a long-distance relationship.

Tell us about the screenplay for the novel.
At the end of last year, I raised some money through a Kickstarter campaign to take the novel to the next level, which hopefully will include turning it into a movie. I’m working on the screenplay now, and then I’ll pitch it to Hollywood. What they do with it after that is up to them.

To give you a taster, Meagan has just released this movie-style trailer for the book, which is awesome!

Right, here’s something your fans will be keen to know the answer to: are you writing another book, and can you share any juicy details with us? Is it about travel again?
I’m now working on a second novel, which — particularly as a citizen of The Displaced Nation — you’ll be interested to learn is about someone who is forcibly, not voluntarily, displaced. It’s about a Cuban teenager who was torn from her homeland and true love in the early 1960s — and the struggles, ghosts and eventual success she faces in the United States leading up to today.

Love is a recurring theme in your writing, and one we’ve been looking into recently at The Displaced Nation. So, post Valentines Day, do you have an advice for the singletons out there, wherever they are?
My only advice is to figure out who you are first, and what you want before worrying about finding someone. I really believe that the right man or woman will come when you finally decide that you’re the most important person in your life, and you are taking care of you.

And I have to ask this of someone who has written such a beautiful and memorable love story; tell me about True Love. Does it exist? Is there one person for each of us?
Wow — that’s the kind of question that years ago, I always used to ask everyone else. I never thought I’d be on the receiving end. (Maybe I am getting old?!) I come from a family where love comes multiple times in their lives, so for a long time I never believed that there could be only one person for me. What I’ve come to learn is that with a mixture of timing, chemistry and hard work, true love can certainly be created. How else do I explain running into Jock in a bar in Vegas on Easter Sunday, and thus creating a life out of it, despite our different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities?

Yes, how does a girl from Towson get together with a bloke from Portsmouth? Can I ask, how is Jock coping with the transition to life in Chicago?
Ah… besides the constant yelling at the way we drive, the lack of manners that Americans have when opening doors, and absolutely hating the egos and pompous attitudes of our politicians and media? I would say he’s adjusted much better than I did when I was in England! (I did a lot better in Paris!) Luckily, Chicago has a variety of cultures. He has actually started a business with another Englishman, and found another good friend who’s English. Plus, I think he secretly loves the attention that his accent brings him.

And will your love story have a traditional ending — any plans to tie the knot?
He has one more year before he has to get down on his hands and knees. I gave him five years not thinking he would take the entire five! But we’ve had a few cross-continental moves in the past four years, which has made it challenging to find the right moment.

In Three Questions, Del describes her perfect future as “living by the water in a big city, traveling as much as possible.” You’ve traveled and lived in France and England, and now you’re living in the Windy City, presumably somewhere near the lake… Have you found that perfect future yet? Or is your dream different from Del’s?
Perhaps when I first started writing the book, that was my dream. But success is very important to me as well. I want to leave this life with a feeling that I have left a significant mark on people’s lives. I don’t think I will feel satisfied until that happens, which means I may always be striving to better myself, to make a difference… On a more practical note, I can see myself back in SoCal or having a flat in Paris eventually. That’s not too much to ask for, is it??

Thanks very much, Meagan! It was great chatting with you.

* * *

So, what do you all think? I loved Meagan’s book Three Questions and I’m not normally a fan of love stories and chick lit. I strongly recommend you all give it a read. Three Questions is available now on for the Kindle and, most excitingly of all, is now in paperback!
Three Questions on Amazon Kindle
Three Questions in Paperback

And luckily for you lot, Meagan has also agreed to participate in a giveaway, just for Displaced Nation readers!!!

She’s agreed to give a free ebook to the first 15 people who tweet: I want a free copy of @theladylunches’ new romance from afar novel, #ThreeQuestions via @displacednation

AND, she’s offered to give away a free copy of the paperback to the best comment in the comments section.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s chat 🙂

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode from our long-running expat soap, Libby’s Life. You can look forward to a battle with tiger-mums, a three-hour glucose tolerance test, one suspected case of galloping dandruff, and the crowning glory of a Valentine’s Day party for three-year-olds. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Images: Meagan Adele Lopez; Three Questions book cover (designed by Kathleen Bergen).

RANDOM NOMAD: Megan Farrell, American Expat in São Paulo, Brazil

Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois USA
Geographical history: USA (Chicago, Illinois; West Palm Beach, Florida; Ventura, California; Washington, DC): 1969 – 2002; Spain (Barcelona): 2001; USA (Princeton, New Jersey; New York, New York): 2002-10; Brazil (São Paulo): 2010 – present.
Passport: USA — my daughter, however, has three: USA, Brazil & Germany.
Current occupation: Aspiring novelist and screenplay writer, business school lecturer, and former research director at a Wall Street firm.
Cyberspace coordinates: Born Again Brazilian (blog) and @BornAgainBrazil (Twitter handle)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Ever since I was a child, I wanted to explore the world and always had it in my head that I would live in other countries. I think it was because I used to read a lot as a kid, stories about other places, some of my favorites being James and the Giant Peach and The Little Prince. I also loved Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s Little House series. By the time I reached adulthood, I was open to opportunities to travel and explore new cities as a local.

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced since making your home in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo.
Wandering lost, in the rain, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, after a boy on a bike tried to wrestle my iPhone out of my hands. I’d grabbed it out of his hands, but he still hung around yelling something at me and trying to get the phone. It seemed incredible to me this was happening because although it was raining, it was broad daylight and I was on a street where there was a row of little shops. So after putting a bit of distance between us, I stopped and started screaming like a horror movie starlet and pointing at him. People came out of their shops and of course he got scared — I think mostly because he thought I was crazy. I’d never before experienced anything so bold.

Your blog is called Born Again Brazilian. I imagine you’ve also had many moments when you feel more at home in Brazil than you do in the USA. When have you felt least displaced?
While sitting on the beach of Leblon, in Rio de Janeiro, viewing the ocean. On a beautiful day, it absolutely makes you feel as though all is right with the world and you are exactly where you are meant to be.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of your adopted countries into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
No need for a suitcase as what I’d most like to bring with me to The Displaced Nation is a couple of intangible items:
From Brazil: Jeitinho or jeito, the ability to get in, out and/or around something despite a law, a regulation, a contract, physics or gravity.
From Barcelona: The recipe for survival possessed by local shops, which seem to close and open at random times — and when you enter, the owners or employees often act as though you are completely putting them out by wanting to buy something. It’s hilarious and curious at the same time.

Food is close to the heart of all Displaced Nation citizens. We would therefore like to invite you to make a meal for us. What will you offer?
I can offer a choice of two classic menus:
1) Brazilian (São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro)
Appetizer: Bolinho de bacalhau (codfish cakes), served with Original cerveja (beer)
Main: Feijoada (traditional bean stew with beef and pork), served with caipirinhas (Brazilian national cocktail, made with rum, sugar and lime)
Dessert: Mouse de maracujá (passion fruit mousse)
2) Spanish (Barcelona)
Appetizer: Assorted pinchos (bar snacks eaten with toothpicks), served with cider
Main: Paella Valenciana (Valencian paella), served with a nice Spanish white wine
Dessert: Flan (crème caramel)

What’s your pleasure?

You may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
Tudo bem! When you greet someone in Brazil, you say tudo bem instead of hello, but you use it like a question: “Tudo bem?” (All is well?) And you might respond with tudo bem (all is well) or tudo otimo (all is great) or simply tudo (all). Brazilians must use this greeting countless times a day. What I love about tudo bem is that it represents how familiar and personal the Brazilian culture is. A stranger in the elevator will greet you by asking if all is right in the world for you. That is totally Brazilian.

This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, The Displaced Nation has been delving into the topic of finding love abroad. I understand you have a Brazilian husband. Where and how did the pair of you meet, and was it love at first sight?
I met my husband while we were getting our MBAs at Georgetown University (in Washington, DC). The first time I met him, I thought he was pretty stern — little did I know he had just arrived to the country the day before and wasn’t so comfortable with his English. I kind of wrote him off as one of the machismo Latin guys that didn’t like to work closely in a business setting with women. But after the final exams of our first semester, we wound up at the same party. I actually attempted to hook him up with my friend — he is tall and she is tall — but it turned out he was more interested in me. After I saw a few of his dance moves…it was love at second sight!

Thanks to Gisele, many people have an image of Brazilian women as very attractive. Is that also true of the men, and do they make good husbands?
First, my husband is not your typical Brazilian man. He spent a great deal of his childhood in Germany with his grandparents and has his behavior has been heavily influenced by his German father. Typical Brazilian men see the roles of men and women as clearly defined channels. From what I’ve seen and heard from my Brazilian and American friends married to Brazilians, the menfolk rarely if ever help out with household chores or issues, as they feel that is the woman’s role — even if she is working a full-time job! However, for the most part, Brazilian men are very charming, complimentary and romantic. They see themselves as Prince Charming, and if that is what a woman is looking for, a Brazilian man is a good catch.

You said you fantasized about traveling to other lands from the time you were a child. How about marrying someone from another land?
I never thought much about it, but before my husband, I only dated All-American guys, so I think it came as a surprise to my parents. However, when my now husband asked me to marry him, I knew that my life would never be boring, and always full of adventure. And I was right!

Now that Valentine’s is over, The Displaced Nation is moving on to look at expat and travel films, in time for the Oscars. Do you have a favorite film(s) in this “genre”? I see you’re interesting in screenplay writing, which makes me doubly curious.
I think the first movies that inspired travel for me were Cocktail with Tom Cruise (he finds love while working in a bar in Jamaica) and Only You with Marisa Tomei (she follows the man she thinks will be her true love to Italy). When I was a bit older, I was definitely was drawn to seeing the world by a beautifully filmed, but wildly depressing, New Zealand-Australian-British film by Jane Campion titled An Angel At My Table. It’s based on Janet Frame‘s autobiographical series about growing up in New Zealand, leaving and returning.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Megan Farrell 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 Megan — find amusing.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who is discovering that Valentine’s Day in the US is quite different from the UK version — a fact that doesn’t come naturally to her three-year-old son. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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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img: Megan Farrell poses at the nature center in Parque Estadual do Pico do Itacolomi, which is outside Ouro Preto, Minas Gerias (July 2011).

RANDOM NOMAD: Toni Hargis, British Expat in the Windy City

Place of birth: Wallsend*, UK
Geographical history: England (Newcastle upon Tyne, Bristol, London): 1961-1990; Wales (Cricieth): circa 1964; USA (Dallas): 1990-1991; USA (Chicago): 1991 – present.
Passports: UK and USA (since 2002)
Current occupation: Writer** (currently working on two books), blogger, and philanthropist (in 2009 Hargis established Caring Kid Connections to support a school in Ghana, West Africa).
Cyberspace coordinates: Expat Mum (blog) and @ToniHargis (Twitter handle).
*At the end of the Roman Wall, in the far northeast of England. Hargis: “I never actually lived there, but my grandparents did. Not quite sure why I was born there, though.”
**Hargis is the author of Rules, Britannia: An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom.

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I left England in 1990 when I married an American. We met while we both worked in London; he was there for three years. I didn’t really think about the move at the time, and in retrospect it was a fairly huge decision!

Is anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
No one in my immediate family although I have a lot of second cousins spread all over the world: New York, Cyprus, Canada…

Describe the moment when you felt most displaced since coming to the United States.
Although I like Americans (being married to one and with three American kids) I often finding myself wondering what the heck is going on over here. I find the culture very different from the one I grew up in, and that quite often makes me feel displaced. For example, there’s a lot of scare-mongering at the moment about “big government” and “socialism.” Growing up in the UK, with a welfare state and a safety net to ensure that no one falls through the cracks, it frustrates me that people here can’t see that not everything to go with the government is wrong and sinister. And the gun culture here is appalling. The saying that “guns don’t kill people, people do” is absurd to me, and it bothers me that my children might grow up with this attitude.

Describe the moment when you felt least displaced — when you felt more at home in the United States than you had in England.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment when I felt more at home in the US than in the UK, although having been away from “home” for over 20 years now, there have been a lot of changes in the UK and I never know what I’m going to discover when I go back to England every summer. When I have British guests here, and I have to explain some of the more unfamiliar customs or words to them, it makes me aware of how much I am a “native” now — but I still don’t feel American.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of your adopted countries into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From the UK it would probably be a Yorkshire pudding mix that I could then turn into fluffy Yorkshire puddings. I could serve to your displaced Brits, and other nationalities could try it as well. (I would make the Yorkshire puddings from scratch except ingredients in the US are slightly different and I assume the same would be true at The Displaced Nation — meaning I wouldn’t get the fluffiness quite right.) From the States it would probably be some unnecessary but totally brilliant kitchen gadget. I saw a Brie baker in a store today! How have I managed to live this long without one?

I’m glad you mentioned food — a topic close to the heart of all Displaced Nation citizens. Is there any other food besides Yorkshire pudding you’d like to prepare for us?
If I were in a good mood, you’d get treated to Summer Pudding. It’s an easy but tasty English pudding and it’s delicious. Basically you line a bowl with bread, pour in various fruits and berries which have been cooking in sugar, leave it for hours and hours till the fruit syrup soaks the bread, then turn it upside down and serve it with cream. But if I felt a bit wicked, I would probably insist on serving something like black pudding (made of disgusting innards and guts and things), which I love — or tripe, which is cow’s stomach!

You may add one word or expression from each of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
From America: The phrase BTDubs, which I’ve just learned from my teens. (They would cringe if they saw this!) Basically, instead of saying BTW (“by the way”), they are now actually saying BTDubs, which I think is hilarious. I’m far too old to be using it myself, but I do like it.
From the UK: Probably knackered, which is what I am most of the time. Knackered things are broken and knackered people are tired.

This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, The Displaced Nation is delving into the topic of finding love abroad. Right now women in America are glued to Downton Abbey, and I imagine some of them may be fantasizing about marrying a British lord. You went the other way and married an American. How did that happen?
We met when husband came to work for the same company as me, in London. I was actually responsible for the work scheduling at the time, and he was supposed to be transferring from the Dallas office. Because of delays with his visa, I had to keep re-assigning his work, so I wasn’t too impressed with this American who was making my life difficult. I ended up transferring out of that group before he arrived and met him in the local pub a few weeks later! We saw each other around a lot because we had friends in common; it was over a year before we became “an item.” We got engaged four months before we were married, which meant a lot of rushing around for me, trying to organize a wedding and a visa application at the same time. We were married in London, and he had to return to the States without me as my visa paperwork got lost in the system for a while.

What was his attraction? Did you find his accent charming?
The British guys that I worked with were a little wild, so my husband probably came across as more conservative or “mature” at the time. He also had a lot of sayings that I didn’t really understand. He used the word “copacetic” a lot, and I had never heard it before. You could always tell the Americans though — the guys wore braces (suspenders) and their suit trousers were a little shorter!

Any special plans for Valentine’s Day?
No special plans at this point, but I know I will be busy — with the kids. Americans go nuts for Valentine’s Day so I will probably have to prepare 18 treats for my eight-year-old to take into school. We are going skiing in Copper Mountain, Colorado, the following week, so at that point my husband and I might get to have a nice meal!

Later in the month, The Displaced Nation will be paying homage to films that in some way feature expats and/or international travel. Do you have a favorite film in this “genre”?
I can’t think of a particular film, but I do like to watch small-screen footage of Brits coming over to the States, as in Jamie Oliver and the Top Gear crowd. It’s interesting to hear what they have to say on various parts of the States, especially when they get right off the beaten track. I haven’t seen the series Stephen Fry did so I would love to get hold of that — and could probably recommend it without having seen it as I know his comments would be incredibly pithy. Eddie Izzard is also a hoot when he’s talking about Americans. And he does a great accent, too!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Toni Hargis 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 Toni — find amusing.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who continues to deal with the thickening plot at her son’s American nursery school. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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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img: Toni Hargis and her American husband, Mark, in a “photo taken for grandma” in 2011. (The love bird is native to The Displaced Nation.)

12 NOMADS OF CHRISTMAS: Santi Dharmaputra, Indonesian expat in Australia (6/12)

Current home: Sydney, Australia
Past overseas locations: Germany, USA, The Netherlands, Syria
Cyberspace coordinates: Trilingual: Indonesian, French, English | world trotters raising two multilingual kids (blog)
Most recent post: “”A Woman’s Work” (my article in The Jakarta Globe)” (December 23, 2011)

Where are you spending the holidays this year?
At my parents’ house in Indonesia.

What will you do when you first arrive?
Hugging and kissing my parents.

What do you most like doing during the holidays?
Spending time with family and old friends.

Will you be on or offline?

Are you sending any cards?
I usually write greetings on my FB wall or my blog.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Any kind of Indonesian food. Pineapple tarts (a festive Indonesian cookie) and kastengel (Indonesian cheese sticks) are among my favorite guilty-pleasures.

Can you recommend any good books other expats or “internationals” might enjoy?
Trailing wives — regardless of whether they are sojourners or seasoned expats — might appreciate:
1. A Broad Abroad: The Expat Wife’s Guide to Successful Living Abroad, by Robin Pascoe (The Expatriate Press, 2009)
2. A History of the Wife, by Marilyn Yalom (Harper, 2001)
These are two among many books that have made me feel more empowered. By reading widely, I’ve come to understand that (trailing) wives everywhere and in every era have struggled to find happiness, just as I have. 🙂

What’s been your most displaced holiday experience?
I spent part of my childhood in The Netherlands. I loved it when Sinterklaas visited our school and gave us presents. When my family moved to Syria, I was disappointed: no Sinterklaas! By the time I returned to Indonesia at age 11, I didn’t believe in Santa. To this day, though, I believe that Sinterklaas is the only real Santa (LOL).

How about the least displaced experience — when you’ve felt the true joy of the season?
Tricky. I’m an adult TCK married to another adult TCK, and we’ve continued moving around the globe in our adulthood. I can feel both displaced and part of a place at the same time. But if I had to pick one occasion, it would be when I witnessed my trilingual children celebrating the holidays with their paternal relations in Alsace, France. Their granny and great-granny spoiled them, and it was lovely to see my kids so happy. I felt very at home in my husband’s French family. At the same time, though, I felt displaced — I was missing my own family in Indonesia.

How do you feel when the holidays are over?
Also tricky, as it depends on where we happen to be. Last year we spent the holidays on our own, just the four of us. My husband was too busy working and had only two days off. I was left to entertain the kids during their six-week school break (in Australia, Xmas break is the equivalent of the long summer break in the Northern Hemisphere). At that time, we’d been living in Sydney for less than a year, so we spent most of the time exploring the beach.

When we were living in Munich, we spent two Christmases with my husband’s family in Alsace, and it was sad each time we left. As adult TCKs ourselves, my husband and I are used to living with our nuclear families, so it was a novelty to spend those two Xmases with the extended family, including my husband’s siblings and their kids. Our kids were even happier with their grannies and cousins around, and the same was also true of us (at least during holiday seasons ;)).

When living in Chicago, we tended to use the time between Xmas and New Year for road trips. Sometimes we were traveling in snowstorms — so were happy and relieved to arrive back home safely.

While we were in Holland, I worked as a lawyer and used to enjoy the Xmas dinner held by the office along with the generous Xmas bonus. But when I had to return to the office after the New Year, I did so rather reluctantly — LOL.

The last time I spent New Years in Jakarta was in 2001. My brothers, husband and I (we didn’t have kids yet) stayed at a hotel to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It was kind of sad to leave Jakarta to return to the winter season in Europe (we were in Holland then).

This year, we traded in Australian summer for the Indonesian rainy season. Temperature wise, though, there’s almost no difference. I guess our kids will be sad to leave their Indonesian grandparents and cousins when we go back to Sydney.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love said to me:

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s featured nomad (7/12) in our 12 Nomads of Christmas series.

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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