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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, don’t let the cultural prism you carry around blind you to the most interesting facets of the experience

Culture Shock Toolbox Joe Lurie
Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol consults with a world expert on cross-cultural communication for this month’s column.

Hello, Displaced Nationers! This month I’d like to introduce you to Joe Lurie, Executive Director Emeritus of the University of California Berkeley’s International House. If you’re not familiar with it, I-House is a multicultural residence and program center that serves Berkeley’s students, alumni, and the local community. Its mission is to foster intercultural respect, understanding, lifelong friendships, and leadership skills to promote a more tolerant and peaceful world. Founded in 1930, Berkeley’s is part of a network of International Houses worldwide.

In addition to having led this esteemed cross-cultural institution, Joe has worked as a teacher, trainer and consultant. Last year, he published Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures, which contains the sum total of his knowledge about cross-cultural communication.

On the book cover is a cow, with the question:

What am I?

Divine?
Dowry?
Dinner?

Already this tells you something about Joe—the fact that he has a sense of humor along with many stories to tell about bridging cultures. As one of his Amazon reviewers says, the book is “sometimes laugh out loud, sometimes moving, always thought provoking.”

Joe also shares stories on his YouTube channel, along with information about how our own narratives can lead to incorrect perceptions. Tune in to watch him speak about an Italian student who thought his Sikh roommate was Jesus, the various meanings slurping and belching can have—and much more!

But for now, let’s hear a couple of Joe’s stories about gift giving, along with his theory of cultural prisms, the kind that can blind you once you exit your comfort zone. Warning: Joe’s culture shock toolbox may require donning safety specs!

* * *

Hi, Joe, and welcome to Culture Shock Toolbox. Tell us, which countries have you lived in and for how long?

I lived in Kenya as a Peace Corps Volunteer for three years; directed international educational programs in various parts of France (Strasbourg, Toulouse, Dole and Corsica) for four years; directed a study abroad program in Ghana for six months; and studied in Montreal, Canada, for two years. I have also traveled widely in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, New Zealand and Australia as part of my career in international and intercultural education.

In the course of your many cultural transitions, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

I recall, while living in Ghana, offering a gift to an Ashanti chief with my left hand, which caused a very angry reaction from the chief and the villagers who were present. Little did I know then that offering something with the left hand is virtually taboo in many parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The left hand in these areas is considered dirty, used frequently to clean oneself after a bowel movement.

How did you handle that situation? Would you handle it any differently now? What are the tools that you think are most useful for adapting to this kind of scenario?

Before entering another culture, it’s helpful to become familiar with its values, taboos and related behaviors, in contrast to your own values, taboos and behaviors. It is also useful to spend time with someone from the countries to be visited, asking them what they see as strange, offensive, or even unacceptable in your culture. This kind of research makes it easier to pause and suspend judgement when encountering a strange, inexplicable behavior beyond the horizons of your experience.

Of course, I apologized profusely—but to little avail until another Ghanaian, who had been to the United States, explained to all assembled that I meant no harm. It was at that moment that I fully understood the spirit behind the West African proverb: “The stranger sees only what he or she knows.” The Japanese also have a good one: “You cannot see the whole world through a bamboo tube.”

Japanese proverb bamboo tube

Can you think of a situation you handled with finesse, and why do you think that was?

I recall an Indian friend offering me a beautifully wrapped gift with two hands—a signal that I should accept the gift with two hands, as is the custom in many parts of Asia. Also, many Americans will open the gift immediately in front of the giver, eager to know what’s there—and perhaps even feigning joy if the gift is not particularly desirable. Because I had read about and experienced the discomfort that opening a gift in front of the giver could cause, I paused and chose to open the gift in private later, in order to prevent any possible sign of disappointment that might cause the giver to lose face.

If you had any advice for someone moving abroad for the first time, what tool would you suggest they develop first?

Travelers and new expats would do well to realize that their cultures function like narrow prisms that distort their perceptions of what lies beyond their cultural ponds. As far as the Culture Shock Toolbox goes, I would advise that you take out your chisel and keep chipping away at these prisms to include facets of other cultures. The original prism never completely goes away, but you shouldn’t let it prevent you from taking in all you can from all the people you meet in other places. It’s enlightening as well as enriching.
cultural prism and chisel

Thank you so much, Joe, for taking the time to share your culture shock stories with us! Your description of one’s native culture as a prism is spot on. A prism takes light but then bends and distorts it. And I think you are right, we ought to chip away at these prisms, or at least become more aware of their refractive effects in producing cultural biases that limit our understanding of other cultural realities. We would all, whether we travel or not, do well to heed that advice, given that so much of our world is multicultural these days.

* * *

Readers, in light of Joe’s advice, why not take a moment and ask yourself: what is my cultural perspective and what does it make me see (and not see) in others? And now if you want to learn more about what Joe has to say, I recommend you visit his author site and/or consider buying his book for further inspiration (and entertainment!).

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and will soon be publishing her second book, on repatriation.  

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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Photo credits: Book cover and author image supplied; all other photos from Pixabay.

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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:

  1. FICTION
  2. MEMOIRS
  3. HANDBOOKS & GUIDEBOOKS
  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.

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Fiction

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.

Memoirs

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: CareerBreakSecrets.com.
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.

Cookbook

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.

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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!

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TCK TALENT: Wendy Laura Belcher, best-selling author, memoirist, and distinguished scholar of her adopted cultures

wendy-l-belcher-tck-collageWelcome to the third installment of “TCK Talent,” Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang’s monthly column about adult Third Culture Kids who work in creative fields. As some readers may recall, Lisa—a Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent—has written and performed a one-woman show about being a Third Culture Kid, or TCK. It debuted in LA in the spring, and I had the pleasure of seeing it during its too-short run in New York City last month. It was stupendous!

—ML Awanohara

Greetings, readers, and thanks, ML, for that vote of confidence in my work. But it cannot compare to the output of today’s guest, a woman of extraordinary talents. Wendy Laura Belcher is a professor of African literature at Princeton University as well as a published memoirist, produced playwright, popular workshop leader, and author of the best-selling Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success.

Wendy grew up in Ethiopia, Ghana, and the USA, and has been a writer since childhood. Her most recent book, Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought on the Making of an English Author, is a finalist for the African Studies Association’s 2013 Ogot Award (to be announced in Baltimore at the end of next month).

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Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Wendy, and thank you for joining us. I’ve known you for years and yet don’t know as much as I should about your TCK childhood, so am happy to take this opportunity to learn more. You are the daughter of an American dad and a Canadian mom. What’s the story behind why your family moved to Ethiopia and Ghana?
My father is a physician and my mother always loved to travel, so she convinced him to move to Ethiopia. Her idea was that he would teach and do clinical work at a public health college in Gondar, and she would be the college librarian. My first memories are of Ethiopia. I moved back to the US when I was 14. But my specific geographical trajectory is as follows: Philadelphia (birth), Boston, Seattle, Gondar (Ethiopia), Seattle, Accra (Ghana), Seattle, and South Hadley (Massachusetts). After that I lived in Tamale (Ghana). Then back to Washington DC, Accra, Los Angeles, Princeton, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), and now Princeton again.

That’s an impressively peripatetic life! When and where were you happiest while growing up?
As a child, I loved Ethiopia the best, perhaps because it was the first place my family went and perhaps because, as a child who loved reading, it seemed like a magical place. There was a castle in my backyard as well as oxen threshing grain like in the Bible. On the throne was a descendant of King David. From a child’s perspective, it was like living in a book.

How did you find your first “repatriation” to the United States, at age 14?
I never got used to Seattle, it was very parochial in the 1970s when we moved there, and the weather was too gloomy for someone who had spent a significant part of her childhood in the tropics.

At home, but without a role, in Africa

Has your relationship to Africa evolved as an adult?
As an adult, I settled in the US and not Africa, returning to Africa only a few times until 1997, after which I started going every third year or so. Since 2009, I’ve gone every year to Ethiopia. I thought I might settle in Africa, but as an adult my relationship with Africa was more vexed.

That is, what could my role in Africa be as a white American woman?

I wasn’t particularly interested in “helping,” as it seemed to me that Africans were perfectly adept at solving their own problems and only didn’t do so because of all the “help” they received from the West.

But also, I was in a bind. In the US I often didn’t feel a strong sense of calling in my work, but I felt more satisfied emotionally. In Africa, I felt a strong sense of calling in my work, but I was often lonely.

The problem for me as an adult in Africa as a single woman without children was the lack of female friendships. In the 1980s and 1990s I found it difficult to find in Africa other career women like myself with whom I would have something in common.

One of the reasons I’ve found it easier to return to Ethiopia and have done so regularly in the recent past is that I’ve found some good Ethiopian female friends.

Where do you think of as “home” these days?
My mother always thought that my father never really had a sense of home as a particular place, because he had an identical twin brother. It was the presence of one other human being from the beginning that meant home was someone to him, not somewhere. He didn’t really know what loneliness was, she thought.

I may be somewhat similar albeit for different reasons. I don’t think of anywhere as home.

I lived in Los Angeles for 20 years and loved many things about it, but I mostly think of it as a place where my network of affection is. It isn’t the place so much but the people who make it a kind of home.

At the same time, I still have good friends in Seattle, and my family of origin is still there, so it is also a kind of home.

Are you like many TCKs in finding yourself drawn to people of similar backgrounds?
Almost all my friends are people who live straddling some boundary: either geographically, being from elsewhere or spending significant time outside the US, or racially (growing up as minorities). I am almost never in a room with people who mostly look like me.

Writing calls from an early age

I often wonder if TCKs who pursue writing careers do so because the story is entirely in their hands as opposed to the experienced upheaval of their itinerant childhoods. Did your TCK upbringing influence a) your desire to be a writer and b) what you wrote about?
Growing up in Africa, I was surrounded by literary culture. In Ethiopia, a country with a 3,000-year-old written civilization, people read illuminated manuscripts on sheepskin bound with wood. In Ghana, hand-written epigrams adorned most vehicles, and my father’s Ghanaian colleagues traded bon mots in Latin. At school, I would pick a promising library shelf and work my way through it from left to right. I wrote my first novel when I was nine, titled Shipwrecked at Silver Lagoon. I had set myself the task of writing the best title for a book ever and, after I came up with this, decided it was too good to go unwritten. It was about two English girls in the 17th century who, after their ship is wrecked off the American coast, go on to discover what happened to the disappeared colony of Roanoke: it had moved into an underground, underwater kingdom. The book ground to a halt on page 40, perhaps because, as I tried to articulate issues that were all too real to me (the loss of home and the entry into the hybrid colonial world), my imagination foundered on the demands of the adventure form.

After that, I wrote for my middle school and high school newspapers, where I was the editor.

I was shy, partly due to all the moving and not being sure how to fit in, so I spent most of my time reading. Reading allowed me to immerse myself in a world where I could watch and not be watched (or judged). It also allowed me to develop skills in “reading” people and situations, which is essential to surviving so much moving.

HoneyfromtheLion_coverTell us what drew you to write your memoir, Honey from the Lion: An African Journey, when you were in your twenties.
I had enough credits to graduate from Mount Holyoke in three years so I spent my junior year back in Ghana. While working for a nonprofit organization that was spreading literacy and translating the Bible into local languages, I spent a weekend in a village with an Irish Bible translator. A series of events transpired, the impact of which was so powerful I decided I wanted to write about it. It was a gift: the story was so fascinating that I didn’t worry about writing it. Even if I wrote it poorly, I thought people would find it compelling.

Do you ever go back to the memoir now, and if so, does it resonate very differently due to the passage of time?
I can’t bring myself to read the book now. It seems like a different self wrote itsomeone who was more religious for one.

Congratulations on Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson being selected as a finalist for a prestigious academic award. Please tell us what inspired you to write the book.
Belcher_AbyssiniaSamJohnson_coverIn 2002, I was talking with an Ethiopian friend about reading Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas, an eighteenth-century fiction he wrote about an Ethiopian prince. This Ethiopian friend surprised me by saying that he had read the book and quite liked it. When I asked him why, he said the book was “very Ethiopian.” I started to correct him, but then I began to wonder if he could be right, if a book written by a European could be Africanin particular, if it could be animated by African discourse. It’s my hope that my book will be convince others about the importance of African thought to the European canon.

From offering TCK courses at Princeton to helping junior faculty

At Princeton you teach courses that I wish had been offered when I was in college, like “Growing Up Global: Novels and Memoirs of Transnational Childhoods” and “Model Memoirs: The Life Stories of International Fashion Models.” You also teach workshops around the world to aid faculty in publishing academic articles. Please tell us the countries in which you’ve taught the workshops.
The workshops have taken place in Norway, Sudan, Malawi, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Canada and all over the USA.

What led you to teach academics about how to write for publication?

belcher_writingyourjournalarticle_coverI did two master’s degrees in the early nineties and I struggled in writing my classroom papers. What did these professors want and why did some papers succeed and others didn’t? I decided not to go on for a doctorate and when people asked me why, I said I just didn’t feel like I got the hang of being a graduate student and in particular about how to write in graduate school.

To my surprise, I found that most other graduate students felt the same way and were as confused and uncertain as I had been. Then UCLA Extension asked me to teach a writing class. I had always sworn I would never teach, but I think you grow when you do things you are terrified of, so I agreed and found that three of my first six students were academics looking for help with their writing.

UCLA Extension agreed to let me restructure the next class around writing for academic journals. The restructured class was a massive success and changed my life.

Within a few years I was teaching “Writing and Publishing the Academic Article” twice a year at UCLA to graduate students, where the class was in great demand, as well as at other universities and institutes around the world. I wrote the workbook Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success for people who could not take the workshop.

Turning back to your writing, can you tell us what you are working on at present?
I have several writing and translation projects; here are the top three:
1) The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Translation of the Earliest African Biography of an African Woman. Thirty years after the death of a revered African religious leader who led a successful nonviolent movement against European incursions, her Ethiopian disciples (many of whom were women) wrote this vivid book, full of dialogue and drama. The original text, which was written in 1672 by Africans for Africans in an African language, is unknown in the United States (Walatta Petros does not have a Wikipedia entry, for instance). Thanks to the Fulbright US Scholar Award that I held during my third year at Princeton, I was able to spend ten months in Ethiopia devoting myself to archival research. I worked on the translation with Michael Kleiner, a leading scholar and translator of Ge’ez. We believe it will electrify the fields of early modern and gender studies.
2) The Black Queen of Sheba: A Global History of an Ethiopian Idea. Those familiar with the sixth century BCE biblical tale of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon may be surprised to hear that there is also an Ethiopian version, variations on which have in fact circulated for centuries, far beyond the Ethiopian highlands. According to the medieval text Kəbrä Nägäśt, the biblical Queen of Sheba was an Ethiopian woman—the wisest, the wealthiest, and the most powerful woman in the world. Tricked by Solomon into sleeping with him, she gives birth to their biracial son, who later takes the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia forever. My book traces how the Ethiopian tale came about and the impact it had on not just literature but the world. The emergence of the religion of Rastafari is one of its most far-reaching effects…
3) A Wardrobe of Selves: The Literature of Transnational Childhoods. Based on my life experiences, observing those of my TCK friends, and reading lots of memoirs, I am thinking of writing a book about memoirs by those who have spent their childhood crossing boundaries (in terms of culture, nation, state, language, gender, school, etc.). It would attend to how the narrators like Barack Obama, John McCain, Edward Said, Eva Hoffman, Gloria Anzaldua, Diana Abu-Jaber, Alice Kaplan, Gene Luen Yang, and Mohsin Hamid construct meaningful identities through narrative. These writers—usually considered separately, as part of American ethnic literatures like Arab American, African American, Asian American, or Latino—often negotiate the intricacies of identity in similar ways and should be considered together. That is, this would be a broad comparative project on diasporic memoir in the context of American ethnic literature.

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Thanks, Wendy! You are so prolific, it’s an inspiration to all of us creatives! If we could accomplish just a fraction of what you’ve already done, what a life we’d be leading! Readers, any questions or comments for the amazing Wendy? Please leave them below. And…see you next month!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when we hear from an international traveler who has started up her own business in New York City, catering to expats.

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: Wendy Belcher; Wendy with her brother in front of a castle in Gondar, Ethiopia; detail from the cover of Wendy’s latest book, Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson.

5 displaced reads for tickling an expat/global wanderer’s intellect

Hello again, expats, global nomads, serial wanderers, world citizens, and internationals!

As suggested in my post of last week about mentors and muses, it being January, we have resolved to think Big Thoughts about displacement.

We all know what it feels like to venture across borders to travel and/or live. But how often do we stand back and look at the trees? Or, as Burt Bacharach and Hal David put it in their theme song for the 1966 British film starring Michael Caine:

What’s it all about, Alfie?

To help us figure it out, I propose that we turn to the works of Big Thinkers. I’m talking about the kinds of people who take the kind of life we lead — living here, there and everywhere — for granted, and are more interested in questions of what we’re all doing on this planet and can learn from each other and from ourselves, for that matter.

Against that rather dramatic background, here are 5 displaced — and displacing — reads for your consideration:

Mastermind_cover_pm1) Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (Viking, January 2013)

Author: Maria Konnikova
Genre: Self-Help; Cognitive Psychology
Synposis: A primer on increasing one’s mindfulness, based on the lessons imparted by British master sleuth Sherlock Holmes.
Author’s displaced credentials: Born in Russia, Konnikova arrived in the United States at age 4. Though a Third Culture Kid, she has adapted very well to the American scene. She was educated at Harvard, writes the “Literally Psyched” blog for Scientific American, and is doing a PhD at Columbia University in psychology. That said, she has found a muse in an unexpected place: in the fictional works of the terribly Victorian Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Why it’s stimulating: So many of us are caught up in the literal idea of travel that we forget that the most interesting voyage of them all lies in exploring the inner workings of our own minds. But Konnikova takes us one step further. She suggests displacing ourselves into the mind of the hyper-observant Sherlock Holmes. To show us how, she does a bold thought experiment — something that most of us, especially those who are living in isolation from family and friends, would find anathema: she downloads Freedom, a program that blocks Internet access completely for a specified amount of time, and sees how it affects her writing. She is shocked by the results. Her conclusion:

Thinking like Sherlock Holmes isn’t just a way to enhance your cognitive powers. It is also a way to derive greater happiness and satisfaction from life.

How we heard about it: Konnikova’s recent article in Slate, “Do You Think Like Sherlock Holmes?”

TheWorldUntilYesterday_cover_pm2) The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? (Viking, December 2012)

Author: Jared Diamond
Genre: Social History
Synposis: An account of how people in traditional societies — the New Guinea Highlanders, the Inuit, the Amazonian Indians, the Kalahari San — live and what they can teach the rest of us.
Author’s displaced credentials: A polymath and one of the foremost writers of popular science, Diamond was born in the United States, got a degree from Cambridge University, and has had careers in physiology, ecology (specializing in New Guinea and nearby islands), and geography. With the publication of Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, his most popular work to date, he became known for his mastery of global history.
Why it’s stimulating: Diamond displaces us to our (not-so-distant) past by taking us to remote corners of the earth — from the New Guinea Highlands and the Amazon rainforest, to Africa’s Kalahari Desert and the Arctic Circle — where it’s possible to encounter people who are managing without air travel, telecommunications and other fruits of modernity. Pointing out that such accoutrements are extremely recent, he asks: what can traditional peoples teach those of us who live in “complex” societies about how we might live better today? As it turns out, Diamond says, we may be better off dialing down the complexity and living closer to our ancestors:

We get ideas about how to bring up our children. We get ideas about how to have a better old age. We get ideas about how not to die of cancer, heart attacks and stroke.

How we heard about it: An interview with Jared Diamond in Smithsonian Magazine.

Immigrant_Advantage_Book_Cover_pm3) The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness, and Hope (Free Press, October 2011)

Author: Claudia Kolker
Genre: Social Sciences; Immigration
Synposis: An examination of some of the customs imported by America’s newest residents.
Author’s displaced credentials: A journalist and Third Culture Kid (her mother was from Mexico and father from Ukraine), Claudia Kolker once worked as a freelance reporter in El Salvador from 1992 to 1995, where she covered the Salvadoran postwar recovery as well as social issues throughout Central America, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She has also reported from Japan and India. She now lives in Houston.
Why it’s stimulating: Kolker was spurred to do her research after discovering that most immigrants to the United States, even those from poor or violence-wracked countries, are physically and mentally healthier — they actually live longer! — than most native-born Americans. In a work that in some ways parallels Jared Diamond’s (#2 above), her book takes us on a tour of immigrant households in the United States — Mexican, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Jamaican, etc. — and shows us that there are things about their values we should not only respect but emulate. I don’t know about you, but I find it refreshing to think that privileged Americans like us, who choose to displace ourselves to other lands, could stand to learn some major life lessons from the forcibly displaced. Kudos to Kolker for turning the tables!
How we heard about it: From a recent interview with Kolker on PBS Newshour.

onthemap_cover_pm4) On the Map: A Mind-expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks (Gotham, December 2012)

Author: Simon Garfield
Genre: Social Sciences; Human Geography
Synposis: A history of mankind’s love affair with maps, beginning with Ptolemy’s world map (one of the 100 diagrams that changed the world); moving through the “cartographic dark ages,” which lasted for about a thousand years; and culminating in our modern obsession with maps, which in fact dates from 1450s Venice, when the atlas became a craze.
Author’s displaced credentials: By splitting his life between London and St. Ives, Cornwall, Garfield could be described as a “domestic expat” within the UK.
Why it’s stimulating: “Displacement” of the sort we talk about in this blog requires constant rewriting and editing of the map you were born with — both figuratively and literally. Garfield shows us that while some of our cases may be extreme (the Displaced Nation being a prime example, with our “Here Be Dragons” obsession), mapmaking is something we humans can’t get enough of:

Maps relate and realign our history. They reflect our best and worst attributes — discovery and curiosity, conflict and destruction — and they chart our transitions of power. Even as individuals, we seem to have a need to plot a path and track our progress, to imagine possibilities of exploration and escape.

How we heard about it: From a 1 Jan 2013 post by Maria Popova on her Brain Pickings blog.

Cosmopolitanism-Appiah-Kwame_cover_pm5) Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (W.W. Norton, 2007)

Author: Kwame Anthony Appiah
Genre: Politics; Philosophy; Ethics; Globalization
Synposis: An examination of the ancient philosophy of “cosmopolitanism” — the idea that all human ethnic groups belong to a single community based on a shared morality — and the influence it has had on the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Author’s displaced credentials: Appiah is the product of a cross-cultural union: his mother was an English author and daughter of the statesman Sir Stafford Cripps, and his father a Ghanaian barrister and politician, who was constantly exhorting his children to remember that they were “citizens of the world.” Raised in Ghana and educated in England, Appiah has taught philosophy on three continents and is now a professor at Princeton University.
Why it’s stimulating: Whether we realize it or not, those of us who venture across borders are making a step towards reducing our culturally isolation. We are opening our minds to seeing the world outside our own contextual walls. But how far can we actually take this? Pretty far, claims Appiah, pointing out that we humans are an inter-cultural, intertwined, and interdependent species, just like every other on the planet — replete with cross-pollinations of language, religion, art, dress, rites, metaphysical outlooks, and progeny. But if Appiah rejects the Sam Huntington view of an inevitable clash of civilizations, he is also not a universalist:

Cosmopolitans suppose that all cultures have enough overlap in their vocabulary of values to begin a conversation. But they don’t suppose, like some Universalists, that we could all come to agreement if only we had the same vocabulary.

How we heard about it: The book was a Global Niche Bookshelf pin, by GlobalNiche.net, on Pinterest.

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Whoa, are you still with me? That was quite a Head Trip! Readers, any responses to this list — any other works to suggest? Much obliged for your input! I think I’ve had a little too much stimulation for one blog post and need to give my brainbox a rest…

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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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