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THE DISPLACED DO-GOODER: My third-culture-kid years in the land of kiwis, hobbits & jandals

New columnist Joanna Sun is back. Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, she spent her college years studying public health in New Zealand. And now she’s displaced again—on a philanthropic mission in the Dominican Republic. This month she shares with us what it was like to live as a Third Culture Kid in Auckland. —ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers.

As I explained in my last post, the Dominican Republic is not my first experience of living abroad. The first time I ventured overseas was to New Zealand, for education.

As I’m sure you know, most Asian countries put a strong emphasis on education and academic excellence. When I was growing up there was a boom in teaching children English to children in Korea. (It’s an even bigger trend now.)

I think that was why, when my aunty emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand, my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to join her for a few months. Initially, it was a short-term plan: I would stay with my aunty for around a year or so to pick up English. But then I ended up falling in love with the country and decided to stay for much longer. I attended, and then graduated from, the University of Auckland, with a degree in public health.

When my parents first approached me about going to NZ, I was 10 and didn’t have a clear picture of what I was really getting into. Mainly I was intrigued by the idea of going on a plane. As explained in my last post, I always get nauseous on planes, but this first time I was too excited to care.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder why I wasn’t more terrified of going into a country with another language and culture. I guess that is just a part of my personality because I was excited above all—and didn’t even care that I wouldn’t see my parents for a few months (sorry, mum and dad, love you!).

Looking back, I also don’t recall what it was about NZ that impressed my youthful mind so much. It might have been the amazing beaches everywhere you turn or just the tranquil and peaceful vibe that Kiwis give off. Whatever it was, I fell madly in love with NZ and still feel passionate about that part of the world. If I was given another opportunity to choose between NZ and Korea, I would choose NZ all over again.

What I missed about Korea: The food!

This is not to say I don’t love my native Korea. I do! Like any other person on earth, I am not happy with every single aspect of home. For instance, Koreans put too much focus on academic excellence, leaving little room for creativity.

But I love lots of things about Korean culture—especially the food. If you’re not familiar with Korean cuisine, can I urge you to go and try:
● Korean fried chicken;
Bulgogi (marinated beef; 불고기); and
Soondae (순대), which is similar to a blood sausage, with tteok-bokki (떡볶기), or fried Korean rice cake, in a spicy sauce.

If anyone visits Korea any time soon, eat for me so I can live vicariously, because it has been five months since I ate decent Korean food. As you can imagine in a place like the Dominican Republic, where all Asians are referred to as Chinos (see my last post), you don’t see very many Korean restaurants. (That said, I have found two Korean restaurants in the DR, but I’ll save for a later account.)

Ah, also, should you ever get a chance to visit Korea, there is no need for a car—because the public transport system, especially in Seoul, is amazing. You get on the subway and it connects to everywhere you might want to go. The system never ceases to amaze me. Subways are punctual, cheap and easy to use. Even if you get lost there is an identical loop that will take you back to where you got on, so there is no need to panic. (Though I would not recommend using it in rush hour…)

Novelties and culture shocks aplenty

Getting back to NZ: it was my first time to be surrounded by mostly Caucasian, English-speaking people. Sure, I had seen foreign people on TV and all, but there were very few living in Korea, even in Seoul, where I grew up.

(Nowadays it is different. I am surprised to see more and more foreigners in Korea every time I visit. If you go to Korea now, you will find a place in Seoul called Itaewon (이태원), which is basically a foreigner’s town. They have lots of restaurants, entertainment and shops that are targeted at tourists.)

It was also my first experience of diversity. Compared to NZ, Korea is much more homogeneous, with a single race and culture. I understood the concept of a melting pot, where all the cultures are expected to blend with each other, but I noticed there were people who seemed opposed to that idea. I never quite understood how it works. Like everything else, diversity has its positives and its negatives, I guess.

Similar to other first-timers in NZ, my most memorable experiences include:
● Watching the haka, the traditional war dance of the Māori.
● Tasting pavlova—let’s not even get into the argument of whether it is from Aussies or Kiwis; nonetheless it was my first time trying this marvelous dessert.
● Gorging on kiwi fruit.
● Seeing a kiwi bird for the first time (the national symbol of NZ, from which the nickname comes).
● Picking up Kiwi slang that I use to this day in the DR (English speakers from other parts of the world haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about): e.g., togs (swimsuits) and jandals (flip flops/thongs).

Back when I first arrived in NZ, the Korean community was relatively small, which probably helped me learn English quickly, because in around a year I was reasonably fluent. Of course, it took much longer to become fully proficient.

I am seeing the same pattern here in the DR. Not many people speak English, and even when they do it is very basic. So I am hoping this will help me to pick up Spanish faster.

Impressions of the South Island

Moving on, I am assuming you have heard that NZ is the place that brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s landscapes to life. That was thanks to New Zealand-born filmmaker Peter Jackson, who opted to film The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy entirely in his native land, taking advantage of the astonishing terrains on both North and South Islands.

NZ’s South Island is, of course, very different, from the North Island, starting with the climate. It snows in the South Island in winters but not in the North, where the lakes keep temperatures warmer.

I visited the South Island only once during my stay: venturing to Queenstown, a resort town in the southwestern part of the island. I did all the things a tourist would do, including skiing, visiting Ferg Burger (which, by the way, is amazing: they make burgers the size of your face; I really think they should bring it up to the North, too) and going on the luge ride.

I did not, however, try out bungee jumping… I am terrified of heights. As even going up there gives me the creeps, I feared I might have a heart attack once I started free falling.

Ah, and one last thing: there’s a cookie bar in Queenstown! It serves hot cookies and there’s warm milk on tap at the “bar”. Since I do not enjoy drinking all that much, I was in my element here: lots of chocolate, sugar and warm milk.

Writing this post about my first displacement makes me realize how grateful I am to my parents for allowing me to see the world from a different lens and experience another culture, at such a young age. I also want to thank my lovely aunty, who sacrificed so much to look after me, and put up with my rebellious teenage years.

At some point in the future, I might write about how being displaced in NZ affected my feelings about Korea (and even the Dominican Republic): it’s really been an interesting dynamic.

* * *

Thanks, Joanna! I love the way you’ve managed to recapture your first impressions of New Zealand as a Korean youth. Those burgers and that cookie bar sound amazing! And I don’t blame you for giving bungee jumping a miss: it shows me you are sensible!

Readers, any thoughts for Joanna, or questions you’d like her to address in future posts? Please let us know in the comments.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits:
Opening photo, Korean food photo, and photos of NZ and DR beaches were supplied.
North Island collage: All photos from Pixabay except for: [Street scene in Auckland], by Naoki Sato via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and [jandals], by jase via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
South Island collage: Photos from Pixabay except for the two food ones: Ferg Loves You, by Nogwater via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and FB photo by Cookie Tie Cookie Bar Queenstown.

THE DISPLACED DO-GOODER: Introducing myself and my new home in the Dominican Republic

Today we welcome new columnist Joanna Sun. Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, she spent her college years studying public health in New Zealand. And now she’s displaced again—on a philanthropic mission in the Dominican Republic. Every month she will be sharing a few of the highlights of this new, and even more daring, faraway adventure. —ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers. Let me start by saying that my first entry into the Dominican Republic (DR), in January of this year, was not all that great—not because someone treated me rudely or something horrendous happened. It was simply because I am a terrible flyer.

I love to tell people I plan to travel the world one day if it weren’t for the fact that flying makes me sick. I cannot eat, sleep or do anything on planes. There’s no such thing as the “friendly skies” for me. Being in a plane just makes me feel groggy and ill.

On this occasion, I had a 13-hour flight from Seoul to JFK and then another four hours to the DR. By the time I reached New York, I was feeling so nauseous I had to ask for a paper bag. By the end of the journey, I could not give a rat’s ass about being in the DR. Plus, it was late at night and I could hardly see anything.

How did this happen?

By now you may be wondering: how did I choose to come here in the first place, a Korean woman who did her education in New Zealand? I graduated university with a degree in public health and returned to Korea, Seoul, where my family resides only to find myself unemployed and leading a somewhat lackluster life.

Despite my problem with flying, I’d always seen myself as going on some kind of overseas adventure, most likely as a public health volunteer. Back in my home country, I did some research and came across an interesting opportunity right in my field: working with children in an orphanage called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (which literally translates as “Our Little Brothers and Sisters”), in San Pedro de Macorís, in the southeastern part of the Dominican Republic. (The umbrella organization is NPH USA, which supports homes for orphaned, abandoned or otherwise disadvantaged children not only in the DR but also in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.)

A few weeks later I received a letter of acceptance, and my DR adventure began.

A rough landing…but I love it here (I think)

Of course, the fantasy of helping people in a foreign land is one thing; the reality can be rather more challenging. Once I reached the house where I would be living for a year or more, I felt suddenly alone. I woke up the next morning thinking, here I am on the other side of the globe, in a foreign place to which I have no connection and don’t even speak the language: what was I thinking? For the first week or so, I kept to myself. I didn’t even eat properly and just sat in my room sulking or sleeping.

I should also mention that I had a horrible time getting over my jet lag. With a 13-hour time difference, it was literally the difference of day and night. My first few days in the DR was the first time I realised, wow, I really can sleep for more than 12 hours a day. I was constantly napping and sleeping, and even when I was awake I wasn’t really all that conscious.

Fortunately, time helps. Two months have now passed, and I can honestly say I love being in the DR. Yes, language and cultural barriers are still getting to me. I have a hard time communicating in Spanish, and that gets in the way of my job sometimes. I can’t really formulate sentences yet; most of the time I talk in broken Spanish: I just throw vocabulary out there and hope the other person will understand what I mean.

But I love it here, I think, and am so thankful for the opportunity.

Getting called out for being an Asian woman

Yes, I do get called out on the streets for being a woman—and in my case, also for being Asian. No matter what part of Asia you are from, people here will collectively call you China/Chino. This I am relatively used to by now. I have come to accept it as it is and just ignore it mostly. (Even if I didn’t want to ignore it, my Spanish is so minimal that I couldn’t possibly hold my own in a verbal argument.)

I have mentioned this reception to some Dominicans, but the response I always get is: it’s not a big deal, people don’t mean to offend you. This response surprises me, because whenever I tell non-Dominicans about it, they invariably take offense on my behalf, along the lines of, “How can they collectively call all Asians just Chinese?” or “Do they not know that Asia does not consist just of China?”

Maybe Dominicans are not used to seeing many Asian people who are not from China? Occasionally, someone will ask if I’m Chinese and, when I say no, some of them will ask: Japan? I say no again, and they go, “Then where?” When I tell them Korea, many of them just nod—and I wonder if they have ever heard of my country.

Occasionally, though, I’ll meet someone who has heard of Korea, and the next thing they will ask is: Corea del Norte o Del Sur? When I say South, they often say: “I really want to visit North Korea.” And then we have this whole new conversation about why they should not try to go to North Korea.

Gradually I am also picking up some special Dominican words. The most interesting one I’ve encountered so far is guapa. In other Spanish-speaking countries, guapa means pretty and cute, but here it means “angry”. Hm, I wonder how the word cute turned into angry? Curiouser and curiouser.

Santo Domingo, the DR’s capital city, has a small Chinatown but no Koreatown.

Allow me to introduce my little angels

Moving on to my job: as I mentioned, it involves looking after children. I am working in a clinic as a clinical assistant/public health coordinator, which has been set up inside an orphanage. I have been given the additional duty of hanging out with the kids and basically acting as their friend or sister. I am assigned to what I call the “baby house”: the youngest child is two years old and the oldest, seven. Every day in that house is spectacular; so much energy—and yes, they fight and scream from time to time, but they are also my little angels. As much as they have become attached to me, I have become attached to them.

I play with them and spend most of my evenings with them before putting them to bed. The first words I learnt that I continue to use frequently are: cuidado (watch out!), tranquillo (quiet!), and mi amor (my love). These words expanded my Spanish but also taught me that, sometimes, a few words are all you really need. Who needs verbs (and verb tenses)?

My plan is to stay and work here for about a year, maybe a bit more depending on how I get on. It is after all volunteer work; as much as I love the concept of being able to help people, I also know that life won’t wait for me and volunteering cannot be something permanent.

This is the first of many posts to come, and I hope that as time goes on, I will learn more and be able to share with all of you how amazing the DR is. But the next time I write, I plan to talk about my first displaced adventure, as a Korean woman going to New Zealand for an education. Korean and Kiwi: quite a combo, I think you’ll agree!

* * *

Thanks, Joanna! I have to say, your first post reminds me of the early days of the Displaced Nation, when we devoted a whole month to posting on the theme of “global philanthropy.” One of my own posts from that era, 7 extraordinary women travelers with a passion to save souls, is still one of our most popular. It seems that women have long traveled the world for philanthropic reasons. Of course in days of old, they went by ship. But is going by plane actually better? Perhaps not in your case… 😦 In any event, thank you for providing such an honest first-hand account of your attempt to do good in the DR.

Readers, any thoughts for Joanna, or questions you’d like her to address in future posts? Please let us know in the comments.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits: All photos supplied.

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats and TCKs, humility is your best cross-cultural tool—and don’t forget to pack that golden triad!

marilyn-gardner-cst
This month transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol consults with a prominent member of the former expat/Adult Third Culture Kid community on how best to handle culture shock. They also discuss reverse culture shock, though her guest finds that term something of a misnomer…

Hello, Displaced Nationers!

I suspect some of you may already know, or at least know of, my guest this month, the multi-talented Marilyn Gardner. She is a blogger, author, consultant and public speaker. You may have come across her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries, or heard of her book, Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging, which is drawn from her blog writings and gets rave reviews from Amazon readers, who call her a “master storyteller.”

Born in small-town Massachusetts, Marilyn moved to Pakistan when she was three months old. She returned to the United States for college, became a nurse, and then tried to go “home” to Pakistan, only to be deported back to the U.S. after three months. She resumed her travels with marriage, producing five children on three continents and raising them in Pakistan and Egypt. When she and her husband finally repatriated, they arrived from Cairo at Dulles Airport with five children, 26 suitcases, and an Egyptian Siamese cat. They now live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Marilyn has a passion for helping under-served communities, including refugees and immigrants, with their health care needs. She started her blog in 2011 after returning from a trip to Pakistan where she worked as a nurse with internally displaced people. She also works with refugees in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Turkey.

Marilyn often speaks to groups and organizations on topics related to cultural competency, including culture and health care, faith and identity, and adult third culture kids.

She kindly took the time out from her busy life and travels to share some of her many cross-cultural experiences with us. (She conveniently lives 15 minutes from Logan Airport’s international terminal and flies to the Middle East and Pakistan as often as she can!) Check it out 🙂

* * *

Welcome, Marilyn, to Culture Shock Toolbox. Can you tell us which countries you’ve lived in and for how long? 

Pakistan, 20 years; Egypt, 7 years; United States, 28 years; and I have visited over 30 countries.

In the context of cultural transitions, did you ever put your foot in your mouth?

I have lots of memorable stories—some more embarrassing than others, all funny for various reasons. As a child, I wasn’t always aware of the cultural mistakes—but my mom was! At one point when I was three years old we had been invited to a feast in the town where we lived. The women were in one room and the men in another. We sat on the floor and we ate with our hands. Evidently, the minute the food arrived, I lunged toward it and grabbed the rice with both hands. The older woman in the room was none too happy—she sniffed and said loudly: “The child doesn’t know how to eat!” Every Pakistani kid knew that you eat with your right hand only! My mom was red-faced and fumbled over her words. She vowed that once we got home, she would teach us all how to eat in properly Pakistani style!
childrens-culture-shock-toolbox

Wow, I guess your mom needed a toy version of the culture shock toolbox? Did you continue making blunders as you grew up?

As an adult, the rules changed and some mistakes have to do with language and others with behavior. For instance, when I first arrived in Cairo, I had trouble flagging down taxis. Then I realized that Egyptians would just yell loudly “Taks” and wave their hand wildly. So I began yelling loudly and waving my hands wildly. One day I did this while out with one of my Egyptian friends and she was horrified! “Why are you shouting?” she said. I realized I’d been observing male behavior, not female. A woman stands calmly and daintily waves down a taxi; only the men are so loud and aggressive. It was a good example that it’s not only about observing, it’s also about observing and imitating the right behavior. Language mistakes are also common and almost always funny. My husband, for instance, once tried to tell someone he was thinner than another man—but ended up saying he was cleaner than him.

What tools do you think are most useful in scenarios like these? 

In health care we use the term “cultural humility.” You have to be humble enough to admit defeat when you get it wrong. In essence, this is a commitment to life-long learning about culture; a commitment to self-reflection and self-critique; a process whereby you continually place yourself in a posture of learning. I picture this as someone almost on their knees, looking up at another person and saying:

“You tell me what is important, you tell me what I need to know to function most effectively here.”

That’s what we expats, nomads, and Third Culture Kids all need to learn more about, continually posturing ourselves as being willing to grow and to learn.
cultural-humility

That’s a powerful image! But have there also been situations you think you’ve handled with surprising finesse?

There is something about growing up overseas that puts you in a different place from the beginning, and that has stood me well. But again I would stress that there can also be an arrogance that comes from growing up overseas, as in “I know better than you do because I’ve lived this longer”—which can be totally false. We only know what we know, and we can’t possibly have experienced every aspect of a culture, which is why we always need that toolbox. What I think is different from the adult expat is that we Third Culture Kids have been shaped, not just influenced, by cultures other than our own. That distinction is really important. When you’re shaped, it’s like a potter shaping clay. You are molded by different cultural viewpoints, which makes it much harder to be ethnocentric and think your way is best. You tend to see all sides. That in itself has its own issues, the “chameleon effect” I call it—but we won’t go there today!

If you had to give advice to new expats, which tools in their culture shock toolbox would they use most often and why? 

I have two. The first I’ve already mentioned: cultural humility. It is so easy to go as an “expert” and think you know it all. Cultural humility puts you in the place of a servant, a learner. You listen more, talk less, and observe everything. You ask questions not from a place of frustration but from a place of curiosity. In addition, I’d encourage new expats to develop what I call the “golden triad”—empathy, curiosity, and respect. All three are needed in equal measure and when even one of those is missing, we miss something in our experience.
golden-triad

I like the idea of the golden triad: that’s a great tool to add to the toolbox! Moving on to reverse culture shock: I’m not sure that we Third Culture Kids experience it in the same way as others, but can you comment on your reverse culture shock experiences as well? 

You are right, reverse culture shock is a misnomer for us TCKs. We don’t have reverse culture shock when we go to our passport countries—we have plain old culture shock. Reverse culture shock assumes a level of adjustment to our passport countries most of us have never attained. Once we are adults, and we (some of us) have lived longer in our passport countries, then we might feel a reverse culture shock.

What “reverse” culture shock experiences stand out for you the most?

For culture shock in my home country, one of the things that stands out for me is the cost of medications. I left a pharmacy in the middle of a transaction because I was given a bill for over s hundred dollars. I said with all the outrage I could muster “What? This medicine would be $3.00 in the place where I’m from!” To which the pharmacist looked bored and gave me a look that said “Well, obviously you’re not there so just pay up.” I left and said: “This is ridiculous!” I write about other examples in my book, such as paralysis in the cereal aisle and learning to speak “coffee”—I just couldn’t get the drink I wanted! There were so many choices and strange words. Expectations for who I was and how I would respond from dentist offices to work places also come to mind. Too many experiences to count!
repatriation-blues-mg

What are the best tools for dealing with (reverse) culture shock?

As I noted, my passport country was foreign in almost every way but language, so when I finally decided to treat it as foreign, I did much better. Not well mind you—but at least better! I watched and observed the rules, tried to follow the unwritten expectations. I cried a lot. I tried to find my happy places through coffee shops. I decorated my house with all the items I loved from the worlds where I had lived. I made friends with “locals.” I learned how to honor the goodbyes and to grieve even as I moved forward in the new. All of that helped in my adjustment. But what helped the most I think is giving myself time—it’s a process, and the longer we’ve been overseas, the longer the process of adjustment to our passport countries. Lastly, I’d like to note that staying in one place for a while doesn’t mean you grow stagnant. In the past I always equated stability with stagnancy, but that is simply not true. So slowly I have learned how to grow while staying in the same place.

Thank you so much, Marilyn, for sharing your stories with us. I love what you said about cultural humility. I think you’re right, once we start a life of living and communicating across cultures, there will always be a need for carrying a culture shock toolbox, and we should never forget that!

* * *

So, Displaced Nationers, do you have any stories to share that show a lack of cultural humility, and could you have used Marilyn’s customized toolbox at that moment?

If you like her prescriptions, be sure to check out her blog posts. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter. And if you’re interested in health care, you should check out the video series she has created with a film maker here and here.

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 and the newly published Reverse Culture Shock. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, and, of course, her author site.  

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a biweekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation—and so much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Photo credits: First visual (collage): Photos of Cairo and Pakistan from Pixabay; culture shock toolbox branding; and photo of Marilyn Gardner, her book cover and her blog banner (supplied). Second visual: Set Tools – Toys, by Suzette via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Third visual: Photo of woman kneeling from Pixabay.Fourth visual: Celtic triad vector graphic from Pixabay. Last visual/collage: (top left) Breakfast Cereal Aisle, by Mike Mozart via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (top right) Specialty Drinks – menu seen at Jack’s Java in Paris, Tennessee, by Kathleen Tyler Conklin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and pharmacy cabinet photo via Pixabay.

LOCATION, LOCUTION: Columnist JJ Marsh bids farewell with generous book giveaway

JJ Marsh hands over the Location Locution reins to Lorraine Mace, who will start next month.

JJ Marsh hands over the Location Locution reins to Lorraine Mace, who will start next month.

JJ Marsh first graced the shores of the Displaced Nation two years ago. Growing up a Third Culture Kid in Africa and the Middle East, and now an expat in Switzerland, she was an immediate fit. For two years we have benefited from her love of language and place, and now, as she takes her leave from this column (though not from the Displaced Nation), she does something that makes us love her even more: hand picks a successor and offers a chance to win a set of SEVEN books from Triskele, the acclaimed writers’ collective she helped to found. Thank you, JJ!

—ML Awanohara

Two years after joining Displaced Nation with the Location, Locution column, it’s time for me to say goodbye.

It’s been a terrific experience and I’ve learnt so much from my interviewees, not to mention discovering wonderful books and unexplored places. Heartfelt thanks to ML Awanohara and the Displaced Nation team for taking a risk on me.

I’m going to hand over to a fresh face, with her own unique flair. From June, Location, Locution will be in the expert hands of inveterate creative and nomad, Lorraine Mace. I asked Lorraine to introduce herself to you next month by providing her own answers to the Location, Locution questions.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a goodbye present. As international creatives, I know you enjoy exploring books that make a feature of place.

My colleagues and I at Triskele Books have created a box set of books to transport you across time and place, from 3rd century Syria to futuristic Wales. A Time & A Place contains seven award-winning novels that have in common the theme of this column: location, locution.

Come on a journey.
We’ll take you to another place.
And tell you a story.

And as my farewell gift to Displaced Nation readers, I have one free copy (ebook only) to give away. You can win by adding a comment in the box below. In no more than 50 words, where and when in the world would you like to go, and why?

JJ Marsh's farewell giveaway

JJ Marsh’s farewell giveaway

The winner will be announced in next month’s Location, Locution.

* * *

Where would you like to be taken?

1) Modern-day Anglesey on the trail of a psychopath
Crimson Shore, by Gillian Hamer (Contemporary crime)
“Hamer does for Anglesey what Rankin does to Edinburgh, what Dexter did to Oxford”

2) Post-apocalyptic Wales, surviving with a rat pack
Rats, by JW Hicks (YA)
“An absolute treat for fans of SF, dystopian, and YA novels, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a great story brilliantly told.”

3) Contemporary Zurich, where everyone has a secret
Behind Closed Doors, by JJ Marsh (European crime)
“Warning: once you start this book you may not be able to put it down, and you may find yourself talking to it.”

4) WWII France to resist occupation and fall in love
Wolfsangel, by Liza Perrat (Historical fiction)
“Fascinating, forceful and extremely well researched… will thrill historical fiction fans.”

5) Ancient Palmyra to fight alongside a warrior queen
The Rise of Zenobia, by JD Smith (Historical fiction)
“Packed to the hilt with tension and adventure, it kept me spellbound.”

6) Charleville, France, and the poetic voyage of a manuscript
Delirium – The Rimbaud Delusion, by Barbara Scott-Emmett (Literary fiction)
“Beautifully plotted and written, this absorbing, enchanting novel is one of the best books I have read this year.”

7) Coventry – a 1980s crucible of racial tensions
Ghost Town, by Catriona Troth (Literary fiction)
“Unique and brilliant… not just a compelling read, but also a learning experience.”

JJ Marsh and her  fellow Triskelites.

JJ Marsh and her fellow Triskelites.

Can’t wait to get the set? It’s available for a limited period at the special offer price of $9.99/£7.99. Don’t miss this box of delights. Who knows what you’ll discover?

Or, to reiterate, you can try your luck at winning a FREE copy (ebook only) by adding a comment in the box below:

In no more than 50 words, where and when in the world would you like to go, and why?

Goodbye, thank you for reading the column and I wish you all excellent journeys.

Jill

* * *

Happy trails to you as well, Jill! I noticed you said in a recent interview: “My definition of literary genius is writing about places you want to visit.” May that become the Displaced Nation’s new mantra! Readers and JJ fans, let’s all bid JJ a fond farewell by answering the question: In no more than 50 words, where and when in the world would you like to go, and why? (Seven books, wow! That’s your summer reading…)

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, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she has been writing a European crime series set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs. She recently produced the fourth book in the series: Cold Pressed, which takes place on a luxury cruise bound for Santorini.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Canadian writer Lee Strauss uses busy, multicultural Dresden as setting for romance

Location Locution_LeeStrauss

LOCATION, LOCUTION: JJ Marsh (left) talks to author Lee Strauss about the craft of setting contemporary romance novels in foreign locations.

In “Location, Locution” expat crime series writer JJ Marsh chats with fellow displaced fiction writers about their methods of portraying place in their works. Her guest today is contemporary romance and speculative fiction writer Lee Strauss. Born near Chicago to Canadian parents, Lee might have grown up a California girl had it not been for Vietnam, which caused her parents to retreat back to Canada. At age 22, she married Norm Strauss, a Canadian folk rock musician—and signed up for a life of adventure. They have traveled extensively overseas and live part-time in Germany.

—ML Awanohara

Lee Strauss is the author of the Minstrel Series, a collection of contemporary romance novels set in the singer/songwriter world, taking place in Germany and England; the Perception Series, a trilogy of young adult dystopian novels; and several works of YA historical fiction. Under the alter ego of Elle Strauss, she writes fanciful younger adult stories about time travel, mermaids and fairies.

Lee is the married mother of four grown children, three boys and a girl. Because of her husband’s job as an indie folk musician, she has traveled to twelve European countries, Mexico, fourteen states, and six Canadian provinces. Currently, the couple divide its time between Kelowna, a town in British Columbia’s temperate Okanangan Valley, and Dresden, Germany. When not writing or reading Lee likes to cycle, hike and do yoga. She enjoys travel (but not jet lag :0), soy lattes, red wine and dark chocolate.

Now let’s talk to Lee about how she has woven European settings into several of her books.

* * *

Which came first, story or location?

It was a simultaneous decision. My singer-songwriter husband and I spent some time brainstorming on how we could merge our two worlds, indie publishing collaborating with indie music artists, and the idea for the Minstrel Series was born. (Each of the books has accompanying music.) The first two books, Sun & Moon and Flesh & Bone, are song titles of music used in the books. We live part of the year in Dresden, Germany, and I just knew that the books had to be set there, right in our neighbourhood.

Minstrel Series Set in Dresden

Cover art from first two books of the Minstrel Series; (middle) view of Dresden’s historical center, from the same spot where Canaletto made his famous painting.

I’ve also written a WW2 historical novel called Playing with Matches, about a group of boys growing up in Hitler Youth. The story takes place in Passau and Nuremberg. Traveling to both cities made a huge difference in getting the setting and ambiance right.

Playing with Matches Collage

Clockwise, left to right: Cover art; Nuremberg citiscape; view of Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress in Paussau, in lower Bavaria, Germany.

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

Nothing like living in the middle of it! The street and building in Dresden where we lived are featured in great detail in Sun & Moon and Flesh & Bone. Many readers comment on how they feel like they visited Germany while reading my books.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

All three. I share a lot of Dresden images on Tumblr, including not just landscape but also food and the local culture.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

Here’s a passage from the Minstrel Series, describing a scene in Dresden:

Katja stood in one of the cutaways on the old stone bridge over the River Elbe that joined the Altstadt with the Neustadt, the old city with the new.

She shivered despite her winter jacket and the scarf wrapped around her neck and strummed her guitar with fingerless gloves. The limestone dome of the Frauenkirche—the Church of our Lady—peaked out over the city’s ancient, baroque skyline. Like all the buildings in the historic center, it had been completely demolished during the Second World War. The entire city was rebuilt to look much like it had before it was destroyed. In essence, the old town was now the new one, and the new town the old one.

It was majestic and awe-inspiring to look upon.

Most days.

Katja’s guitar case lay open at her feet. She’d thrown in the few cents she’d found under the sofa cushions, hoping to lure other donations.

The cold wind kept people hunched over and moving at a fast pace across the bridge, most with chins tucked down and hands shoved into deep pockets. No one took the time to stop and listen, much less drop money in her case.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

Spending time living there is the absolute best way. There’s so much you see and learn about a place over time. The second best is to visit in person. After that, talking to people who have lived or visited there along with research and Google Earth.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Maeve Binchy has a wonderful way of pulling the reader deep into Ireland. (My next book in The Minstrel Series will be set in Ireland and Boston, where I’ve lived.) Susan Grafton does the same for Southern California with her Alphabet Mystery series, set in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, based on Santa Barbara.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Lee Strauss and her creative array of fiction works, we encourage you to visit her author site.

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, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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 weekly updates and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: British expat author Carl Plummer turns his gaze upon his adopted home of China

Columnist JJ Marsh (left) talks to Carl Plummer,

Columnist JJ Marsh (left) talks to Carl Plummer, a writer of historical adventure fiction.

We welcome JJ Marsh back to the Displaced Nation for this month’s “Location, Locution.” If you are new to the site, JJ, who is a crime series writer, chats with fellow fiction writers about their methods for portraying place in their works. Her guest today is Carl Plummer, who writes World War II adventure spoofs under the pen name of Robert E. Towsie. Born in Hull, England, he lived in Cyprus, Paris and Libya before moving to his current home of China, where he works as a university lecturer. Today he does something unusual for this column: describes the place where he’s living right now.

—ML Awanohara

JJ MARSH: Once in a while, Location, Locution likes to surprise you. Remember the Paulo Coelho piece on monuments that immortalise cities? If not, go read it now. Is it any surprise this man is an international bestseller?

This month, I tracked down an author I’ve admired for a long time. Carl Plummer writes as Robert E. Towsie, in a classic comic style, setting his capers around Europe against the backdrop of its dramatic history.

But what interested me about Carl/Robert is where this expat creative lives. China. A place I find fascinating, mysterious and sometimes a little scary. So this month’s Location, Locution is his take on China, its people and and how he sees it. Enjoy.

* * *

CARL PLUMMER: In 2004, after a stint in Libya, I arrived in China and started a job at Nanyang Normal University to teach British and American literature. The city of Nanyang (pop. 1,000,000) in Henan Province was proud to boast ten lao wai, foreigners.

Every minute, on every street, in every shop, I was reminded I was a foreigner. Some reminders were harsh, nationalistic and racist with the “go back where you came from” we associate with racism in England.

Other reminders were through curiosity, the wish to speak English to and even touch a foreigner, the assumption all foreigners are American and a sense of me being something exotic, something new and different, and most of all—rich.

I wasn’t rich, am not rich. Teachers are the poorest working travellers of the world. We are the intellectual navvies from the western world. We are not businessmen with expense accounts; we are not oil people or wheeler and dealers. But we are approachable because we have to mingle, use the buses and the metros, and the trains. We do not have company cars with around-the-clock company drivers.

During the rainy season in a small coal-mining town near Pingdingshan the streets would run black when it poured and families would come out to shower beneath the torrents thundering off awnings.

What made me rich to such people? I had an apartment with a shower and I could afford the water it used—I didn’t have to wait for the rain.

In China, the iron rice bowl has long gone.

Why am I talking about money instead of garnishing the text with tales of magnificent walls, gaudy ancient temples or food conjured up with every living creature imaginable? Well, that’s all been done before.

I’m talking of money because poverty is not romantic; it never has been and it never will be. It is cruel and it doesn’t discriminate; there are no deserving and no undeserving poor.

That cradle-to-the-grave surety of Communism is a generation ago, but that generation brought up in it is still around. It is my age, brought up in the 60s and 70s, taught to root out the treacherous intellectual bourgeoisie, taught to spy on parents and teachers, taught to love the state above all else.

It worked in theory for a while because the state cared; it looked after your every need as long as your toed the line, as long as you never asked questions. Now it doesn’t. Now there is no line to toe.

The young are asking questions. That is their hope.

I meet many young people, in their 20s, who have something hanging around their necks; cultural and domestic demands, greatly exacerbated by the growth of capitalism and the cracking of the iron rice bowl.

Education is expensive in China, as is being healthy. Young people have shown me lists, lists almost like invoices saying: we spent this much on your upbringing and this is what you must pay back to us. It is easy to get the sense parents have children for one reason: someone to take care of them in their old age. Babies, especially boys, are glorified little emperors, smothered and mothered—especially grandmothered—to the extreme; but once in their teens they are seen as future life-support systems.

Rich CEOs and husbands framed

Haozhi Chen (CEO of Chinese mobile powerhouse Chukong), by Jon Jordan via Flickr; “Wedding couple in the clan house,” by shankar s. via Flickr. Both photos are licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Boys are expected to become CEOs and girls are expected to find rich husbands. All are expected to become members of extended families because extended families are safer, more secure. Individualism and independence is dangerous.

The average salary in China is still about 2000 yuan a month (about 200GBP) for a ten-hour-day and a six-day week. Millions of workers live in dormitories more akin to barracks, and send home half their salaries to support families back home. Young people must pay back the money they owe their parents. This is how it is for the majority of young people in China. The majority has to save because everyone has to pay.

When the future is precarious you have to save.

When I lived in the Bai Yun district of Guangzhou (Guangdong province, in Southern China), I used to cycle through a huge housing estate (apartments by the thousand) and cut through the grounds of Jinxi Nanfang Hospital.

Those middle-class apartments sell for about 3,000,000 yuan each, rented out for between 3,000 and 4,000 a month.

From the higher balconies you can see the rows of beggars in the streets around the hospital. These are not the beggars we expect—those in shop doorways with mangy dogs for company.

These beggars are lying in makeshift hospital beds, out in the open, with drips hanging from stands. These beggars are families trying to get the 500 yuan a night needed for hospital treatment, or even the 100 yuan just to see a doctor.

Dontspend$$youdonthave

Lesson for all SL-ers, by Laurence Simon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

This is why so many Chinese people are savers, not spenders.

And those apartments—the richer you are, the higher up you live. The higher up you are, the farther you can see across the hospital surrounds where the aged and sick lie in the shadows of a hospital they cannot afford to enter. It is a world where education and health is a luxury, not a right.

For the growing middle-class it is different; for the Chinese aristocracy—very different. There is a Chinese aristocracy; it’s the cushioned group of party members—the 5 percent. (Google “My father is Li Gang”* if you wish to know how that works.)

The growing middle classes do not live with the fearful uncertainties of old age. They do not fear the need to see a doctor or the need to stay in hospital for a few days. They can send their children to good schools; send them to the UK, the USA or Australia to continue with their studies. They can send their children out into the world to be whatever they wish to be—something so many westerners take for granted. They do not need their offspring to look after them in old age. They can be spenders and savers.

I’d rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.

"Cargirl," by Xuan Zheng via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); (bottom) "Shanghai cyclists," by Gwydion M. Williams via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“Cargirl,” by Xuan Zheng via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Shanghai cyclists,” by Gwydion M. Williams via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

How about the girl who said on a TV show “I’d rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle”?

Yes, she was condemned and ridiculed, but she does not have the luxury of choice, the luxury of hope; the safety net is not yet there for her.

I believe and hope it will be for her children. Already, there are newly middle class young people who not have to choose between the BMW and the bicycle. Educated women are buying their own BMWs, their own apartments. They do not have to get married as soon as possible in order to be secure.

And more importantly, their individualism and prosperity is running alongside a new sense of social justice, political justice, and an awareness of the needs of others.

Religion, philosophy, or just simple humanism, whatever it is—the humanity is breaking through.

Twenty years ago, capitalism was raw in China; it was Darwinian and brutal, but it is slowly coming around, perhaps in the way it eventually did so in Britain until it was scuppered by the bankers who played with money as though it was Monopoly money.

We started with the Bounderby style of capitalism where Britain was the richest country in the world, populated by the poorest masses.

That is where China has been, perhaps still is, but it is moving through that. Communism denuded the soul, evicted compassion and turned the people into soldier ants. Capitalism came along to lift people out of poverty, but it did not fill the spiritual vacuum—the vacuum of feeling and compassion.

Christianity is becoming ever more popular in China. Confucianism is being taught again. The vacuum is being filled. The younger capitalist—who is not from the spoilt 5 percent—has a sense of social responsibility, the idea of giving back.

Mr Cameron’s “long-term plan” is but a sparrow’s sneeze in Chinese terms.

It’s a long process, but China has a long history and has always been about long processes.

The hope is, and I am confident about it, is the young; they have enough to eat, will have roofs over their heads, but more importantly, they can afford to be more thoughtful, more caring—they can afford humanity. Breaking free from poverty allows kindness to flourish (kindness in individuals and kindness from the state) if it is not smothered by the unacceptable face of capitalism or the dehumanization of totalitarianism.

I believe it will get there. But we cannot think in European terms; European terms are far too short. And remember why you can afford your cheap TV, cheap mobile phone and cheap computer; it is funded by cheap labour.

There are still millions and millions with a standard of living we would find totally unacceptable; but the fear of starvation has gone and the idea of a health service free at the point of use is slowly becoming more than just a dream. For most young people, going to university is still a dream.

It is changing. The young people are making it change.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Carl Plummer and his Robert E. Towsie books, we encourage you to visit his author site.

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, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Best of 2014 in expat books (1/2)

Best of Expat Books 2014

Kindle Amazon e-reader by Unsplash via Pixabay (CC0 1.0)

Seasons greetings, Displaced Nationers. That special time of the year is here again, when we publish our selection of this year’s books with meaningful connections to expats, Third Culture Kids, global wanderers, and others of us who have in some way led “displaced lives”.

Having assembled this list on my own in years past, I am pleased to be joined this year by Beth Green, our BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST columnist, who has also graciously agreed to sign over her column space for the month.

Let’s give Beth the floor:

Happy holidays, all! Preparing for this yearly special, I went back through all of the books I’ve read since January—not such an easy task; I read a lot!—and realized that I hadn’t actually read all that many that were published in 2014. I just now took a look at my TBR list, to which I’m constantly adding—and saw it includes a few that were written a couple of hundred years ago!

As is the case I suspect for many a well-traveled reader, I read most often on my Kindle, which means that I don’t often look at the title and publication pages to see when the book came out. Probably the book that has stayed with me for the longest this year is The Tiger’s Wife, the debut novel by Téa Obreht, an American writer of Bosniak/Slovene origin. But that came out in 2011!

* * *

And now for some 2014 picks in these three categories (stay tuned for a follow-up post with THREE MORE CATEGORIES!!):

  1. TRAVEL
  2. MEMOIRS
  3. CROSS-CULTURAL CHALLENGES

A few points to note:

  • Books in each category are arranged from most to least recent.
  • Unless otherwise noted, books are self-published.
  • Contributions by Beth are (appropriately enough!) in green.

* * *

TRAVEL

My_Gutsy_story_cover_smallMy Gutsy Story Anthology: Inspirational Short Stories About Taking Chances and Changing Your Life (Volume 2) (October 2014)
Compiled by: Sonia Marsh
Synopsis: Marsh celebrates the gutsy in each of us with this collection of stories from 64 authors who found the courage to face their fears and live their dreams.
Expat credentials: Born to a Danish mother and British father, who brought her to live in West Africa at the age of three months, Marsh has lived in many countries—Demark, Nigeria, France, England, the U.S. and Belize—and considers herself a citizen of the world. With a degree in environmental science from the University of East Anglia, U.K., she is currently living in Southern California with her husband but in 2015 intends to start a new chapter as a Peace Corps volunteer.
How we heard about: We have long enjoyed Marsh’s collection of “gutsy” travel stories and have followed her on Twitter for some time.


Luna_Tango_Cover_smallLuna Tango (The Dance Card Series Book 1) (Harlequin Mira, July 2014)
Author: Alli Sinclair
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: Tango is a mysterious—and deadly—influence in journalist Danni McKenna’s life. She looks for answers about her mother’s and grandmother’s lives, and finds romance in the process.
Expat credentials: Alli Sinclair is from Australia but lived for many years in South America, where she worked as a mountain and tour guide. She considers herself a citizen of the world.
How we heard about it:  I used to blog with Alli on the now-retired Novel Adventurers and have enjoyed hearing about her book’s path to publication. I was especially thrilled when Luna Tango won Book of the Year in the inaugural AusRom Today Reader’s Choice Awards last month. Congratulations, Alli!


Slow-Train-final-cover_smallSlow Train to Switzerland (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, April 2014)
Author: Diccon Bewes
Genre: Travel history
Synopsis: Bewes follows “in the footsteps” of Miss Jemima Morrell, a customer on Thomas Cook’s first guided tour of Switzerland in 1863, and discovers how this plucky Victorian woman helped shape the face of modern tourism and Switzerland itself, transforming it into the Cinderella of Europe.
Expat creds: An Englishman who grew up in “deepest Hampshire”, Bewes worked for ten years at Lonely Planet and the UK consumer magazine Which? Travel, before moving to Bern, Switzerland, where he is now a full-time writer. He considers himself a “permanent expat.”
How we discovered: I came across Bewes’s blog through a Google Alert and was impressed by how prolific he is. I also liked the fact that he admits to being a chocolate lover. (No wonder he has a thing for Switzerland!)


Kamikaze_kangaroos_cover_smallKamikaze Kangaroos!: 20,000 Miles Around Australia. One Van,Two Girls… And An Idiot (February 2014)
Author: Tony James Slater
Synopsis: Tony James Slater knew nothing about Australia. Except for the fact that he’d just arrived there. The stage is set for an outrageous adventure: three people, one van, on an epic, 20,000-mile road trip around Australia. What could possibly go wrong?…
Expat credentials: As a former writer for the Displaced Nation, what more creds does Tony need?
How we heard about: The Displaced Nation is committed to tracking Tony’s progress as a writer. We are especially fond of his ability to make fun of himself! He wears his travels lightly, you might say…


MEMOIRS

Year_of_Fire_Dragons_cover_smallYear of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong (Blacksmith, forthcoming June 2015; available for pre-order)
Author: Shannon Young
Synopsis: When 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to his hometown of Hong Kong, she thinks their long distance romance is over. But a month later his company sends him to London. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she will need to choose between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.
Expat creds: Shannon is an American twenty-something currently living in Hong Kong. (Reader, she married him!)
How we knew about: Shannon writes our “Diary of an Expat Writer” column and has also been sharing “chunks” from an anthology she edited of writings by women expats in Asia (see listing below: under “Crosscultural Challenges”).


Coming_Ashore_cover_smallComing Ashore (October 2014)
Author: Catherine Gildiner
Synopsis: The third and final in a series of best-selling memoirs by this American who has worked for many years as a psychologist in Toronto and writes a popular advice column in the Canadian women’s magazine Chatelaine. The book begins with Gildiner’s move to Canada in 1970 to study literature at the University of Toronto, where she ends up rooming with members of the FLQ (Quebec separatists), among other adventures.
How we heard about: Book #2 in Chatelaine’s 7 must-read books for November.


I_stand_corrected_cover_smallI Stand Corrected: How Teaching Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson (Nan A. Talese, October 2014)
Author: Eden Collinsworth
Synopsis: Collinsworth tells the story of the year she spent living among the Chinese while writing an advice manual covering such topics as personal hygiene (non-negotiable!), the rules of the handshake, and making sense of foreigners. (She has since returned to live in New York City.)
How we heard about: Book #3 in Conde Nast Traveler’s 7 Books to Get You Through Travel Delays, Bad Company.


Seven_Letters_from_Paris_cover_smallSeven Letters from Paris: A Memoir (Sourcebooks, October 2014)
Author: Samantha Vérant
Synopsis: At age 40, Samantha Verant’s life is falling apart—she’s jobless, in debt, and feeling stuck…until she stumbles upon 7 old love letters from Jean-Luc, the sexy Frenchman she’d met in Paris when she was 19. She finds him through a Google search, and both are quick to realize that the passion they felt 20 years prior hasn’t faded with time and distance.
How we heard about: From an interview with Vérant by British expat in Greece Bex Hall on her new blog, Life Beyond Borders.


Becoming_Home_cover_smallBecoming Home: A Memoir of Birth in Bali (October 2014)
Author: Melinda Chickering
Synopsis: Though born in small-town USA, Melinda never felt quite at home there. As an adult, her search for herself led her to the Indonesian island of Bali, where she found herself living a life she hadn’t anticipated, becoming a housewife and mother. This memoir of her experience with pregnancy and birth offers a window on life for a western woman living in an Asian culture that respects the forces of darkness as well as the light.
Expat credentials: Originally from Iowa, Chickering has settled in Bali.
How we heard about it: Displaced Nationer Melinda contacted me earlier this year to tell us the exciting news that her memoir was being published. Congratulations, Melinda!


The_Coconut_Latitudes_cover_smallThe Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival in the Caribbean (September 2014)
Author: Rita M. Gardner
Synopsis: Rita is an infant when her father leaves a successful career in the US to live in “paradise”—a seaside village in the Dominican Republic. The Coconut Latitudes is her haunting, lyrical memoir of surviving a reality far from the envisioned Eden—and of the terrible cost of keeping secrets.
How we heard about: Displaced Nation columnist James King interviewed Rita for “A picture says”.


At_home_on_Kazakh_Steppe_cover_smallAt Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir (August 2014)
Author: Janet Givens
Synopsis: The story a middle-aged grandmother who left behind a life she loved and forged a new identity as an English teacher, mentor, and friend in Kazakhstan, a newly independent country determined to find its own identity after generations under Soviet rule.
How we heard about: Recommended by the We Love Memoirs Facebook Community.


Good_Chinese_Wife_cover_smallGood Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong (Sourcebooks, July 2014)
Author: Susan Blumberg-Kason
Synopsis: A shy Midwesterner, Blumberg-Kason spent her childhood in suburban Chicago dreaming of the neon street signs and double-decker buses of Hong Kong. She moved there for graduate school, where she fell for Cai, the Chinese man of her dreams. As they exchanged vows, she thought she’d stumbled into an exotic fairy tale, until she realized Cai—and his culture—where not what she thought. One of our featured authors, Wendy Tokunaga, says: “A fascinating, poignant and brutally honest memoir that you won’t be able to put down. Good Chinese Wife is riveting.”
How we heard about: We had known about the book for some time but hadn’t realized it came out this year Jocelyn Eikenburg tipped us off in her comment below. She, too, highly recommends.


Into_Africa_cover_smallInto Africa: 3 kids, 13 crates and a husband (June 2014)
Author: Ann Patras
Synopsis: Patras was born and raised in Burton-upon-Trent, in the English Midlands. When her husband, Ziggy, is offered a two-year contract as site manager for building a new cobalt plant in Zambia, they discuss the pros and cons of leaving luxuries and England behind—and then decide it could be an “interesting” family adventure. They end up raising three kids, countless dogs and living in Africa for over thirty years. (She and Ziggy now live in Andalucía, Spain, and have absolutely no intention of ever moving again. Hmmm…have they encountered Charlotte Smith yet? See next item.)
How we heard about: E-book promotion.


PawPrintsinOman_cover_smallPaw Prints in Oman: Dogs, Mogs and Me (April 2014)
Author: Charlotte Smith
Synopsis: Smith was born, raised and lived in West Sussex, UK, until her persuasive husband, Nick, swept her and their youngest daughter off to live in mystical Oman. Her love of animals helped her to shape an extraordinary life in the Middle East—her first step being to convince a local veterinary clinic to employ her. (Note: Smith now lives in Andalucía, in southern Spain.)
How we heard about: Recommended by the We Love Memoirs Facebook community. The book was also on the New York Times best-seller list (“animals”) in October.


loveyoubye_cover_smallLoveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, And Then There’s the Dog (She Writes Press, April 2014)
Author: Rossandra White
Synopsis: A collision of crises on two continents forces Rossandra White to face the truth. Just as her American husband disappears to Mexico, her brother’s health crisis calls her back home to Africa, and her beloved dog receives a fatal diagnosis. She faces down her demons to make a painful decision: stay in a crumbling marriage, or leave her husband of 25 years and forge a new life alone.
How we heard about: Through a Facebook share of White’s Good Reads giveaway.


Lost_in_Spain_cover_smallLost in Spain: A Collection of Humorous Essays (March 2014)
Author: Scott Oglesby
Synopsis: Scott Oglesby moved to Spain to start over. When he discovered he was still the same person, now six thousand miles from home, the result was dysfunction, delusion, chaos and this book, which many readers have described as “hilarious” and “brilliant”.
How we heard about: E-book promotion.


Journey_to_a_Dream_cover_smallJourney to a Dream: A voyage of discovery from England’s industrial north to Spain’s rural interior (February 2014)
Author: Craig Briggs
Synopsis: Craig, his wife Melanie and their dog, Jazz, left their home town of Huddersfield, in England’s industrial north, and set off for Galicia: a remote and little-known autonomous province in the northwest corner of Spain. And so began their Journey to a Dream…
How we heard about: E-book promotion, as a result of which I am currently reading this on my Kindle. It’s very well written and entertaining.


Paris_Letters_cover_smallParis Letters: One woman’s journey from the fast lane to a slow stroll in Paris (February 2014)
Author: Janice Macleod
Synopsis: MacLeod found herself age 34 and single, suffering from burn-out and dissatisfaction. So she abandoned her copywriting job and headed off to Europe, where she ended up finding love and freedom in a pen, a paintbrush…and Paris! Macleod says her journey was inspired by The Artist’s Way, written by Julie Cameron.
How we heard about: From an interview with MacLeod by American expat in Paris Lindsey Tramuta, which appeared on Lindsey’s blog, Lost in Cheeseland.


lenin_smallLenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow (Small Batch Books, January 2014)
Author: Jennifer Eremeeva
Synopsis: Based on Eremeeva’s two decades in Russia, Lenin Lives Next Door is a work of self-described “creative nonfiction.” It knits together vignettes of cross-cultural and expatriate life with sharp observation, historical background, and humor. Each chapter explores an aspect of life in today’s Russia, told with the help of a recurring cast of eccentric Russian and expat characters, including HRH, Eremeeva’s Handsome Russian Husband (occasionally a.k.a. Horrible Russian Husband), and their horse-mad daughter.
How we heard about: Eremeeva sent me a review copy and we met up for coffee at Columbia University. I found her a delightful conversationalist. No wonder several reviewers have likened her style to Jane Austen’s.



CROSS-CULTURAL CHALLENGES

Soundimals_cover_smallSoundimals: An illustrated guide to animal sounds in other languages (November 2014)
Author/illustrator: James Chapman.
Synopsis: In English, we say dogs go WOOF, but in Romanian they go HAM HAM. Chapman regularly publishes illustrations of onomatopoeia and animal sounds in other languages on his Tumblr blog. This book (available through his Etsy shop) collects some of those plus a lot of new sounds that weren’t in the original comics, and a few new animals that haven’t been posted at all.
Expat creds: None that we know of; would love to hear more about how he got started collecting these sounds.
How we heard about: Pinterest.


The_Devil_in_us_cover_smallThe Devil in Us (CreateSpace, October 2014)
Author: Monica Bhide
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Short stories that carry you to a far away place, amidst people seemingly very foreign to you, but somehow create a connection—from the Indian-American cancer survivor escaping her pain and finding passion in Mumbai, to the Japanese teen in Georgetown discovering forbidden love. Bhide is known for her writings about Indian food. This is her first work of fiction.
Expat creds: Monica is originally from Delhi, India, but has lived in Bahrain ad now in the United States.
How we found out about: Pinterest.


Japanese_Husband_cover_smallMy Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy! The comic book: Surviving and thriving in an intercultural, interracial marriage in Tokyo (October 2014)
Author: Grace Buchelle Mineta
Genre: Comics/manga; humor
Synopsis: The autobiographical misadventures of a native Texan freelancer and her Japanese “salaryman” husband, in comic book form.
Expat credentials: Mineta grew up mostly in Texas, but also spent her teenage years in Accra, Ghana and Sapporo (Hokkaido), Japan. She now lives in Tokyo with her Japanese husband (they got married in January) and blogs at Texan in Tokyo.
How we found out about: From a guest post by Mineta on Jocelyn Eikenburg’s blog, Speaking of China, titled The “Dark Side” to Moving Across the World for Love.


Kurinji_Flowers_cover_smallKurinji Flowers (October 2014)
Author: Clare Flynn
Genre: Historical romance
Synopsis: Set in South India during World War II and India’s struggle for independence, the book is centered on a young British colonial, Ginny Dunbar, who has arrived in India for a new start in life. She has to battle her inner demons, the expectations of her husband, mother-in-law, and colonial British society, and her prejudices towards India and its people.
Expat credentials: Flynn is a repeat expat, having lived for two years each in Paris and Brussels, three years in Milan, and six months in Sydney, though never in India. She now lives in London but spends as much time as she can in Italy. Almost needless to say, Flynn loves travel and her idea for this book came while she was on holiday in Kerala, India.
How we knew about: Flynn was interviewed by JJ Marsh for the latter’s popular column, LOCATION LOCUTION.


The_Haiku_Murder_cover_smallThe Haiku Murder (Josie Clark in Japan mysteries Book 2) (October 2014)
Author: Fran Pickering
Genre: Expat mystery series
Synopsis: A haiku-writing trip turns to tragedy when a charismatic financier falls from the top of Matsuyama castle. But was he pushed? Expat Londoner Josie Clark thinks he was, and that’s when the trouble starts…
Expat credentials: Pickering has lived and worked in Tokyo, and though she is now back in London (literally next door to where she was born), she travels back to Japan frequently to visit friends and do research for the Josie Clark mystery series.
How we heard about: Pickering was interviewed by JJ Marsh for the latter’s popular column, LOCATION LOCUTION.


LostinTranslation_cover_smallLost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World (September 2014)
Author: Ella Frances Sanders
Genre: Illustration/Translation
Synopsis: Did you know that the Japanese language has a word to express the way sunlight filters through the leaves of trees? Or that there’s a Finnish word for the distance a reindeer can travel before needing to rest? This book is an artistic collection of more than 50 drawings featuring unique, funny, and poignant foreign words that have no direct translation into English.
Expat credentials:  A self-described “intentional” global nomad, Sanders has lived all over the place—most recently Morocco, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.
How we heard about: From a post about the book by Maria Popova on her much-acclaimed Brain Pickings site.


Everything_I_Never_Told_You_cover_smallEverything I Never Told You (Penguin, June 2014)
Author: Celeste Ng
Genre: Thriller
Synopsis: A mixed-race family in the 1970s tries to unravel a family tragedy.
Expat credentials: Celeste Ng isn’t an expat, but she has a deep understanding of what it means to feel displaced. Her work deals with multiculturalism and race issues in the United States.
How we heard about it: It was voted the Amazon Book of the Year.


TheBook_Of_Unknown_Americans_smallThe Book of Unknown Americans (Knopf, June 2014)
Author:  Cristina Henríquez
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she’ll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.
Expat credentials: Henríquez isn’t an expat, but her father was—he came to the US from Panama to attend university.
How we heard about it: Henríquez’s novel was Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller this year in the Hispanic American Literature & Fiction category.


TheOtherLanguage_cover_smallThe Other Language (Pantheon, April 2014)
Author: Francesca Marciano
Synopsis: A collection of short stories involving women who are confronted by radical change or an old flame, in locations that range from New York to India to Kenya to southern Italy.
Expat credentials: Marciano is an Italian novelist who left Rome at age 21 to live in the United States. She later moved to Kenya, where she lived for a decade. Although Italian is her first language, she chooses to write in English.
How we found out: From an essay by William Grimes in the New York Times Book Review: “Using the Foreign to Grasp the Familiar: Writing in English, Novelists Find Inventive New Voices.”


Dragonfruit_cover_smallHow Does One Dress to Buy Dragon Fruit: True Stories of Expat Women in Asia (April 2014)
Editor: Shannon Young
Genre: Expat non-fiction; anthology
Synopsis: In this collection, 26 women reveal the truth about expatriate life in modern East Asia through original works of memoir and creative non-fiction.
Expat credentials: To qualify for inclusion in the volume, writers had to be able to say they were, or had once been, expats.
How we heard about: We have followed Shannon Young ever since she contributed to the Displaced Nation on the topic of the London Olympics. She currently writes a column for us about being an expat writer, and we’ve been sharing “chunks” from her Dragonfruit anthology for the past few months.


Chasing_Athens_cover_smallChasing Athens (April 2014)
Author: Marissa Tejada
Genre: Romance
Synopsis: When Ava Martin’s new husband unexpectedly ditches her months after they’ve relocated across the world to Greece, the heartbroken American expat isn’t sure where home is anymore. On the verge of flying back to the States with her tail between her legs, she makes an abrupt decision to follow her gut instead and stay on in Greece, until a crisis back home forces her to decide where she truly belongs.
Expat credentials: A Native New Yorker, Tejada is an author, writer and journalist based in Athens, Greece. Living the expat life in Europe inspired her to write her debut novel.
How we heard about it: Again, from an interview conducted by British expat in Greece Bex Hall on her blog, Life Beyond Borders.


Moving_without_Shaking_cover_smallMoving Without Shaking: The guide to expat life success (from women to women) (April 2014)
Author: Yelena Parker
Genre: Guidebook-meets-memoir
Synopsis: Parker draws from the experiences and views of 9 women who have lived across 12 countries, to craft a resource for those who are dreaming of—or already facing—relocation abroad.
Expat creds: Parker herself is originally from Eastern Ukraine but has lived and worked in the US, Switzerland, the UK and Tanzania. She has chosen London as her latest expat location.
How we heard about: From a Google Alert.


QueenOfCloudPirates_cover_smallQueen of the Cloud Pirates (Crossing the Dropline Book 1) (March 2014)
Author: Andrew Couch
Genre: Fantasy novella
Synopsis: Far to the North of the Iron League core cities lies the Dropline. Beyond this line of cliffs the power of elemental Air rules supreme. The crucial region is threatened and two young men stand at the tipping point. In order to survive, they must learn to work together and rise above their own shortcomings. Oh yeah, and escape from pirates. Don’t forget the pirates….
Expat credentials: An American abroad, Couch lives with his wife in Freiburg, Germany. He says that much of the inspiration for the worlds he writes about is a mix of a wild and crazy imagination (he grew up reading fantasy books) and his travels around the world.
How we found out about: Couch contributes the HERE BE DRAGONS column to the Displaced Nation, focusing on the connection between the displaced life and fantasy writing (more powerful than any skeptics out there might think!).


What_Happens_in_Nashville_cover_smallWhat Happens in Nashville (March 2014)
Author: Angela Britnell
Genre: Romance (“choc lit”)
Synopsis: Claire Buchan, a straight-laced barrister from Exeter, UK, flies to Nashville, Tennessee, to organize her sister Heather’s bridal bash—and quickly finds herself out of her comfort zone and into the arms of a most unsuitable beau…
Expat credentials: Britnell grew up in a small Cornish village in southwestern England. She served in the Royal Navy for almost six years, culminating in an assignment in Denmark, where she met her American husband. Thus began a chronic expat life. The couple, now empty nesters, have settled in Brentwood, Tennessee.
How we heard about: Rosie Milne wrote about Britnell in an article that appeared on Telegraph Expat: “Expat romantic novelists inspired by real life.” (Milne btw lives in Singapore and runs Asian Books Blog.)


Monsoon_Memories_cover_smallMonsoon Memories (January 2014)
Author: Renita D’Silva
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Sometimes the hardest journeys are the ones that lead you home. Exiled from her family in India for more than a decade, Shirin and her husband lead a comfortable but empty life in London. Memories of her childhood fill Shirin with a familiar and growing ache for the land and the people that she loves. With the recollections, though, come dark clouds of scandal and secrets. Secrets that forced her to flee her old life and keep her from ever returning…
Expat credentials: Now living in the UK, Renita grew up in a picturesque coastal village in South India.
How we heard about: Amazon.


The_Shaping_of_Water_cover_smallThe Shaping of Water (December 2013—we’re letting it squeak in!)
Author: Ruth Hartley
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: The story concerns the overlapping lives of several different people, expats and locals or some mix, who are connected to a ramshackle cottage by a man-made lake in Central Africa during the Liberation wars across its region.
Expat credentials: Hartley grew up on her father’s farm in Zimbabwe, which at that point was known as Rhodesia, at a time when struggles for independence in European-ruled African territories were spreading like a wave. As a young woman, she moved to South Africa to study art and then had to escape to England because of her political activities. She later moved back to Africa, as an expat. She now lives in Southern France.
How we heard about: I discovered Hartley via one of my social networks and then decided to approach her about being interviewed for the Displaced Nation.

* * *

Your turn readers: 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? Beth and I look forward to reading your comments below!

From Beth:
Intrigued by some of these titles? Go on, download a few! ‘Tis the season to support the output of other international creatives!

Finally, please note: Beth and I may repeat this exercise in six months (summer reads!). But if you can’t wait until then, I suggest that you sign up for our DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has a Recommended Read every week, and also follow our Pinterest board: DISPLACED READS.

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of this post: IT’S FOOD!, THIRD CULTURE KIDS & COUNTRY GUIDES/TRIBUTES.

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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4 observations after 3 years of holding up a mirror to expat (& repat) life

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, I wrote a post in celebration of the Displaced Nation’s third birthday, which occurred on April 1st.

For three years we’ve held up a mirror, as it were, to what we’ve been calling the displaced life, writing and commissioning posts on what motivates people to venture across borders to travel and live.

During the past three years, here’s what our looking-glass has revealed:

1) We aspire to be the fairest of them all.

If our site stats are anything to go by, the Fountain of Youth myth is still alive and well. We may not be searching for water with restorative powers on our travels, but we never tire of reading about Jennifer Scott’s top 20 lessons she learned from Madame Chic while living in Paris, TCK Marie Jhin’s advice on Asian beauty secrets, or my post summarizing beauty tips I picked up on two small islands, England and Japan (three of our most popular posts to date). Heck, even 5 tips on how to look good when you backpack still gets plenty of hits.

2) We mostly just want to have fun.

The popularity of two of Tony James’s Slater’s posts—one listing his five favorite parties around the world and other other telling the tale of his attempt to overcome language barriers in pursuit of an Ecuadorian woman—suggest that good times and love still rank high on the list of reasons why people opt for the road much less traveled. That said, some of us worry about going too far with the latter, if the enduring popularity of my post four reasons to think twice before embarking on cross-cultural marriage is anything to go by.

3) But we love hearing stories about international travelers with a higher purpose.

Most of us do not venture overseas in hopes of changing the world, but we are inspired by tales of those who once did—how else to explain the golden oldie status of 7 extraordinary women with a passion to save souls? And our fascination with the international do-gooder of course continues to the present. Kate Allison’s interview with Robin Wiszowaty, who serves as Kenya Program Director for the Canadian charity Free the Children, still gets lots of hits, as does my post about Richard Branson and other global nomads who delve into global misery. Perhaps we like to bask in reflected glory?!

4) Last but not least, we think we know things other people don’t.

Indeed, the most common phenomenon that has occurred when holding up our mirror to international adventurers is to find our mirror reflected in theirs, and theirs reflected in the lives of people they depict, ad infinitum, in a manner not unlike a Diego Velázquez painting (see above). In my view, this mise en abyme owes to the conviction among (particularly long-term) expats that in venturing so far afield, they have uncovered things about our planet that are worth examining, reporting, and creating something with, be it a memoir of what they’ve experienced (think Jack Scott’s Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey, Janet Brown’s Tone Deaf in Bangkok, or Jennifer Eremeeva’s soon-to-be featured Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow), a novel based on their overseas adventures (think Kate Allison’s Libby’s Life or Cinda MacKinnon’s A Place in the World), and/or an art work that springs from what they saw and felt when living in other cultures (eg, Elizabeth Liang’s one-woman show about growing up a TCK).

In short, although many of us can relate to Alice’s feeling of having stepped through the looking glass, we also aren’t afraid to hold up a looking glass to that experience. I often think of Janet Brown telling us she almost went home “a gibbering mess” upon discovering that her Thai landlord was spreading salacious rumors about her, but the point is, she survived to tell us about the experience in her gem of a book. Surely, that’s the kind of hero/ine Linda Janssen has in mind for her self-help book The Emotionally Resilient Expat?

* * *

No doubt there are even more insights our three years of running the Displaced Nation have revealed, but I’ll stop here to see what you make of this list of traits. Does it strike you as being accurate, or perhaps a bit distorted? (Hmmm… Given this site’s proclivity for humor and sending things up, how can you be sure this isn’t a funhouse mirror and I’m not pulling your leg? Har har hardy har har.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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Two expats in Senegal spin “wax” into Western lifestyle brand

6 Bougies Collage Drop Shadow

Clockwise from top: Six Bougies logo; Kim at the fabric market in Dakar; Megan at a craft fair in Dakar. Photo credit: Six Bougies.

Having repatriated some years ago to the United States, I occasionally still crave the adventure of living abroad. But then I console myself by recalling the Internet journeys I make every week on behalf of the Displaced Nation, in search of international creatives. Those virtual journeys can open my eyes to whole new worlds full of breathtaking color—rather literally in the case of Six Bougies, a siteI landed on from Pinterest several weeks ago.

It turned out to be the companion blog for a business of the same name, run by two American expats in Senegal, the equally bedazzling Kim Rochette and Megan Carpenter.

Kim and Megan are my guests today and will talk about how they came to a life of spinning Western clothes, accessories and home wares out of gorgeous West African fabrics.

In addition, Kim and Megan have kindly agreed to GIVE AWAY A SIX BOUGIES DUFFEL BAG (see photo below) TO THE PERSON WHO LEAVES THE BEST COMMENT! (Wow, a non-book giveaway, a first…)

And one more: Displaced Dispatch subscribers will receive a discount code for use in the Six Bougies Etsy shop. How cool is that? (What, not a subscriber yet? SIGN UP NOW!!)

But before we proceed, I want to make sure you know how to pronounce “bougie.” I initially made the mistake of pronouncing it with a hard “g”—which led to a vision of two American women in colorful garb boogying down the streets of Dakar, Senegal’s capital city.

Outlandish, I know. (Besides, who were the other four?) So take my advice and start practicing now practicing how to say “bougie” with a soft “g”: boo-gee boo-gee boo-gee boo-gee boo-gee boo-gee.

As for why there are six boo-gees, read on. Almost needless to say, it’s a colorful story!

* * *

Greetings, Kim and Megan. Before we get to the meaning of “Six Bougies,” something we’re all curious to know, let’s cover a few of the basics. How long have you been running the business?
KIM: For a little under a year. And don’t forget: it’s “boo-gee.”

In your Etsy shop you describe Six Bou-GEES as “a lifestyle brand that fuses West African textiles, colors and patterns with a Western aesthetic.” What do you mean by a “lifestyle brand”?
MEGAN: We’ve conceived of Six Bougies as a brand that appeals to people who yearn for travel and love to surround themselves with beautiful objects from around the world. Our pillows, neckties and bags can add a little of that spice to everyday life.

I understand that you have a blog that supports this brand?
KIM: Yes, as I try to show with the Six Bougies blog (I’m the the writer of our team, while Megan is the artist), the concept goes far beyond a selection of home wares and accessories for sale. I post about fashion, expat life in Africa, local decor, cultural events in Senegal, and related topics. A few months ago I did a post full of tips on how to have Western clothing made by African tailors. Dakar, where we both live, has affordable tailors at every street corner and a wealth of vibrant textiles for sale at the fabric market. Soon I will write about my attempt to commission furniture for my apartment with local materials from Senegalese artisans, but with a Western aesthetic.

Ah, that sounds like a good example of “African-Western fusion”—true of your product line as well?
KIM: Yes. We use fabrics purchased (and mostly made) in Africa and rely on the expertise of local tailors to execute Megan’s Western-influenced designs, with an international audience in mind. The duffel bags Megan designed are a perfect example of this African-Western fusion, as is our line of neckties in wax.

6 Bougies Merch collage

Six Bougies products: cushion, tie, and duffel bag (we’re giving one away!). Photo credit: Six Bougies.

Please tell me what “wax” is.
KIM: “Wax” is short for “wax print,” which is similar to batik printing. In Africa, these prints are made on colorful cotton cloths, which are mostly industrially produced.

When life gives you scraps…

So, where did the idea for Six Bougies originate?
MEGAN: I had been teaching in Senegal for about a year, acquiring (stockpiling?) wax fabric, beads, and other locally produced goods. It was everywhere, in just about every room and closet of my apartment. But I never had anything made because I was nervous as to how my vision would be executed. But at the end of my first year, I decided to bite the bullet and have 15 pairs of size 8 shorts made in wax. Most of my friends and family (females) are the same size-ish, and I would just give them out as gifts when I went home. They were a huge hit: some friends and family actually wanted more than one pair! That gave me the confidence to start making more products, and eventually transition this into a business.

KIM: About a year ago, I felt the itch to start my own blog on life in Senegal—but beyond the travel blog I had previously updated for family and friends, I wanted to create a space for telling the story of what it’s like for a young, international woman to live in West Africa and travel the region for work, trying to carve out a place in this sometimes crazy and always invigorating place. I also have a great love for design and textiles, which has grown exponentially living in such a tactile, sensory locale. Megan and I decided to join forces and build a brand that melds our passion for West African textiles while also empowering women in the process.

Before we get to the topic of women’s empowerment, it’s high time we learned how you got that unusual name…as I think it relates to that goal?
KIM: We named the business “Six Bougies” after an iconic African pattern by Vlisco that depicts six bougies (spark plugs). A person would wear this fabric to signal that they had a six-cylinder car, a sign of wealth. Eventually, the fabric came to symbolize female empowerment in Africa. Thus “Six Bougies” perfectly marries our passions for design and women’s rights.

Tailors Penda and Adji at work in Dakar

Tailors Penda and Adji at work in Dakar. Photo credit: Six Bougies.

Please tell me that I’m not the only one who mispronounces “bougie”?
KIM: People do mispronounce it sometimes, but it was a risk we were willing to take!

Moving over to your decision to donate a portion of your business’s profits to support and empower women: why that cause in particular?
KIM: In Senegal, tailoring is traditionally a male-oriented career path. Honestly, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for women, especially single women and/or mothers. So when I meet a female tailor, I try to help them out by giving them business because I know how hard it is to branch out and do something different. And, as Megan and I are both involved in education, we hope to steer our business efforts to this cause as well. We are both very inspired by Della, a similar business based out of Ghana and LA which has really taken off in the past year, partnering with Apple, Urban Outfitters, and Vans to build a veritable social enterprise in Hohoe, Ghana.

“Sew” very happy in Dakar!

Moving on to your expat life in Senegal. What brought you to Dakar originally?
KIM: I first studied abroad in Dakar when I was a junior in college and returned after I graduated. I’ve been living here for nearly four consecutive years. I had always been drawn to African literature, film, and history; and then when I had the opportunity to live in Africa for a semester, I was drawn to Senegal for its complex history with France (I am half-French) and role as as a hub for development in West and Francophone Africa. After studying in Dakar, I was hooked.

MEGAN: I was working at an inner city charter school is Los Angeles as a teacher and decided it was time to teach in a different part of the world to have more access to places that would otherwise be difficult and expensive to reach. There were lots of offers for the Middle East and one for my current school in Senegal. I chose Senegal because the school is highly regarded as a stand out in the region and the country seemed like a fascinating mix of modern yet traditional ideologies. I’ve been here three years and am so happy I took the leap.

What do you like most about life in Dakar?
KIM: I love so much about it! I love the inspiration at every turn—the textiles and local arts, the warm and embracing people, the ocean and cliffs, the music scene. I also love living outside all year round in this coastal, tropical climate, especially after growing up on the East coast with such frigid and long winters! I love how nearly every experience, even and especially the challenges I encounter as an outsider, lead to personal growth. But in many ways, Dakar is also easy; as an expat, I am able to live a comfortable life, eating out, living in a spacious apartment, enjoying all the cultural events the city has to offer, and escaping much of the patriarchy to which most Senegalese women are subject. I am privileged in Dakar and I try not to take that for granted.

MEGAN: Even after three years, there is still so much to discover in this city. I am constantly finding new inspiration in the culture and the people.

Do you ever feel “displaced”?
KIM: I know what you’re saying: what’s a nice girl like me doing living in a boisterous, developing African capital?! It has taken four years, but I have definitely found my niche in Dakar—sometimes to the surprise of friends and family back in the U.S. and France. But there are inevitably moments I feel “displaced,” especially as women living in a patriarchal society. I encounter sexism on a daily basis and there are still cultural nuances that boggle my mind. I’ve written about Dakar’s “Bottom Ten” on the blog.

I also travel throughout West Africa for my “day job,” which entails working extensively in the male-dominated commercial sector. I’ve fielded many advances that might border on sexual harassment in the U.S., and sometimes I don’t feel taken seriously as a woman. In certain settings, I have to be very aware of how my “Western” actions (like direct eye contact!) might be interpreted by men and women of vastly different backgrounds. But learning how to carry myself and to pick up on cultural cues in these extremely diverse settings has also become some of my greatest strengths. I wouldn’t trade these formative experiences for the world!

MEGAN: I’m not going to lie, the first year was tough. The Air France flight I was on landed in the middle of the night, which is when most flights arrive and depart from Dakar. The director of my school picked me up from the airport, which is probably one of the most depressing ones I’ve ever seen, and then drove me through the main thoroughfare, La Corniche, to my apartment, which, in the dead of night, looked like block after block of deserted burnt-out buildings. I thought to myself, “I think I’ve made a terrible decision and how the $@&*% can I get out of here!?” Luckily, my impression of the city has changed dramatically. Getting to know a bit of the culture and cultivating meaningful friendships with locals as well as the expat community has helped me feel at ease.

Do you sometimes feel more comfortable in Dakar than you do back in the U.S.?
KIM: For now, Dakar is home to me. I have a solid group of friends, a real sense of community, and I live here with my boyfriend. But I’m able to travel back to the U.S. two to four times per year for work and holidays, and I relish these opportunities. To be honest, I feel comfortable in both countries. I grew up living between countries—France and the U.S.—and I think this has conditioned me to adapt easily to new environments and transitioning between them. That being said, I do plan to “settle” in the United States eventually, and suspect that reintegrating into American life will be challenging as I moved to Dakar right after graduation and haven’t really lived a typical adult life in the U.S. I’m sure it will be more difficult to build the kind of community you find easily with fellow expats living abroad. We’ll see if life goes according to plan!

MEGAN: When I first moved to Senegal I was in the downtown area people watching and spotted two young talibé boys, probably around seven or eight years old, having an argument. It escalated into blows but then was quickly broken up by a passerby, who was only a few years older than the boys. Watching this teenager mediate the fight instead of walking by like nothing was happening (or worse yet recording and posting it on YouTube) made me feel good about being here. The way people treat each other feels a little more humane, a little more civilized.

Words to sew by…

Was opening up your own business something you always wanted to do?
KIM: Honestly, its not something I had ever really considered! I studied Political Science and envisioned working in the development sector. And now I’m doing both… building a creative business while working as a consultant on various development initiatives.

MEGAN: Being an entreprenuer is in my blood. My dad has started several companies and family dinner conversations often included new business ideas. When I went to Summer Art Camp in high school I used my fake ID to sell cigarettes. I had a streak of badass in me back then 😉 I also set up a impromptu face-painting stand with my friends at an art festival, donation based. Between those two enterprises I made a killing that summer and was able to afford…you guessed it…more art supplies!

During college I studied fine art, mostly drawing and painting, which I now teach. Making paintings for example can be extremely consuming (time and otherwise) and has the possibility to take over your life, while making jewelry is instantly gratifying as well as therapeutic. So I really enjoy making jewelry and designing totes and accessories in my spare time.

What has been the biggest challenge?
KIM: With a demanding “day job,” it has been challenging giving Six Bougies the time and dedication the company really needs to get off the ground. I’m transitioning to pursuing freelance projects so as to devote a lot more time to Six Bougies in 2014—which I’m very excited about!

From a business perspective, it has also been very challenging developing reliable systems to support our creative pursuits. For example, it can be difficult to find tailors who are consistently available for work or willing to teach other women the skills necessary for making our products. In Senegal, most tailors are men so we are still trying to develop the most sustainable system for training women that we can work with longer term.

MEGAN: Kim summed it up pretty well. We are working on sustainability and exposure!

The most fulfilling aspect?
KIM: As the primary blogger in the duo, I absolutely love connecting with people through my posts, especially women who are moving to Dakar or are interested in following a similar path. And as Six Bougies’ social programs develop, I really look forward to the deeper connections and impact we will hopefully make in our Senegalese community.

MEGAN: I love it when people buy my products and really LOVE them. When I see customers wearing the products I make, it makes my heart smile 🙂

“Sew” much fabric, “sew” little time!

If you could do anything else, what would it be?
KIM: I already feel rather stretched, so for now I’d just like to work on Six Bougies and my other professional endeavors to my best ability and see the fruits of that labor!

MEGAN: I think I have the best of both worlds right now, but I would love to be able to be in my studio more and really dedicate time to my personal artistic pursuits.

What’s on your bucket list?
KIM: I have always wanted to live in Madrid and become fluent in Spanish—need to brush up on those high school courses! And I want to attend graduate school in the next couple of years. Let the applications begin…

MEGAN: Actually taking the leap and traveling for a year…or longer.

Do you have any advice for others who are thinking about setting up their own lifestyle brand and selling fashion/homewares? For instance, you’re selling your merchandise through an Etsy shop. Is that working for you?
MEGAN: Etsy is great for where we are at right now, very small scale. I think if business continues to grow and we need to do more shipping overseas, we may have to change our distribution system.

Do you have any big plans, travel or business wise, for 2014?
MEGAN: I’m traveling to Nigeria next month for a volleyball tournament with my students. Then the trifecta of New York, Texas, and California to see family and friends later this summer. As far as the business goes, I’d like to focus on perfecting the quality of our goods and hopefully getting them into boutiques in Dakar and New York.

KIM: I miss traveling for pleasure! I have a trip to South Africa planned for April with my mom and I’m thrilled. I also look forward to growing Six Bougies and pursuing my professional passions more freely. 2014 is going to be good, inshallah 😉

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Inshallah, indeed. Readers, has this interview boo-gee-ed, I mean sparked, any thoughts or questions? Make your comments colorful, why don’t you…there’s an African-Western-fusioned duffel bag on offer!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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TCK TALENT: Why do so many Adult Third Culture Kids gravitate toward acting, and is that the best use of their talents?

Com & Trag Collage

Tragedy and Comedy, Scarborough Hotel, Bishopgate, Leeds. Photo credit: Tim Green via Flickr.

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about being a TCK, which will be the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, “The Global Family.”

In my last column, I interviewed Laura Piquado, a professional actress based in New York who grew up in six countries, including Egypt, where we were drama classmates in high school. As a result of the interview, Laura, editor ML Awanohara, and I had a lively discussion about Laura’s career change from education/activism to acting.

ML said she was puzzled as to why so many intelligent, well-educated Adult Third Culture Kids feel so at home in the acting world. She expressed concern that acting might cultivate a narcissistic outlook on life, which is the opposite of a TCK’s worldly upbringing. She said she found it particularly jarring that Laura could go from go from almost doing a PhD on women’s education in post-conflict societies, to enrolling in acting school—and not look back.

Laura’s response was so eloquent that I am posting it here.

Before you read it, I recommend watching this TED Talk by British actor Thandie Newton:

Born to a Zimbabwean mother and English father, Newton always felt disconnected or “other” while growing up in the UK:

“From about the age of 5, I was aware that I didn’t fit. I was the black, atheist kid in the all-white, Catholic school run by nuns. I was an anomaly.”

Acting gave her a chance to play with her different selves.

And now from Laura Piquado:

I had a similar reaction to yours, Lisa, in seeing acting described by ML as a narcissistic endeavor. While I can certainly understand that reputation (indeed, the Golden Globe awards), I have always idealized what theatre can be: life-changing, hopeful, inspiring, and necessary. It’s the worst to be onstage with someone who’s “masturbating” their way through a show (and equally as painful for an audience member).

I was in Maine a few years ago at a craft school (I’m a potter), and I sat next to a visiting artist at dinner (the amazing Hungarian-born sculptor Gyöngy Lake). She asked me what I did. When I told her I was an actor she said:

“We love you! We need you! You tell the stories of our lives!”

Now while that sounds uber-maudlin, I was completely overwhelmed. I had known this woman for less than two minutes, but she had described, for me, what the essence of art is.

On the other hand, I don’t want to get beaten over the head with social and political commentary every time I go to the theatre. I mean, I love Brecht, but can you imagine if that’s all theatre was? Mother Courage after Mother Courage, after The Caucasian Chalk Circle, after Arturo Ui…ugh. People would stop going. There’s room for pomp-y, wacky, ridiculousness (all hail The Book of Mormon), and everything in between. But I do think theatre at its best, the stories that stay with you, are the ones that connect to a deeper human context.

I was reading an interview with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in the New York Review of Books where he recounts a story he heard while a law student:

At the turn of the last century, the court was called upon to decide a case on prices for theater tickets—could they be considered basic necessities, and could they be regulated as such? The majority thought the theatre was not a necessity. The great Justice Olive Wendell Holmes Jr. replied in his dissent: “We have not that respect for art that is one of the glories of France. But to many people, the superfluous is the necessary.”

The interview was a larger discourse on France and Proust, but the point Holmes made about the necessity of art resonates.

ML also made the comment:

An interest in international affairs implies that you care about effecting positive social change on behalf of less fortunate people… Do you foresee bringing those two strands of your life together at some point?

The notion of “effecting positive social change” is what I’ll respond to. Again, it’s what I believe theatre can be, from Winter Miller‘s In Darfur to Moisés Kaufman‘s The Laramie Project. Being a part of that kind of theatre is deeply gratifying and something I always seek out. (Or as a potter: being able to go to communities to work with local artisans to make pots that filter clean, potable water falls into that same category.)

The leap from one discipline (social justice through academia) to another (theatre) wasn’t so quantum for me. And while they are vastly different on so many practical and actual levels, “effecting positive social change,” for me, lies at the heart of both.

* * *

So, readers, do you have anything to add to the debate? Are we ATCKs doing ourselves, and the world, a disservice by turning to acting, or can acting be one of our more profound contributions?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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