The Displaced Nation

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Tag Archives: Iceland

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: A summer of unwinding, recharging & charging ahead

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young has been updating us on her quest to become a full-time writer since her first post in October 2014, nearly three years ago. As her summer 2017 update shows, she’s come a very long way!

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s a bright, sunny day in Hong Kong, and summer is in full swing. This is the time of year when even the tourists are hesitant to go out and brave the muggy weather here in the sub-tropics. I’m already back at work in my usual Starbucks after my own summer travels.

Since my last update in the spring, I’ve been busy finishing the fifth and final book in my young adult fantasy adventure series, Steel & Fire. Night of Flame launched on May 20th, wrapping up my second major series under my Jordan Rivet pen name. (The first is the Seabound trilogy.)

I think it’s safe to say that the Jordan Rivet name is here to stay.

The end of May also marked the first full year in which my writing income matched or exceeded what I earned in my previous day job.

It seemed like a good time to go on holiday!

JUNE: Something of a writing break

In June, I spent four weeks with my family in Arizona. My fellow members of the Displaced Nation know what this entails: catching up on a year’s worth of quality time, eating at all your favorite places, and noticing all your home country’s idiosyncrasies.

One thing that always surprises me when I go home is the sheer number of choices in the grocery stores. You can buy anything you want in Hong Kong, but in the United States there seem to be infinite variations of each thing. (For example: I counted eleven different types of M&Ms in a single convenience store.) I also notice how much strangers make small talk. There’s usually an adjustment period where I stare blankly at cashiers who ask about my day. I can no longer tell how much people actually want to know when they strike up a conversation.

Since I’d just wrapped up my fantasy series, I decided not to set any serious writing goals for this summer. I made a few final edits to the side project I wrote while working on Night of Flame. This book, a post-apocalyptic story in a different vein than my Seabound series, is my tenth Jordan Rivet novel, and I think it’s the best yet. I’m currently exploring the possibility of going hybrid with it (i.e., finding a traditional publisher for some books while continuing to self-publish others). I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, Diary.

Of course, I can’t stay away from writing completely. My mom and my 15-year-old sister both enjoy writing, and we had a few great work sessions at cafés around Arizona. I even got to read the first chapter of my sister’s novel-in-progress (it’s awesome). Being an expat means it’s especially noticeable when younger family members grow up in leaps and bounds while you’re away. I’m coming up on my seven-year anniversary in Hong Kong, and it’s nice that my youngest sister and I have started connecting over this shared passion.

During those sessions with my family, I worked on the worldbuilding and outlines for my shiny new fantasy series. This trilogy will be set in a different world than my Steel & Fire series, which means I get to invent a new magic system and figure out new hierarchies and political systems.

My goal for this series is to appeal to the same readers who enjoyed Steel & Fire while also being able to try all kinds of different things. The books will follow a single point-of-view character, and I’m going for a tight, tense plot rather than something sweeping and epic.

I ended up outlining all three books for the new trilogy while I was in Arizona, though I’m sure the details will change as I get into it.

JULY: Indie author reunion in London & a week in Iceland

From Arizona I flew to London to meet up with my husband, who was finishing up a business trip. While there, I met with a group of indie authors who have been a huge part of my writing life over the past two years. We are all members of the same Facebook group, and these writers have taught me many of the strategies that have contributed to my self-publishing success.

Though nervous about meeting Internet friends in real life, I found it even better than expected. The author life can be lonely, and it’s good to talk shop with people who are building their careers in the same way I am. All of us are trying to figure things out, often through trial and error. It’s been wonderful to share the journey.

From London, my husband and I flew to Iceland for a week-long trip we’d been talking about taking since we met, almost ten years ago. I know it’s a trendy place to visit right now—and it completely lives up to the hype!

Iceland also proved the perfect place to visit while the worldbuilding for my new series was kicking around in my head. Many of the places in that world aren’t set in stone yet, and I ended up adding a bit of Icelandic flavor to my mental images.

END-JULY TO AUGUST: Glad to be back in the writing saddle!

By the time I returned to Hong Kong, I was chomping at the bit to get started on the new series. After a day to recover from jet lag, I hit the ground running on the first book. After thinking about it all summer I had a pretty clear idea of how it was going to turn out. Of course, there are always surprises in the writing process, and this book was no exception.

Though the beginning went slower than anticipated as I got to know the new characters and started filling out their world, I finished the rough draft in just under three weeks. As always, I’m sure it’s going to need a lot more work. Coming in at less than 60,000 words, I think it’s missing a few chapters that will help bring the world to life.

I’ve printed out the draft, and it’s burning a hole in my bag right now, just waiting for me to open it up and start reading.

Even though summer is not yet officially over, I’m happy to be back to work. It’s always nice to get out of Hong Kong, but it’s good to be home, too.

I first started writing when I moved to Hong Kong, and this is still where I do it best. In a few weeks, I will be able to apply for permanent residency, another step along the road to establishing a lasting place for myself here.

I think I’ll always feel like an expat, a little displaced, a little homesick. But the baristas at my Starbucks seem happy to see me, and for now at least, this is home.

As always, Displaced Diary, thank you for listening.

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I can still remember clearly when you started this column. You weren’t at all sure you could make this full-time writing gig work. And now look at where you are. Amazing! And you’re even applying to become a permanent full-time resident of Hong Kong? Wow! The displaced writer’s life clearly suits you. Keep on keeping on, that’s all I can say! ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
Author photo and book covers supplied.
Strawberry peanut butter M&Ms?! What?! by Heather via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Iceland photo via Pixabay.

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TCK TALENT: Even without slide projector, projection of life as a Third Culture Kid engages Reykjavík audiences

TCK in Iceland Collage

Elizabeth Liang in front of Tjarnarbíó, in downtown Reykjavík, where she performed her one-woman autobiographical show, Citizen Alien, on growing up as a TCK of mixed heritage. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Liang.

This month Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang updates us on her own creative life, which this past summer veered in the direction of an island situated at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans!

Halló, vinir mínir! Hello, my friends! I’m addressing you in Icelandic because in this month’s column I’ll be re-creating my journey to Reykjavík, where I traveled in August to perform ALIEN CITIZEN: An Earth Odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, of mixed heritage.

How did I end up performing my show in Iceland? I have a friend in that part of the world who put me in touch with the artistic director of Tjarnarbíó, a creative center for professional live art in Reykjavík, who enthusiastically offered to host the show if I could cover my travel and lodging. Presented with a chance to combine three of my favorite activities—acting, writing and travel—how could I resist?

Engum flýgur sofanda steikt gæs i munn (“One cannot expect to benefit without making some effort”)—Icelandic proverb

My husband, Dan, agreed to work as my stage manager, which was perfect because he knows the show so well. I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise the requisite funds for our trip, found a cozy house in Reykjavík on AirBnB for us to rent, bought our flights, started promoting the show on social media—and then off we went to the Land of Fire and Ice.

We arrived in ideal weather, cool and dry, which many Icelanders told us was lucky because it had been raining all summer. We were relieved to find that our lodgings were in a quiet, pleasant residential area that was a seven-minute walk to downtown and a 15-minute walk to Tjarnarbíó.

Tjarnarbíó is a beautiful venue with state-of-the-art technology. At the technical rehearsal, the two “techies” who adjusted the lights and projector were friendly and professional. (Incidentally, we never met anyone in Iceland who was unfriendly, and the Icelanders we encountered all spoke perfect English, some with gorgeous British accents.)

That said, we had an unexpected snafu at the tech rehearsal. There are two kinds of projections in the show:

  1. Pictures and videos that are projected onto a screen via my laptop, and
  2. Words that I project onto my torso using an old-fashioned slide projector.

During the tech rehearsal, the slide projector I’d used in the show for over a year konked out. The stage hand and I stared at the plume of smoke rising from the top and said: “It’s smoking.”

No, the problem was not the power converter. We had the right one. Nor was it the bulb. We replaced it but the projector still didn’t revive. So my Icelandic friend’s father-in-law generously loaned us his. More on this later…

Citizen Alien Photo Strip

(top to bottom) At the tech rehearsal, the lights were lowered from the ceiling–fancy!; opening night; closing night; post-show celebratory drink; with Dan in front of Hallgrímskirkja Church; with Dan in Þingvellir National Park. All photos courtesy Elizabeth Liang.

August 20, 2014: Opening Night

We had an audience! I only knew of five people who were planning to attend (of whom I’d actually met only one—my Icelandic friend). What a pleasant surprise to see twenty or so people in the house!

And they laughed! I guess the show’s humor translates.

Dan stage managed wonderfully and the light board operator did a great job, too. The only hitch was that when it came time to project slides onto my torso, the borrowed projector didn’t work, even though we’d tested it earlier. I improvised and the audience went right along with this. (Afterward, a very kind audience member offered to loan us his projector, but when we met later, he realized it had a part missing. So Iceland never got to see words projected onto my torso. Ah, well.)

The best part of opening night was the fact that I enjoyed myself on stage, which hadn’t happened in a while. There were two curtain calls and people stayed afterward to shake my hand, thank me, and say lovely things. It was such a pleasure. About half were Icelandic and the other half internationals—once again, the right people had found me and my show. Several said they would spread the word for the next performance.

A few people from Spain, France, the Czech Republic, and Iceland hung out with us at Tjarnarbíó’s cafe afterwards. They all mentioned different parts of the show that resonated for them, and one said she felt that the show does a service for nomadic and non-nomadic people—it’s like a bridge between them. They thought it should be filmed, which I’m planning to do in December.

All hail my director, Sofie Calderon, for making this show such a dynamic experience for the audience! People from far and wide have enjoyed the production, and that’s Sofie’s doing. If it had been up to me, I would have found ways to hide onstage, because performing a solo show is super scary.

August 22, 2014: Closing Night

More people in the audience, which was very moving, because I knew none of them. The word of mouth from opening night must have been good. And maybe all those promos I sent to the international school and Facebook groups helped…?

The performance didn’t feel as good—I was having less fun and getting fewer laughs—but I forged ahead. Afterward Dan and the light board operator said “No way, it was TIGHT, really good show!” Yet more proof that we actors have no idea how well we’re doing. We only know if the audience is responsive or quiet.

Just like on opening night, a bunch of people waited to speak to me afterward. One was a young adult TCK who was very moved by the show. Another was a professor at the University of Rekjavík whose field of study is TCKs. Their compliments, along with all the words of support from other audience members, was tremendously encouraging.

Because the truth is: before embarking on this Northern European adventure, I had no idea how audiences would react, or if there would be any audiences at all. I had girded myself to perform for a handful of kindly people on opening night and then possibly cancel closing night because who knew if there would be enough interest?

Reykjavík may be a small capital, but as it turns out, it has plenty of residents who are international or international in outlook, and open to trying new things.

Kleina & coffee, Björks in boots, Lutherans & lava…

Beyond the show, Dan and I had a glorious time exploring small but pretty Reykjavík; the Blue Lagoon, a thermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavík; and the Golden Circle, a route the loops from Reykjavík to central Iceland and back. Other highlights included:

  • snacking on kleina, a donut-like pastry in the shape of a trapezoid;
  • visiting Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran cathedral designed to resemble the lava flows of Iceland’s landscape, and Settlement House;
  • hanging out at the Boston, said to be one of the world’s best bars, and at several coffee houses; and
  • last but not least, watching singers and dancers all over town on Culture Day/Night, a day and night-long program of cultural events that takes place in August every year and is one of the country’s largest festivals.

I also got a kick out of Icelandic fashion—bright colors, unusual cuts—and, as I love boots, was pleased to see practically every woman sporting boots of some kind: ankle, knee-high, sexy, hiking, and everything in between. (Did I buy a pair? Nope. Iceland is expensive.)

On our last night, we stepped out onto our little street to see fireworks, which felt like a final burst of congratulations. I got teary-eyed!

Overall, it was a delightful trip. Dan and I left thinking we’d like to go back someday. We want to see more of the island (puffins! volcanoes!), enjoy the friendly vibe…and hopefully bring another solo show for Icelanders’ entertainment—but without any cantankerous 1980s equipment.

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! Having only been to the Blue Lagoon as a round trip from Keflavík International Airport, I really appreciated this vicarious journey into the heart of the city’s cultural scene. And, as always, I’m impressed that you were contributing to the culture as well as taking something from it! Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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CAPITAL IDEA: Reykjavík: A quick guide

20130409-201825.jpg
Welcome to another “Capital Ideas” – our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Reykjavík

Oh God, don’t even think about doing it. What?

You know what I mean — I can read you like a book. I’ve no idea what you’re referring to.

You’re going to try and lead off with the “my mum’s gone to Iceland” gag, aren’t you?  Really, you think that little of me?

Yes. Charming. The very idea! My gags are expertly crafted, and besides most of our readers have no idea about Iceland, the British frozen goods store, and their longstanding tagline — so there!!!

Okay, okay, let’s get this over with.  Blimey, you’re a bit glum today.

Isn’t that appropriate if you want to talk me about the land of the midnight sun? I thought most people ended up depressed or mad. Please, let’s leave the ridiculous stereotyping to me.

You’re normally very good at it. Stop trying to distract me. Reykjavík, you may be interested to learn, is the northernmost capital in the world.

So I’d need to pack my thermals? Yes.

Guessing this isn’t a beach holiday? No. At least, not in the conventional sense.

I normally like going somewhere hot for my vacation, somewhere I can relax. Then you’d be missing out if you dismiss this sort of vacation out of hand, you’d be visiting a truly wonderful city. But, hey, if you like relaxing in a hot pool, you could still give Reykjavik a try.

Hardly sounds like Club Tropicana. Think about it. Iceland is only there because it’s a mass of volcanic activity. Remember when Eyjafjallajökull grounded all transatlantic flights a few years ago?

Yes, still struggling with this. You’re suggesting I relax by the side of an active volcano in Iceland rather than my plan to relax by the side of a pool in Hawai’i? No, even though I may at this precise moment be tempted to push you into an active volcano. What Iceland does have is plenty of geothermal springs. You must visit the Blue Lagoon.

Is that the one with the creature or with Brooke Shields? Neither. It’s a geothermal spa located in a lava field outside of the city. Even if it’s a freezing night, the water in the pool averages around 100 °F. And there’s plenty of supposedly healing minerals that you can cover yourself in. It’s quite the experience.

Sounds it. Have you done it? Yes, and very enjoyable it was too. A little bit of wind chafing around the neck though. Your body might be enjoying the pool, but your head is still battered by the elements.

Okay, I’m definitely intrigued, but I think I need a little more than slapping mud all over myself and wandering into a geothermal pool. What else can I do? Well, from the centre of Reykjavík you can get a daylong bus tour to the Golden Circle.

I hear their cashew chicken is wonderful. No, the Golden Circle is a popular tourist route that will allow you to see the Icelandic countryside. You will see the stupendous Gullfoss (Golden Falls); Þingvellir (Thing Fields), a national park that was the site of Iceland’s first parliament in 930AD; and Geysir — the first geysir to be recorded in printed material (if Wikipedia is to be believed). Certainly, when it comes to geysers accept no substitutes. If you’re lucky, you might also see a pack of Icelandic ponies.

Aurora Borealis? I beg your pardon?

The Northern Lights. Will I see that during this bus tour? No, this is a day tour. There are night tours that will take you out in the evening in the hopes of seeing the lights. If you’re away from the city and the light pollution, your chances improve. Of course, nothing is guaranteed that you’ll see anything so don’t get too downhearted if you don’t see the lights. However, if you want to try and stack the cards in your favor then you could stay at The Northern Lights Inn.  One further advantage of this hotel is its convenient location to the Blue Lagoon.

And Reykjavík itself? What should I do there? No pun intended, but it is a really great place just to chill. Wander the streets. Take a walk by Tjörnin, a delightful lake in the center of town. As you wander the city, you’ll notice plenty of public art in the city. Walk down towards the harbor and check out Jón Gunnar Árnason (The Sun Voyager). Visit Hallgrímskirkja, the city’s impressive Lutheran church, and at all times keep yourself caffeinated. So many good coffee shops in the city for you to sample.

But what about the food? I hear fermented shark is popular. You mean hákarl. If you find it, you’re more than welcome to try it. Good luck with that. I think Icelandic cuisine has moved on from the shark and puffin stereotypes. Not surprisingly, you’ll be able to try some amazing seafood. If you really want to dine out, Siggi Hall is the most famous Icelandic chef, so you may want to try and get a reservation at his restaurant inside the Hotel Odinsve.

What should I read before I go? It’s Iceland, you should give some Icelandic sagas a try. They detail the early colonization of the land. Penguin has an anthology if you want to dip your toe in. Halldór Laxness is the only Icelandic winner of the Nobel prize for literature (nothing lax about him there). He won the prize in 1955, and as a result a lot of his work has been translated into English and remains in print. The Fish Can Sing and the two-part epic Independent People are easy enough to find. Mál og Menning is a bookstore in downtown Reykjavík has a good selection of Icelandic literature available in English translations. More recently, Hallgrímur Helgason’s 101 Reykjavík has probably been the most successful novel to come out of the country.

Wasn’t that made into a movie? Yes, back in 2000, so you could check that out if you so wished.

And I should listen to plenty of Björk? And don’t forget Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Bjork’s original band, The Sugarcubes. If you happen to be visiting late October, you could go to Iceland Airwaves, the country’s biggest musical festival. It’s certainly a great city to scour record stores.

If only the beer were cheap. Well, you can’t have everything.

 

STAY TUNED for a new Displaced Nation post tomorrow.

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Image: awindram

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Europe works its charm

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

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

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

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

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

The ghost of holidays past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

The lingering fairy tale of New York

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteerism, burning bright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mary-Sue: Holiday travel plans & profound epiphanies

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com.

Dear Mary-Sue,

Would love some great travel tips for this holiday season. 

Anon, Vermont.

Dear Anon,

I love this time of year. Admittedly for a traveler it can be a very expensive and chaotic time so I try and strike a balance between travel and being at home. The Wallace household, like many families across the fine, fertile land, has its own holiday traditions that we like to observe at this time. For me, it’s about spending some time with little John, the intelligent one of my two grandkids, he comes over to stay  the weekend before Christmas. We make sure to make chex mix and drink hot mulled cider. We head on over to St Michael’s where we go to the annual Handel’s Messiah sing-in. My soprano leaves a little to be desired, but it’s always great fun nonetheless. John will then help me decorate the Christmas tree and then we’ll go and see all the wonderful lights that my neighbors who haven’t foreclosed have covered their houses in.

On Christmas Eve it’s time for John to go back to his parents, that’s when me and hubby Jake things up and it becomes all about just the two of us. We pack all of our warmest, snuggliest clothing and get on a plane to Reykjavik. Once there we also stay at  our favorite hotel near the Hallgrimskirkja. Once we’ve slept off our jet lag and had a lovely cup of hot chocolate, we then give it large until New Year’s Eve. There’s one club, in particular, we hang out in called the Birch Tree. Now hubby Jake likes his trance to be fairly chilled, but I’m more about old skool Acid trance. When Gunnar is DJing at the Birch Tree he always manages to give a set that balances hubby Jake’s tastes with mine. We then might hit the sauna and do some shots of Brennivin with this South African couple we always meet up with at Christmas, because that’s what the season is about for ol’ Mary-Sue – celebrating your own traditions.

Mary-Sue

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Dear Mary-Sue,

Earlier this month, as I was trekking through the Kilimanjaro National Park, which is in Tanzania, with these local guys who I knew, I was struck by — and the readership of my blog The Wistful Traveler all agreed — a beautifully profound thought.  It was about how fortunate I was to be there at that moment, to be alive in the now. I blogged about it, you should check it out on my blog. There’s some pretty amazing pictures there too. Now my question to you Mary-Sue is this, do you have any profound thoughts like I do?

The Wistful Traveler, Everywhere and nowhere.

Only when drinking Brennivin.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

Thank you so much for responding to my question in last month’s “Ask Mary-Sue.” I was so pleased to be featured that I’m sending an early Christmas present of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts for you. Anyhoo, I was wondering if you might want to reconsider your response that you can’t meet up for coffee. I’ve tried calling your office, but they keep saying that you’re out. Such a shame as I really would love to pick your brains over coffee – not literally, ha, ha, ha. That would just be disturbing. You’re my inspiration.

Susie-May, Arizona

Dear Susie May,

Thanks for the present. My unpaid intern tells me that they were delicious. Unfortunately, my calendar is really full at the moment.

Mary-Sue

p.s. You really should stop calling my office.

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Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have, or if you want to share your fave meatloaf recipe with me (yum! yum!). As they say in Italy, “ciao!”

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. She has taken a credited course in therapy from Tulsa Community College and is the best-selling author of Traveling Made Easy, Low-Fat Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul, The Art of War: The Authorized Biography of Samantha Brown, and William Shatner’s TekWar: An Unofficial Guide. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com, or by adding to the comments below.

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post — another Random Nomad in our global philanthropy series.

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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