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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Expat creatives recommend books for the (not quite) end of summer

End of Summer 2016 Reads

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, has canvassed several international creatives for some recommendations of books that suit the various end-of-summer scenarios those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere will soon be in (if we aren’t already!).

Hello Displaced Nationers!

I’ve traveled quite a bit this summer, and now I’m wondering what I can do, as summer slides into autumn here in Prague, to bask in those prized last few moments of glory before the days get shorter and a chill enters the air.

I decided to canvas fellow international creatives about the books they would recommend for those of us who are:

  • Striving for one last beach read;
  • Stranded at an airport on our way “home”; and/or
  • Getting back to work/school/reality as autumn sets in.

There was just one catch: I asked if they would please recommend books that qualify as “displaced” reads, meaning they are for, by, or about expats or other internationals and so speak to members of our “tribe” (see ML Awanohara’s contribution below).

And now let’s check out their picks (correction: I should say “our” as I’m a contributor this time)—it’s an eclectic mix, but I predict you’ll be tempted by quite a few!

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JENNIFER ALDERSON, expat and writer

TheGoodThiefsGuidetoParis_coverWhen I read on the beach, the story’s got to be light and quirky or it goes back in my tote bag. The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris (2009), by Chris Ewan—or really any of the other four books in Ewan’s popular series of mysteries about a globetrotting thief-for-hire—fits the bill perfectly. I actually dislike the much-displaced Charlie Howard immensely—yet somehow end up rooting for him along the way. An Englishman, he doesn’t feel at home anywhere and travels the world to get inspired to write his next novel—and then ends up involved in criminal activities that mirror his fictitious plots. Each novel revolves around Charlie’s bungled robbery of an artwork or antiquity in yet another famous tourist destination: Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, Las Vegas, Berlin… Ewan’s descriptions of each city are spot on and quite beautiful, in contrast to the wonderfully sarcastic tone of the novels themselves. The capers are silly, absurd constructions involving the shadiest of characters, which inevitably leave a smile on my face. I’ve already finished Paris and Amsterdam. The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice is next.

The City of Falling Angels_coverI actually have two suggestions for books I wish I’d had in my carry-on when stranded en route, both set in one of my favorite countries in the world: Italy! A few days before my husband and I set off for a week-long holiday in Venice, I popped into a local secondhand bookstore and spotted John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels (2005). I absolutely loved Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so I bought it without even reading the description on the back. Imagine my surprise when I pulled it out of my suitcase and realized it was all about the same magical city I’d just arrived in! It is an absorbing, magnificent novel that effortlessly blends fact and fiction. (Berendt moved to Venice in 1997, just three days after the city’s Fenice opera house burned down during a restoration—accident or arson?) The fabled city and many of her more eccentric residents form the soul of this book; art, opera and architecture are the main ingredients. Let yourself get lost in Berendt’s unique, almost conversational prose and follow along on his deliciously slow journey through one of the prettiest (and most mysterious) places on the planet.

BridgeofSighs_coverMy other pick is the captivating historical novel, Bridge of Sighs and Dreams (2015), by former expat Pamela Allegretto. The story follows one Italian family through the 1930s and 1940s, when Mussolini and later Hitler ruled the land. It is a sometimes gritty, sometimes romantic, tale of betrayal, intrigue and—above all—survival. The author’s beautiful yet compact descriptions of the landscape, people and culture effortlessly transport the reader to this fascinating and complex period in Italian (and European) history. I highly recommend it.

Whichever of these two books you choose, you’ll wish your flight was delayed indefinitely.

The Disobedient Wife_coverI’ve only read the first two chapters of The Disobedient Wife (2015), by Annika Milisic-Stanley, yet I’m already hooked—and would recommend it for anyone trying to get back into work/school mode. It’s such an eloquent description of the expat experience; from the first sentence I felt as if I was reading a soulmate’s description of how it feels to move on to a new destination after building up a life in a foreign country: we say goodbye while wondering what, if any, lasting impact we’ve had on our temporary homes. [Editor’s note: This book also made the Displaced Nation’s “best of expat fiction” list for 2015.]

The official synopsis reads:

The Disobedient Wife intertwines the narratives of a naïve, British expatriate, Harriet, and that of her maid, Nargis, who possesses an inner strength that Harriet comes to admire as their lives begin to unravel against a backdrop of violence and betrayal.

In the first chapter, Harriet is thinking back to her last post in Tajikistan: about the friends she’d willingly left behind and about her home, inhabited by another family only days after her own departure:

“All traces will be erased until the Dutch tulips I laid last September rise above the earth to bloom in April and pronounce that I really was there. The language, learned and badly spoken, is already fading from my dreams…”

These sentences stirred up so many memories for me of people left behind and as well as adventures past. I sometimes wish I could go back—even for a moment—to all of the places I’ve been in this crazy world and just say hello to the people I once knew there and remind them that I’m still around and do think of them once in a while. I cannot wait to finish this book. [Beth’s note: I did NOT mention to Jennifer that Annika is also participating in this column’s roundup—quite a coincidence!]

Jennifer S. Alderson has published two novels, the recently released A Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery and Down and Out in Kathmandu (2015), which cover the adventures of traveler and culture lover Zelda Richardson. An American, Jennifer lives in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and young son.


ML AWANOHARA, Displaced Nation founding editor and former expat

Inspired by the new BBC One TV miniseries, at the beginning of the summer I downloaded War and Peace (new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) onto my Kindle. And, reader, I finished it! And now I’m having trouble finding any novels that hold my attention. By comparison to Tolstoy’s masterwork, they all seem too narrow in scope, and their characters aren’t as beautifully developed. Sigh!

Tribe_coverI’m thinking I should turn to nonfiction until the W&P spell wears off. Right now I have my eye on Sebastian Junger’s latest work, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging—which I think could serve any of the purposes Beth has outlined above, though perhaps is best applied to the third condition (getting back to reality). Junger has been compared to Hemingway for his adventure non-fiction and war reporting, but this book is more of an anthropological look at the very human need to belong to a tribe. Though we expats have left our original tribes, I don’t think that this decision eradicates our tribal instincts. On the contrary, we are attracted to tribes of fellow expats; and some of us even find new homes in cultures more tribal than ours—where the people value qualities like loyalty and belonging more than we do in the West.

Junger provides an example to which I can personally relate. Recounting the history of 18th-century America, he says that no native Americans defected to join colonial society even though it was richer, whereas many colonials defected to live with the Indian tribes. They apparently appreciated the communal, caring lifestyle of the latter. That’s how I felt after I’d lived in Japan for several years. I really didn’t fancy returning to my native society, which I’d come to see as overly individualistic and centered on self to the exclusion of little else. To this day (and especially during election years like this one!) I struggle with America’s you’re-on-your-own ethos. Wealth doesn’t necessarily translate into well-being: why can’t my compatriots see that? It’s something I can feel in my bones because of the more tribal life I had in Asia. Could this book help me understand the roots of my displacement?

ML Awanohara, who has lived for extended periods in the UK and Japan, has been running the Displaced Nation site for five years. She works in communications in New York City.


BETH GREEN, Displaced Nation columnist and writer

Hotel_Kerobokan_coverI tend to pick beach books by the setting. So if I am going to the Caribbean, I’ll pick something set in the Caribbean. My last beach destination was Bali, and the book I wish I’d taken with me was Hotel Kerobokan: The Shocking Inside Story of Bali’s Most Notorious Jail (2009), a sharply observed account of life inside Indonesia’s most notorious prison, by Australian journalist Kathryn Bonella. Also great is her subsequent nonfiction title, Snowing in Bali (2012), a graphic look at Bali’s cocaine traffickers. Stories that depict true-life crime in unexpected settings (isn’t Bali supposed to be paradise?) automatically go on my to-read list—but I forgot to pick up Bonella’s book when we were at the airport and then wasn’t able to find in the area around my hotel. I know, most people go to the beach for good weather and strong cocktails; but for me, a holiday isn’t a holiday until I can peel back the veneer and peer at something darker underneath.

The Bat_coverWhat I actually ended up reading was in fact very good—Jo Nesbo’s thriller The Bat, in which he introduces his hard-headed detective Harry Hole and sends him to Australia to pursue a serial killer—but I wish I’d planned ahead and got something that blended with the scenery.

It’s a terrible feeling to get to the boarding gate and realize you don’t have enough chapters left in your book to get you through takeoff. (This is one reason I love my e-reader and try to have it loaded with dozens of books at all times.) For air travel especially, I look for the fattest, longest reads possible.

The Mountain Shadow_coverFor my next long flight, I’m hoping to read Gregory David Robert’s The Mountain Shadow, which came out last year and is the sequel to his equally weighty Shantaram (2003). At 880 pages, this book will take even a fast reader like me a while! Set in Mumbai, India, it continues the story of an escaped Australian prisoner who finds a new niche as a passport forger—but also a better self—in the underbelly of the South Asian crime world. Engrossing and beautifully written, I think it’s the perfect companion for marathon flights. Even if you did manage to finish it mid-flight, you can spend the rest of the trip wondering how close the story is to the author’s real-life history as an escaped convict. Roberts spent 10 years in India as a fugitive after escaping a maximum security prison in Australia, and his first novel, at least, is rumored to be autobiographical.

CatKingofHavana_coverFor the goal of channeling our more serious selves as autumn approaches, how about a fun read by the peripatetic Latvian author Tom Crosshill (he spent several years studying and working in the United States, as well as a year learning traditional dances in Cuba). Crosshill will release The Cat King of Havana (2016) this month. The eponymous Cat King is a half-Cuban American teenager who gets his nicknames from the cat videos he posts online. When he invites his crush to Havana to learn about his heritage and take salsa lessons, he discovers Cuba’s darker side…

Beth Green is the Booklust, Wanderlust columnist for the Displaced Nation. Her bio blurb appears below.


HELENA HALME, novelist and expat

Murder in Aix_coverFor a last hurrah on the beach, I’d recommend Murder in Aix (2013), Book 5 in a mystery series by Susan Kiernan-Lewis, an ex-military dependent who is passionate about France, travel and writing. One of my secret pleasures in life is to settle down with a cozy murder mystery; I also have a passion for the South of France. So when I found The Maggie Newberry Mystery Series, consisting of nine books that featured an expat protagonist-sleuth who solves mysteries in and around Aix-en-Provence, I couldn’t wait to download the whole series onto my Kindle. In the fifth book, Maggie Newberry is heavily pregnant but that doesn’t stop her as she finds herself scrambling to prove the innocence of a dear friend arrested for the murder of an abusive ex-boyfriend. Her partner, a ruggedly handsome French winemaker, doesn’t approve of Maggie’s involvement in the case. “It’s too dangerous,” he tells her.

The novel is pure bliss—a feeling enhanced if you can read it by a pool or on a beach, preferably accompanied by a glass of chilled rosé!

TheBreathofNight_coverFor those inevitable airport delays, I’d recommend The Breath of Night (2013), by Michael Arditti, a much-neglected English author. The first book I read by him, Jubilate, said to be the first serious novel about Lourdes since Zola’s, is one of my all-time favorites, so I was delighted when The Breath of Night came out soon after. This is a story of the murder of one Julian Tremayne, a Catholic priest from England who was working as a missionary in the Philippines in the 1970s. Since their son’s tragic death, Julian’s parents have pursued a campaign to have him declared a saint. The story is told partly through letters from Julian to his parents and partly through an account by a friend of the family, Philip Seward, who has gone to Manila 30 years later to find out the truth about the miracles he is said to have performed. Did Julian lead “a holy life of heroic virtue”—one of the conditions for canonization? While telling an intriguing and captivating tale of life in the Philippines, the book provides a broader commentary on love and faith.

TheParisWife_coverWhen the time comes to settle back into your routine, I would suggest a read of The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain (2011). It’s a fictionalized story of Hemingway’s first years as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920s, told from the point of view of his first wife, Hadley, a naive Southern girl who suddenly finds herself suddenly plunged into a life of drunken debauchery in the French capital. McLain’s writing is precise and beautiful; her background as a poet comes through in her careful choice of words. Her descriptions of Hemingway when Hadley first meets him are particularly ingenious:

“He smiles with everything he’s got…”

“I can tell he likes being in his body…”

“He seemed to do happiness all the way up and through.”

It’s a brilliant read that will take you somewhere completely different and keep the challenges (boredom?) of work or school at bay a little longer.

Helena Halme is a Finnish author of Nordic women’s and romantic fiction. She lives with her English husband in London. Her works include the best-selling autobiographical novel The Englishman (reviewed on the Displaced Nation), its sequel The Navy Wife, Coffee and Vodka (about which she wrote a guest post for us) and The Red King of Helsinki (for which she won one of our Alice Awards). The Finnish Girl, her latest novella, is the prequel to The Englishman.


MATT KRAUSE, writer and expat

A Time of Gifts_coverFor any of those circumstances, I would recommend A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (1977; reissued in 2011 with an introduction by Jan Morris). At the age of 18, Fermor dropped out of school to walk from the heart of London to Constantinople, and his account of that journey—which started in December 1933, not long after Hitler has come to power in Germany, and ended just over two years later—is hailed as a classic of British travel writing. Hitler’s abuses were not yet evident, and Fermor describes drinking beers with Nazis once he reaches Germany. But I particularly enjoyed his account of a luxurious extended weekend in Geneva (or some city, I don’t remember) with a couple of girls he met along the way. I read this book as part of my research before walking across Turkey in 2012–2013, and really liked it.

Matt Krause is a communications coach based in Istanbul. He is the author of the memoir A Tight Wide-Open Space (reviewed on the Displaced Nation) and is working on a book about his walk across Turkey.


ANNIKA MILISIC-STANLEY, ATCK, expat, painter, campaigner and writer

two more book picks_Aug2016When I am on the beach, I get no longer than half an hour of uninterrupted reading time. For that reason, I took a book of short stories with me this year: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home (2015), which has stories set in the UK, USA, France and elsewhere. Brilliantly engaging, with an amazing use of language, alternately fun and fantastical, this debut, award-winning collection is well worth a read.

Some of you may not be short story fans, in which case I’d recommend The White Tiger (2008), by Aravind Adiga. The “white tiger” of the book’s title is a Bangalore chauffeur, who guides us through his experience of the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society. two book picks_Aug2016_515xThe novel won the 2008 Booker, but don’t let that put you off. It is surprisingly accessible and a real page-turner: funny, horrifying and brilliant.

For an agonizing airport wait, I have two suggestions: Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life (2015) and Sanjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways (also 2015). Both feature immigrants describing their former lives, their motive for departure from their countries of origin, and the harshness of life in a new country as illegals.

CentresofCataclysm_coverAnd once you’re back at the desk, I would recommend giving Centres of Cataclysm (2016, Bloodaxe Books) a try. Edited by Sasha Dugdale and David and Helen Constantine, it’s an anthology celebrating fifty years of modern poetry in translation—full of beautiful gems from poets from around the world. Profits go to refugee charities.

Raised in Britain by Swedish and Anglo-German parents, Annika Milisic-Stanley has worked on humanitarian aid projects in Nepal, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, India, Burundi and Egypt as well as living in Tajikistan for several years. She currently lives in Rome with her family. In addition to writing and painting, she works as a campaigner to raise awareness on the plight of refugees in Southern Europe. The Disobedient Wife, about expatriate and local life in Tajikistan, is her debut novel and was named the Cinnamon Press 2015 Novel of the Year. Annika invites you to like her book page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


PAMELA JANE ROGERS, expat and artist/author

Saving Fish from Drowning_coverFor that last trip to the beach, I’d recommend Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning (2005). A group of California travelers decide to go on their planned trip to the Burma (its southern Shan State) without their (deceased) travel director, and in their total ignorance of the customs and religion of that part of the world, create havoc—and commit what is considered a heinous crime. I was directing a travel group in Greece when I read it, which may be why it seemed quite plausible, as well as darkly hilarious.

If you haven’t read it yet (though most on this site probably have), an absorbing read for when you get stuck in an airport is Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible (1998)The Poisonwood Bible_cover, about a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Between the evangelical Christian father wanting his converts to “gather by the river” in Africa for their baptisms, to the chapters written by his wife and daughters at different ages—the reader is in for a rollicking, sometimes absurd, sometimes sad and sobering, ride.

And when it’s time to face work again, I recommend the book I’m reading now: Passage of the Stork, Delivering the Soul (Springtime Books, 2015), by Madeleine LenaghPassage of the Stork_cover, an American who has lived in the Netherlands since 1970. This is her life story. [Editor’s note: Madeleine Lenagh and her photography have been featured on the Displaced Nation.]

Pamela Jane Rogers is an American artist who has adopted the Greek island of Poros as her home. She has written a memoir of her adventures, which she recently re-published with a hundred of her paintings as illustrations: GREEKSCAPES: Illustrated Journeys with an Artist.


JASMINE SILVERA, former expat and writer

The Best of All Possible Worlds_coverFor the beach I would recommend The Best of All Possible Worlds (2013), by Barbadian author Karen Lord. It’s what many people call “social science fiction” because the story is less obsessed with technological advances than with their interpersonal ramifications. The book opens after a cataclysmic event destroys the home planet of an entire civilization, rendering everyone who managed to be off-world at the time of destruction displaced. It follows the journey of a leader of a group of survivors, who decides to team up with an “assistant biotechnician” to find a suitable replacement home on a colony planet. I know what you’re thinking: it doesn’t sound like a rollicking good time! But it reads a bit like a “he said, she said” travelogue; and one of the two narrators has delightfully funny moments (I’ll let you decide which one). There is humor and sweetness, a bit of intrigue, and a satisfyingly happy ending.

The Pilgrimage_coverFor an absorbing read suitable for a long wait in an airport lounge, try The Pilgrimage (1987), by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. [Editor’s note: He was once featured on the Displaced Nation’s Location, Locution column.] I’ll be honest, my experience of the Camino de Santiago was nothing like the one depicted in this book (more technical fabrics and guidebooks, less overt mysticism); but I still find Coelho’s account evocative and moving. Like the work considered to be his masterpiece, The Alchemist, it’s part engaging adventure, part allegory—and a wonderful story. It’s a good one to transport you elsewhere when you’re “stuck” in a place you don’t want to be in.

Committed_coverIf the Way of St. James isn’t your thing, then I might recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (2010) for an absorbing read. I can’t imagine what it would be like to attempt a follow-up to a book that was a huge commercial success, let alone a direct “sequel.” But that’s what Gilbert did with Committed. People love or hate the book for all sorts of reasons. But it’s a good one to stick with, IMHO, because it explores not only the byzantine banalities of bureaucratic regulations (something all displaced persons deal with at some point in their adventures) but also the innermost workings of one’s heart as you navigate knowing when to go and when to, well, commit. And while Gilbert occasionally allows herself to navel gaze in less charming a fashion than in Eat, Pray, Love, overall this book is an honest, thoughtful exploration of what marriage and commitment means in a world of divorce, infidelity, and the “best friending” of one’s partner. The book starts out with a decision made and then backtracks through the process—but it’s the journey that counts, after all. [Editor’s note: Hmmm… Will she write a sequel now that she is divorcing her husband of 12 years?]

Kinky Gazpacho_coverFor getting back into your groove at work, I’d recommend Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain (2008), by Lori Tharps. There are relatively few travel memoirs written by people of color, so a book full of observations around how race is experienced in different cultures is a rare treasure. As a black woman from the United States, I have found race to be an intrinsic part of my experience in traveling and living abroad. From being stared at, to being touched, to stumbling on some unexpected bit of exported racism where I least expect it, I would say it’s an oversimplification to think that race is something we only struggle with in the land of my birth (that said, I’ve known a few African Americans whose decision to live abroad was based in no small part on the gravity of the struggle for racial equality in America). Nowhere is perfect, and Tharp explores what happens when the fantasy and the reality collide during her year of study abroad in Spain, as she attempts to reconcile that country’s problematic past with its present. She also extends her adventures beyond those of a traveler to become an expat (this is not a spoiler: she marries a Spaniard). I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, but this book resonated with my personal experience of travel and life abroad much more deeply.

A world traveler and former expat who remains a California girl at heart, Jasmine Silvera will release her debut, Prague-inspired novel Death’s Dancer in October (it was recently selected for publication by Kindle Press). Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Thanks, everyone, for participating! Readers, what books would you recommend? Let us know in the comments!

Till next time and happy reading!

As always, please let me or ML know if you have any suggestions for books you’d like to see reviewed here! And I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

Beth Green is an American writer living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes. She has also launched the site Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, when you find yourself out of tune with the local language/culture, throw back your head and laugh it off!

Byron Williams, Jr. with one of his performers (supplied).

Byron Williams, Jr. with one of his performers (supplied).

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is in holiday mode with her latest interview guest.

Season’s greetings, Displaced Nationers! You may be in full hibernation mode by now or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, perhaps you’re ready to hit the beach! Either way, I’d like to offer you some holiday cheer through this month’s column. My guest is singer, song-writer and long-term expat Byron Williams, Jr. Byron grew up in Miami, Florida, and Portland, Maine, before moving to Europe in the 1990s.

He started singing in a gospel choir when he was eight years old—and has been singing ever since. Since 1998 he has made his home in Fredrikstad, Norway, where he performs soul, jazz and rhythm ‘n’ blues with his duo/trio at all kinds of events: parties, anniversaries, festivals and more. He can go from Frank Sinatra to Barry White and everything in between.

During this cold and grey season, Byron has been spreading comfort and joy with his concert series “Christmas Joy N’ Soul.” Talk about holiday spirit!

Byron kindly agreed to share some of his culture shock experiences with us. Tune in as we talk about mistaken identities, language classes, mispronounced words and what to pack to get through awkward moments. Actually, as it’s the holidays, why not literally tune in to Byron? Click here to hear him croon…while you read on.

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Hi, Bryon. Welcome to Culture Shock Toolbox. I know you were born in Miami and then went all the way north to Portland, Maine. Where have you lived abroad?

Spain (Mallorca) for three years and Norway (Fredrikstad) for almost 17 years.

In the course of your transitions into European cultures, have you ever ended up with your foot in your mouth?

When I moved to Norway back in 1998, I was getting off the train in Oslo and heading towards the central station, when a man approached me asking me something in Norwegian. And I, being the polite American, told him “No, I’m sorry and continued on my way to the station. He continued to ask me questions and I replied: “No, I do not have any money to give you.” As I was getting closer to the entrance to the station, he told me that he was a customs agent and needed to see my passport. I apologized to him for thinking that he was a beggar.

How did you handle that situation?

We both laughed and went our separate ways 🙂

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

When I began to take Norwegian classes, I mispronounced the word for “brick” in English and what came out sounded like the Norwegian word for murder. Back then the words sounded the same to me and didn’t notice it. Then my teacher started laughing and told me that the words meant two totally different things 🙂 I laughed it off by saying that that’s what happens when you learn a new language.

You have to have a sense of humor in life.

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

Carry a smile in your culture shock toolbox, it will take you further 🙂 And stock up on those smiley face stickers and emoticons for when you need a reminder!

smiley face toolbox

Thank you so much, Bryon, for taking the time to do this interview! As newbies in another culture, we aren’t always as inconspicuous as we’d like to be. Humor will definitely see us you through those awkward moments and make you feel more in harmony with yourself and your surroundings. Especially in this holiday season, why not crack a smile and try putting one on someone else’s face?!

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Readers, what do you make of Byron’s advice? If you like what he has to say, I recommend you visit his site, where you can peruse his music. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

And to keep you in that holiday spirit, listen to Byron’s tribute to Barry White:

As always, thanks for reading, Displaced Nationers! Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month/year. See you in 2016!

Until then. Prost! Santé!

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

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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Wonderlanded with Lene Fogelberg, award-winning poet, writer, and double open-heart surgery survivor

There’s something from Alice in Lene Fogelberg’s story. Photo credits (clockwise, from top left): NecoZAlenky (original Czech film poster for Something from Alice) via Wikimedia Commons; Lene Fogelberg author photo (supplied); operating room via Pixabay.

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and reassure many of us who have chosen to lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Lene Fogelberg, a Swede who has lived in quite a few places but right now can be found in Jakarta, Indonesia.

With her long red hair and blue eyes, she looks a little like a Swedish Alice. What’s more, her biography of her early years is not dissimilar to that of Alice Liddell, the muse behind the Lewis Carroll story. Growing up in a small town by the sea, Lene was full of curiosity about the wider world and also in love with words. Describing her youth in a recent guest blog post, Lene says that for her,

written words danced lightly as feathers on the page. I loved to read and made weekly visits to our small town library, the bicycle ride home always wobbly with the heavy pile of books on the rack.

But while similarities are rife to Carroll’s Alice, the “wonderlanded” story Lene lived as an adult in fact comes closer to Czech director Jan Švankmajer’s surrealistic interpretation in his 1988 film, Něco z Alenky.

Něco z Alenky means “something from Alice,” and Lene ended up taking something from Alice’s story when, after moving to the United States with her husband and children, she found herself being wheeled through a rabbit warren of hospital rooms into an operating theatre. As in Švankmajer’s film, she was in a bizarre dream rather than a classic fairy tale.

Strangely, from the time she was young Lene had suspected there was something wrong with her heart. She even harbored a not-so-secret fear of dying young, trying to make the most of each moment. But Swedish doctors repeatedly dismissed her concerns, treating her like a hypochondriac.

And then, it happened: her worst nightmare came true. Shortly after arriving in America she went to have a physical so she could get an American driver’s license—and the American woman doctor informed her she had a congenital heart condition and only a week to live.

Lene survived two emergency open-heart surgeries to tell her story: quite literally! Her memoir (and first book), Beautiful Affliction, is out this week from She Writes Press. Until now, Lene had written in Swedish, mostly poetry, for which she has won some awards. But even though she chose to write her memoir in English, she retains her poetic style, as we will see later in the week when we publish a short book excerpt.

But before that happens, let’s have Lene will take us down into her rather harrowing rabbit hole. True, she’s had some reprieve since since recovering from her surgeries and moving to Jakarta—but only some, as Jakarta is the kind of place where you have to take your life into your own hands to cross the street. But I’m getting ahead of the story—over to Lene!

* * *

Lene Fogelberg: Thank you, ML, and greetings, Displaced Nation readers. Just to give you a little more of my background: I grew up in the south of Sweden, in a small town by the ocean. As ML says, I often stood looking out over the ocean following the waves in my imagination, wondering about all the exciting places in this world. In my youth I spent a couple of summers in France studying French and falling in love with this beautiful country.

As newlyweds my husband and I moved to Germany as students for a year, where I learned the language and took care of our newborn baby (just three months old when we arrived). After Germany, we moved back to Sweden and stayed there until my husband’s employer offered him a position in the United States. We moved to a small town outside of Philadelphia, called Radnor. That became the scene of my life-threatening health crisis. How it erupted and played out is the topic of my book, which, as ML mentioned, came out this week.

We spent a year and a half in the United States in total and then moved back to Sweden for a couple of years. Nearly four years ago we relocated to Jakarta, but in December we will be moving again: to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“Stop this moment, I tell you!” But [Alice] went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears…

After moving to the US there was a huge pool of tears because of the drama that unfolded in the weeks following the transition. My husband and I had to have physicals prior to getting our American driver’s licenses, and as soon as the doctor put the stethoscope to my chest she reacted to the sound of my heart. It turned out I had a fatal congenital heart disease and that I’d lived longer with this disease than anyone the US doctors had ever met.

Beautiful Affliction story

As Lene attests in her newly published memoir, her “rabbit-hole” experience was full of heart, tears and physical drama. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Front and back cover art for Lene’s book (supplied); Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustration by Milo Winter (1916), via Wikimedia Commons; The White Rabbit’s House, by Kurt Bauschardt via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

[S]he felt a little nervous about this; “for it might end, you know,’ said Alice to herself, ‘in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?”

The events that unfolded are covered in my book Beautiful Affliction, which is a crazy story, full of heart and physical drama, not unlike Alice’s own confrontations with her changing body.

“Where should I go?” –Alice. “That depends on where you want to end up.” –The Cheshire Cat

Although my physical crisis was great, Jakarta has been one of the biggest challenges in a “wonderland” sense. The city is chaotic, with heavy traffic that is always jammed, making it difficult to navigate. I was shell-shocked for the first six months.

“Oh, I beg your pardon!” [Alice] exclaimed in a tone of great dismay…

Here in Jakarta where the population is mostly Muslim I try not to show too much skin. I wear clothes with sleeves and never skirts shorter than the knees.

skirt and shoes Alice in Wonderland

Photo credit: Alice shoes, by Shimelle Laine via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“Well, then,” the Cat went on, “you see, a dog growls when it’s angry and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry.”

Greeting people here in Indonesia can be a minefield. The safest bet is to put my hands together and say, “Namaste.”

“There’s certainly too much pepper in that soup!” Alice said to herself, as well as she could for sneezing.

I love nasi goreng and all the Indonesian dishes—but without the chili, which is too spicy for me.

Nasi Goreng Hold the Chili

Photo credits: Nasi goreng (fried rice), by Tracy Hunter; (inset) Nothing is real, nibble and drink me…, by Wonderlane. Both images via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Recipe for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I would invite my family and friends from Sweden and serve all the delicious fruit that can be found here in Indonesia. I know how you can long for sunshine during the long, dark Swedish winters and I would love to give them all a vacation full of sunshine and fruit smoothies.

Tropical Tea Party

Photo credits: A Swedish Mad Hatter [my description], by Rodrigo Parás via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Fruit stall in Bali, by Midori via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

“Well!” thought Alice to herself. “After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling downstairs!”

I am getting more and more courageous. I guess living abroad gives me a sense of “I can do this” and when faced with challenges I can now say to myself: “You have been through worse.”

Advice for those who have only just stepped through the looking glass

Stay busy so you don’t lose yourself to too much introspection. Especially if you are a traveling spouse coming with your expat partner. Make friends who can go with you to explore your new country. And whenever you go on excursions, try to learn the language so you can speak with locals and really get to know the country more than from a tourist’s point of view. The feeling of discovering gems of knowledge that are not in the tourist guides, like a local saying, is very rewarding and makes you feel connected to your new “home”.

Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible…

My next writing project is a novel that takes place here in Jakarta. It is a hilarious and heart-breaking story where I combine the ancient myths of Java with modern society and where East meets West. The first draft is basically finished and I hope to follow up my debut book with this story. It is kind of crazy and sometimes I wonder why I am writing it, but I am in love with the characters so I keep going. It is very much a fruit of my “down the rabbit hole” feelings. I would say that most of my writing comes from a place deep inside where I feel like I have discovered something unsettling with the world we live in and, because I need to pinpoint it, I write about it, in an effort to grasp it.

* * *

Thank you, Lene! Being wonderlanded with you was a moving experience. I sense you are a very special person to have survived so much and still be full of curiosity about the world. Readers, please leave your responses to Lene’s story in the comments. And be sure to tune in later in the week when we feature a sample of her writing! ~ML

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an example of how Lene writes about her wonderlanded experience.

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For this wanderlusting Californian for whom photography and travel are a perfect fit, a picture says…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King is back with his latest interview subject.

Jenny in Ireland

Jenny Schulte in front of an old church window ruin near Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland.

Hello again, readers! My May guest is 38-year-old Jenny Schulte. who never had any thoughts of leaving her Northern California home until she travelled to Ireland in 1999 to explore her Irish roots. Now she is an ardent traveler who combines her love of photography with her travel experiences in her captivating blog Bulldog Travels, subtitled “Everything and Nothing Plus Some Pretty Photos.” Jenny is wrong to call it “nothing”: her blog is her her outlet for sharing her travel adventures along with the kinds of “photographs my friends have always enjoyed,” as she puts it.

On her About page, she says:

[Those] two wonderful hobbies of travel and photography fit perfectly together.

A woman after my own heart!

* * *

Hi, Jenny, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Thank you for getting in touch and offering to share your photo-travels with us. Can you tell us where you were born and when you spread your wings to start travelling?
I was born and raised in Sacramento, California, and consider myself fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world. San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, the gorgeous California Coast, Redwoods, Yosemite, Napa Wine Country—all are on my doorstep. But while I have always loved to travel within the United States, when I was twenty I decided I really wanted to delve into my Irish heritage and see Ireland first hand. I had a very romantic vision of the country and figured I would be disappointed if I never went. Well…the moment my tennies hit the ground, a restlessness took over and I have been globetrotting ever since. I made a good friend in Ireland who is from Germany. and together we have seen much of western Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, Monaco, Spain, Andorra, England and Scotland). In more recent years I have been fulfilling an archaeological interest of mine exploring Mexico and Central American sites and ruins.

If you’re lucky enough to be Irish…you’re lucky enough!

So once you finally got the travel bug, you were up and running in those tennies of yours. I have only managed the UK and France from your entire list. I’m envious. Can you share with us some of the highlights of your travel adventures?
I really enjoy history and from Ireland I went to my first European countries: Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, where I could not only delve into history but also enjoy great food, culture, and scenery. From there I went on to other destinations such as France, Scandinavia and the UK. My search for ancient ruins took me to the Yucatán, Belize, and Guatemala. The animals and the raw nature of Costa Rica stole my heart. At home, where I have travelled California and the entire west on shorter trips, I really love Joshua Tree National Park, Portland, Southern Utah, San Francisco and Mendocino.

Now that you have gained so much real travel experience, I would love to hear more about what inspired you to travel originally and sustains you on your many trips.
No one in my family has ever travelled very far, with the exception of a few who travelled for Uncle Sam’s benefit. They tend to stick close to home preferring to take a drive rather than fly somewhere exotic. My family built a cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and we still enjoy it whenever we can. But my grandmother had told me stories of Ireland since I was a child, and I always dreamed of seeing it one day. After that initial Irish adventure, every trip has left me wanting more. I have averaged one or two main trips per year and as many small trips as I can fit in. As a photographer I tend to focus on areas I know will be wonderful to capture. But I am always surprised and pleased when I get great photos I never expected.

So tell us about where you have travelled most recently.
I recently returned from a trip to Belize and Guatemala. I tend to spend my home time in Sacramento, San Francisco, California Coast, the Lake Tahoe area, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I will probably stay in California until I retire and then I plan to be more nomadic, visiting places that are difficult to visit on a two-week trip. Then I hope to live in areas longer, to fully appreciate the culture and the environment.

Don’t leave it too late like I did. You need a lot of energy for the expat life.

“Laughter is the brightest where food is best.”

Now let’s move on to a few of your shots that capture favourite memories. Thank you for sharing and for describing the story behind each one and what makes them so special.  
Of course! For my first photo, I present you with a little boy cleaning a fish out front of his grandmother’s restaurant, Maggie’s Sunset Diner, in Caye Caulker, Belize. His family’s BBQ was fired up just out of the frame. The boy so badly wanted to be like his grandmother. He was begging to BBQ his own fish like an adult. My husband and I observed this charming scene while having dinner. I believe that good, inexpensive food in a place full of local ambiance is better than a five-star restaurant anywhere in the world. The photo was taken only with my iPhone but I think it captures the mood and the vibe of this small island off the coast of Belize.

Q9.1 Boy cleaning fish

Boy in Belize cleaning a fish. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

The second photo is of some donuts my husband I consumed in Maui, Hawaii. I was driving around the rural part of the island looking for something to eat for breakfast when I stumbled upon a locally owned and run donut shop. The donuts were glorious and became a highlight of our visit. We have actually contemplated going back to Maui just for the donuts! Then again, you wouldn’t have to twist my arm very hard to go back to Maui. The older I get the more food tends to be an important part of my travels.

Maui donuts

Donut feast in Maui. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

The last photo is of a two-headed jaguar you can see in the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal, which is located in Yucatán, Mexico. Something about Uxmal really spoke to me. I think what makes it so special is that the architects for these structures were so clearly artists. They went beyond function and focused on form in a way not seen elsewhere in the Yucatán. Their work is magnificent and the detail is phenomenal. I never grow tired of looking at photos from this visit, and I offer this one in hopes of transporting readers to these spectacular ruins.

Uxmal

A Mayan jaguar. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

I am really impressed by the picture of the boy cleaning fish. And I agree that the experience of eating wholesome home cooking in basic local surroundings is better than any clinically manufactured setting. I am sure you take a lot of photos but where, so far, are your favourite places to shoot and can you explain why these places inspire you.
Photography is an integral part of travel for me. It doesn’t matter if I’m travelling to a faraway exotic location or hitting a local California beach—taking photographs helps me recall the trip in a way my memory alone doesn’t, and inspires me to be creative in a way I find difficult at home. I have many favourite places to take photographs, including zoos, gardens, and historical sites. In recent years, I have photographed the San Diego Zoo and the Belize Zoo. I am looking forward to a weekend-long photography expedition at Safari West in Santa Rosa in the fall. I enjoy shooting botanical gardens like Mendocino, DuPlooys in Belize, San Diego, Lake Constance (Germany) and the Maui Garden of Eden. One of my favourite architectural structures is the Eiffel Tower at night. I’ve had fun attempting to shoot it from angles not often seen.

Well, Jenny, since you left it up to me to choose three photos that represent your favourite spots, here my selection. My first choice is your photo of a rickety old building in Paris, which houses a gallery of some kind. I think your capture is wonderful because it looks as though the building won’t be standing much longer, and the shop is a relic of a bygone era.

Business in Paris

A rickety Parisian gallery. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

Next I’ve chosen one of your Eiffel Tower shots. This one is not immediately recognizable as most shots of this iconic landmark are. So it asks a question—who am I? And the photo of the lighting on the structure in the night sky is beautiful.

Eiffel Tower

A new angle on a famous angular building. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

Finally, I love this nature shot of yours, taken in Du Plooys Botanical Garden in Belize, with its contrast of the crimson flower, green leaves and shadows. I think it would make fine wall-art.

DuPlooys Botanical Garden Belize

Botanical blossom in Belize. Photo credit: Jenny Schulte

“Better good manners than good looks.”

So do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
I definitely do. I try to live my life in a considerate way. I would never feel comfortable embarrassing or offending anyone. I would never be able to look at the photo afterwards with a clear conscience. Sometimes I shoot images of people from an angle where they might not be aware. This is because I prefer candid photos versus asking for permission and taking what I would consider more of a portrait. I admire photographers who do portrait photography, but I suppose it makes me uncomfortable. It can also take the fun out of it.

On occasions where you do ask for permission, how do you get around any problem of language?
Sometimes what I do is show the person the photos I have taken of them. Recently, for example, I photographed a little girl in Belize whose mother owned the dive shop we were visiting. The girl was coloring a picture and smiling at me. I held up my camera and made an O.K. sign with my fingers. She immediately started hamming it up for the camera and then begged to see the image of herself on the camera. The girl and her mother spoke some English, but in this case it was more fun to ask without words. Miming can work pretty well. Holding up a camera or pretending to take a selfie generally gets a smile from a stranger.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique which will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
For me, photographing events or moments has the power to capture something that is both crisper and more emotional than if I wrote about the place or just relied on my memory. My photos represent what is in my heart and mind better than any other means of communication. Sometimes I will look back on an old photo and remember a moment or a place that I had completely forgotten about. The memories that come flooding back are what keep me planning for the next trip.

Clearly, a picture says a thousand words for you. When did you realize that, and how has it changed your perspective?
I don’t think there was a particular moment. I have always been that way since I had enough money to buy and develop film—I always took too many photos. But for me, and ultimately for my subjects, it is worthwhile to capture a special moment. That said, I sometimes have to force myself to put the camera down so that I can be in the moment.

“May the blessing of light be on you—/light without and light within.”

Now for the technical stuff. Can you tell me what kind of camera and lenses you use?
I use an iPhone 5s, Nikon D800 and Nikon D700 cameras. Nikon Nikkor DX 18-135mm and Nikon Nikkor AF 70-300mm lenses.

That’s quite a collection. And which software do you use for post-processing?
I just use Lightroom for post processing.

“Your feet will bring you where your heart is.”

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Be responsible, show respect, be a good advocate for your home country and for the human race and, if you can, travel while you are young. If you aren’t young anymore travel anyway and it will make you young! Follow your instincts, have fun, stay inspired, take breaks from your art when necessary to keep the spark, try new things, talk to people, eat the food, take the back roads and get lost…the world will all of a sudden become very very wonderful.

That is very good advice, Jenny, and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your story in this interview.

Editor’s note: All subheds are from Irish sayings or blessings.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Jenny’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her on her photos or travels? Please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Jenny and her creative works better, I suggest you visit her travel site. You can also follow her on Instagram or contact her at PhotosbyJenny@aol.com.

Born in England, James King is now semi-retired in Thailand. He runs his own photography-based blog, Jamoroki. If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed by James for this series, please send your information to ml@thedisplacednation.com.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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An expat’s valentine to her adopted home is podcast series and now book

Kay Mellish Valentine CollageThe Displaced Nation aspires to be a home to international creatives. As such, we are fond of showcasing memoirs written by those who have spent large chunks of their lives abroad or novels that were in some way inspired by international travels.

Very occasionally, though, we come across an expat who has written a guide to life in their new country that strikes us as being highly creative. Not long before the Brazilian Olympics, for instance, we featured works by two expats living in Brazil because of having a Brazilian spouse: Mark Hillary’s Reality Check: Life in Brazil Through the Eyes of a Foreigner; and Meagan Farrell’s American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

Both authors felt justified in producing their own guides to Brazilian life because they’d noticed so many newbie expats falling into the trap of becoming an “exbrat” (to borrow Meagan’s term)—constantly complaining about Brazilian food, prices, bureaucracy, and crime and thus missing out on one of the world’s most fascinating cultures and friendliest peoples.

And both books, while offering practical information and advice, also communicated the authors’ affection, even love, for the land of carnival and samba, beaches and jungles—warts and all.

My guest today, Kay Xander Mellish, has composed a similar kind of ode to her adopted home of Denmark, which, too, has its attractions even if if Danes are far less sociable than Brazilians and their culture a great deal less lively.

Yet apparently not all visitors seem to appreciate the many appealing features of the country that was recently crowned the the world’s happiest, which is what led Kay to produce her podcast series, How to Live in Denmark, and now a book of the same name.

Born in Wisconsin and educated in New York City, Kay has lived in Denmark since 2000, speaks Danish, and after working in the corporate world has founded her own company to help Danish companies communicate in English. She hasn’t married into the culture but is a single mother bringing up a daughter.

Ironically, Kay’s valentine to Denmark has come out at a time when another foreigner in Denmark, the British journalist Michael Booth, is in the news for a book expressing disillusionment with the Scandinavian way of life. We’ll talk to Kay about that development as well.

But first let’s get to know her a little more.

 * * *

“Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year”—Victor Borges, Danish-born American comedian

Hi, Kay! I once lived in England and then in Japan, and there were times in reading your book that the Danes reminded me of the English and the Japanese: easy enough to like but not so easy to love. Is that a fair description?
It can be difficult for outsiders to make friends in Denmark, because for Danes friendship is a serious business. A real friendship is a lifelong relationship, sometimes starting in kindergarten or even before – my daughter, for example, has a friend she “met” when they were four weeks old! The idea of casual chat with strangers is alien to Danes: they have to force themselves to do it, and it is nearly always uncomfortable for them unless a great deal of alcohol is involved. Once you are within their friendship circle, Danes are excellent friends, reliable, supportive and direct. But it is difficult to come into that circle. Danish society is based on trust, and it takes Danes a while to be sure that they can trust you.

HTLID_cover_and_hearts

Kay Xander Mellish’s book cover; random Valentine’s hearts and one kiss.

Humor is of course an important element in any long-term relationship, and your have subtitled your book “a humorous guide.” Tell me, are you laughing with or at?
With! Danes are very good at making fun of themselves; in fact, one of the highest compliments they can give a famous or accomplished person is that he or she has “self-irony,” or the ability to make fun of himself. By contrast, anyone who is selvfede (literally, “self-fat”) and thinks he or she is God’s gift to the world is held in contempt. So, in general, humor is not hard to come by in Denmark. You just have to be willing to make fun of yourself. Danes have an old tradition that if you’ve fallen down in public or otherwise made a big mistake or fool of yourself, you’re supposed to buy kvajebager (failure beer) for everyone who saw you. My book, which is based on a podcast series, is very popular among Danes, which it would not be if they could not make light of themselves. Occasionally I get a few crabby emails from people with Danish names, but not many. I’ve found a lot of Danes buy the book for their foreign friends.

“To be of use to the world is the only way to be happy.”—Hans Christian Andersen

Oxford Research recently published a study finding that 9 out of 10 expats enjoy living and working in Denmark and close to half choose to prolong their stay—mainly because of career opportunities. What makes Copenhagen’s work opportunities so loveable?
If you can get a job in Copenhagen, the working conditions and benefits are excellent. Most people work 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and then go home to their families, so it’s common to see an office entirely empty by 5:00 p.m. And there is less of the cutthroat competition, both internally and externally within companies, that you see elsewhere in business life. You also have the ability to do work you will be proud of: Danes demand quality, so you rarely meet anyone who is incompetent. But getting a job is difficult, even for the Danes, and it is extremely difficult for foreigners who do not speak Danish. Many foreigners with only rudimentary Danish either work in the “caring professions,” such as state-sponsored jobs caring for the elderly or the very young, or in IT roles that there are not enough Danes to fill. If you are looking for anything else, besides the usual cleaning and waiting tables, plan for at least a 6-month job search, possibly a year.

“I’m afraid I have to set you straight…”—Michael Booth, Copenhagen-based British journalist

Meanwhile, the journalist Michael Booth has just published a book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.
Denmark is a small country where everyone knows everyone, so I should start by saying that Michael Booth is the friend of a friend, although I have not met him myself. Michael has developed a great shtick for himself, which is running down the Scandinavian countries while continuing to enjoy their benefits. (The fact that Michael is a white male from a friendly country allows him to get away with this performance: I don’t want to even think of what the reaction might have been if such a book had been written by someone from the Middle East.) At any rate, his timing is excellent: it’s become fashionable, particularly in left-wing Western circles, to paint Scandinavia as a utopia, which it most certainly is not. Michael’s book is a strong antidote to that.

An excerpt from Booth’s book appeared recently in The Atlantic, where he says Denmark is “stultifyingly dull” and “boring” because of its “suffocating monoculture.” You don’t agree with any of that?
Personally, I don’t find Copenhagen dull, and this is from someone who used to live in downtown Manhattan and be very involved in the New York art and nightlife scene. I find Copenhagen sophisticated without being too intense. There is certainly less of a gallery or theater scene here, but by contrast people have more time to enjoy the arts events that take place.

“I come from a culture where you don’t divide it up [between] what you can do on TV and what you can do on film.”—Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen

You are a professional voice actor, and, unusually, your book is based on a podcast series. Since we’re talking about love today: which do you love more, podcasting or writing?
The podcast series was actually based on an old group of essays that had been mouldering on a rarely-updated website I started when I still I lived in New York. (In those days, the days before podcasts and before the web, I used to put up parts of my stories as flyposters in a graffiti format—but that was the 1990s!) When I came to Denmark, I wrote a few essays about the experience, but then I pretty much abandoned the site while working full-time at a corporate job while raising my daughter. The site was still online, and newcomers to Denmark kept finding these old postings and emailing me, saying how much I had helped them adjust to living here. I began to feel an obligation to help people just arriving in Denmark. It can be a difficult place to get used to. So when I left corporate life and was in the process of building my own voiceover business, doing the podcast How to Live in Denmark was a natural move. I soon found out that many people weren’t listening to the recordings at all: they were just reading the transcripts available on the podcast site. By this time, I was spending so much time on the podcasts that I needed to earn a little money off the project, so I turned the transcripts into an eBook. Customers then kept asking for a paper book, so I published one of those as well. Now we also have the Chinese version, and there are so many Syrian refugees in Denmark that there have been requests for an Arabic-language version, so we are working on that as well. I really feel it’s important for me to serve to others who may be facing the same challenges I once did.

“Give to a pig when it grunts and a child when it cries, and you will have a fine pig and bad child.”—Danish proverb

Turning to your daughter: what do you love most about raising and educating a child in Denmark?
Children in Denmark given much more freedom and responsibility than children in many countries. My daughter has been riding the Copenhagen trains and buses alone since she was eight, for example. Even when they are very young, children are expected to sort out their own playground disagreements with little interference from adults. There’s no such thing as a “helicopter parent” here. Also, children don’t spend most of their childhoods trying to get into a good university, going to cram schools and trying to build up their CV with impressive-sounding activities. They relax; they have time to play, time to think, time to develop themselves and their creativity. There is very little standardized testing in Denmark and not many grades of any kind until the kids are 13 or 14. I think that’s a healthy way to go about things. My daughter enjoys living here; she enjoys her school, where there is very little pressure but the kids learn to put knowledge together in a holistic way, which I think will be much more useful for the future just learning how to spit out facts or repeat the teacher’s viewpoint back to her. Most importantly, parents in Denmark have a lot more free time to spend with their kids, since working hours aren’t particularly long here. So we do a lot of stuff together—sports, travel, crafts. I don’t know if I would have had the time and energy to do those things had I been a single mother in the US.

Do you think she misses out on anything by not being in the United States?
Of course, she’s missing out on the ethnic diversity of the US, as well as the ambition and drive and energy of living there. But she speaks frequently of going to college in the US, so she’ll have a chance to experience those aspects when she’s a little older.

“There was the constant, tinny squeak of a thousand rusty bike chains.”—Greg Hanscom, senior editor at Grist: “An American in Denmark”

You’ve now lived in Denmark for nearly 15 years, longer than many marriages last. If you had one irritating habit about the place you could change, what would it be?
I suppose it would the Danes’ general rudeness in public places. When someone brushes closely by you, or even runs right into you, there’s never an ‘Excuse me’ or the Danish equivalent. Instead, you get a sour look or a grunt that signifies “Why were you in my way?” Customer service in Danish shops or restaurants is not much better: in Denmark, the customer is always wrong. Some of the nonwhite foreigners I’ve met here assumed that they were being treated so badly because of racism or racial discrimination, but that is not the case. Sad to say, everybody gets bad customer service, even other Danes.

And if you and Denmark were to “divorce” and go your separate ways one day, what would you miss the most about it?
Probably the biking culture and the great mass transit. While I have a drivers’ license and enjoy driving a car, I love that I can hop on a bike and get anywhere quickly. No parking problems, no stopping to buy gas, and it’s a very easy and convenient way to keep fit. That said, bringing home groceries on your bicycle can be a headache. And trying to bring home fresh dry cleaning on your bicycle is the worst!

Thanks, Kay! It’s been a pleasure. Taking a closer look at your work, we see you’ve created an intricate valentine to your adopted home, full of love and irreverent humor, the perfect tribute.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Kay Xander Mellish and her creative output, we encourage you to visit her author site, like the How to Live in Denmark page on Facebook and/or follow her on Twitter: she has a personal account and a podcast/book account. Also please note that Kay was the recipient of one of our Alice Awards for an irreverent post explaining why public nudity is okay in Denmark, whereas public ambition is not.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Best of 2014 in Expat Books (2/2)

Best of Expat Books 2014 Part 2Season’s greetings again, Displaced Nationers. And welcome back to our end-of-the-year bookfest!

Pass the eggnog!! (She takes a swig…)

Moving right along (hic!). In the first part of this BOOKLUST WANDERLUST series, posted yesterday, our BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST columnist Beth Green and I presented a list of 2014 expat books in the categories of Travel, Memoirs, and Cross-cultural Challenges.

In Part Two, we present our last three categories (hic, hic—hey, it’s the holidays!):

  1. IT’S FOOD!
  2. THIRD CULTURE KIDS
  3. COUNTRY GUIDES/TRIBUTES


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 in green (most appropriate, given her surname!).

* * *

IT’S FOOD!

Colour_of_Maroc_cover_smallColour of Maroc: A Celebration of Food and Life (Murdoch Books, October 2014)
Authors: Rob Palmer and Sophie Palmer
Synopsis: A collection of Moroccan recipes, both traditional and contemporary, interwoven with stories and anecdotes inspired by people, food and travel experiences as seen through the eyes of Rob, an Australian photographer, and Sophia, his French/Moroccan wife.
Expat Credentials: Rob first met Sophia in Sydney, who had freshly arrived in Australia from France. They were both on a food photo shoot for an ad agency. Fascinated by her half-Moroccan (she was born in Casablanca), half-French heritage, he was only too happy to join her on an extended tour of Morocco, which resulted in both marriage and this book.
How we heard about: Social media.


Cucina_Siciliana_cover_smallCucina Siciliana: A taste of the authentic Sicilian flavors (August 2014)
Author: Wanita
Synopsis: Wanita shares recipes she has collected from her elderly neighbor, her mother-in-law, and Italian friends she has made during her six years in Sicily—recipes that have passed down from generations, several of which, she suspects, have never been outside Sicily!
Expat creds: Wanita met her Sicilian husband on the Internet. After a 3-month online romance, he visited her in California; two weeks later, she accompanied him back to Sicily to get married. They now have an infant daughter.
How we found out about: We’ve pinned several of her Sicilian recipes to our IT’S FOOD! board.


My_Paris_Kitchen_cover_smallMy Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories (Ten Speed Press, April 2014)
Author: David Lebovitz
Synopsis: A collection of 100 sweet and savory recipes that reflect the way modern Parisians eat today, combined with Lebovitz’s personal stories of life in the world’s culinary capital. The book also features lush photos of Paris and of Lebovitz’s kitchen.
Expat creds: Lebovitz is an American pastry chef who has been living the sweet life in Paris for a decade. Before moving to France, he made his name at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, with celebrity chef Alice Waters as his mentor.
How we found out about: We are among his throngs of followers, keeping up with him any way we can: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, his monthly e-newletter… My Paris Kitchen (his 7th book!) has been named best cookbook of the year by Amazon.


The_Edible_Atlas_cover_smallThe Edible Atlas: Around the World in 39 Cuisines (Canongate, March 2014)
Author: Mina Holland
Genre: International cookery
Synopsis: Not just a cookbook, The Edible Atlas introduces readers to the cultures behind the flavors and looks at why people eat what they do.
Expat credentials: Mina Holland, from the UK, has lived both in the USA and in Spain. She’s the acting editor of Guardian Cook.
How we heard about: Titles about food always catch our eye, and the idea of traveling around the world a mouthful at a time? Tantalizing! A review in Guardian Books first brought it to my attention.



THIRD CULTURE KIDS

TheWorldsWithin_cover_smallThe Worlds Within, an anthology of TCK art and writing: young, global and between cultures (Summertime, November 2014)
Editors: Jo Parfitt and Eva László-Herbert
TCK Credentials: As the editors point out, that this is a rare book BY third culture kids, not about them.
Synopsis: Your mother is Swiss, your father is from the Philippines and you have so far lived in five countries, none of them your passport country. Who are you? Where are you from? Where is home? And what did you eat for breakfast? If you are a friend, this book will guide you. If you are a teacher, it will enlighten you. If you are a parent, it will spell it out for you and if you are an employer, it will convince you. Here they are, the cultural chameleons, the young global nomads, the TCKs—Third Culture Kids—from around the world, telling you their story.
How we heard about it: Initially from a Facebook post. Word is spreading fast on social media. One of the coolest things about this book? It features TCK art as well as writing.


The_Secret_Place_cover_smallThe Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad Book 5) (Penguin, August 2014)
Author: Tana French
Genre: Mystery
Synopsis: In Book 5 of the Dublin Murder Squad series, two detectives are given new information about a cold case—a boy’s murder on the grounds of an exclusive school for girls.
(A)TCK credentials: Tana French was born in Ireland but grew up in Italy, the USA, and Malawi during the years her family traveled with her father’s career as a development economist.
How we heard about it: I’m an avid reader of murder mysteries and fell in love with this series by French last year. In fact, I wrote about her Dublin Murder Squad series , and how it deals with issues of displacement, for my first Booklust, Wanderlust column.


Home_Leave_sonnenberg_cover_smallHome Leave (Hachette, June 2014)
Author: Brittani Sonnenberg
Genre: Expat fiction
Synopsis: In a story that mirrors the author’s own life as a TCK, an expat family’s daughters search for their own identity and confront tragedy.
(A)TCK credentials: Sonnenberg was born in the USA but lived in the UK, Germany, China and Singapore as a child and teenager. She now lives in Berlin and treats Hong Kong as her second home.
How we heard about it: ML is always on the hunt for a good book about TCKs, so when she mentioned having read a review of the book last summer in the New York Times, I agreed to write a column about it.



COUNTRY GUIDES/TRIBUTES

They_Eat_Horses_cover_smallThey Eat Horses, Don’t They? The Truth about the French (Thomas Dunne Macmillan, December 2014)
Author: Piu Marie Eatwell
Genre: Multicultural nonfiction
Synopsis: A series of entertaining mini-essays examines the stereotypes of French life, so beloved of the British in particular, only to discover that many are completely false.
Expat credentials: Eatwell, of mixed Asian and British descent, went to France for a long weekend one August summer holiday many years ago, and never left (how could she, with a surname like that?). After graduating from Oxford University, she trained first as a BBC television producer and then as a lawyer. Over the years she has worked as a documentary film maker, barrister, teacher, mother, and—most recently—full-time writer, both in London and Paris. They Eat Horses, Don’t They? is her first book.
How we heard about: Eatwell’s book is the winner of the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award in Amazon’s Multicultural Non-Fiction category.


Dutched_Up_cover_smallDutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style (November 2014)
Authors: Various
Genre: Anthology
Synopsis: A compilation of stories by expat bloggers in the Netherlands.
Expat credentials: Too numerous to relay.
How we heard about: From a tweet by one of the contributors, Australian expat in Almere Nerissa Muijs. Once upon a time, Muijs was featured on our site as a Random Nomad. (She definitely rocks—we can vouch for it!)


Moving_to_Spain_cover_smallMoving to Spain with Children: Essential reading for anyone thinking about moving to Spain (November 2014)
Author: Lisa Sadleir
Genre: Expat self-help
Synopsis: Spiced with the author’s own heart-warming anecdotes, the book aims to help you arrive at the same place her own family is now—but in half the time: living and loving family life in Spain!
Expat credentials: British born Lisa Sadleir is mother to two young, bilingual children. Educated in the UK and France, she has been a resident in Spain for over 23 years. She works as an independent relocation advisor and personal property finder.
How we heard about: Social media.


Paris_in_Love_cover_smallParis in Love (Chronicle Books, November 2014)
Author: Nichole Robertson
Genre: Photography
Synopsis: A photographic love letter to Paris from the author of the best-selling Paris in Color, capturing the hidden corners and secret moments that make Paris the most romantic city in the world.
Expat credentials: After a successful career in New York City as a writer and creative director for ad agencies, Robertson moved to Paris, which rekindled her love of photography and led to creating a series of prints and now books celebrating her relationship with the City of Light.
How we heard about: Social media.


At_Home_with_Madame_Chic_cover_smallAt Home with Madame Chic: Becoming a Connoisseur of Daily Life (Simon & Schuster, October 2014)
Author: Jennifer L. Scott
Genres: Beauty/Fashion, How-to, Home Improvements
Synopsis: In this follow-up to her best-selling Lessons from Madame Chic, Scott has divided the book into two sections: 1) Chez Vous: exploring how to get your home in order and how to love it again; 2) Les Routines de la Journée: covering the pleasures of the morning, the pleasures of the afternoon, and the pleasures of the evening.
Expat credentials: Once upon a time, Scott was a college student living with a “chic” family in Paris, France, and her books represent her attempt to translate all that she learned from that European experience into her American lifestyle.
How we heard about: I interviewed Scott about her first book just before it was picked up by Simon & Schuster, and have been a big fan of hers ever since. (Her interview still gets lots of hits!)


How_to_live_in_Denmark_coverHow to Live in Denmark: A humourous guide for foreigners and their Danish friends (July 2014)
Author: Kay Zander Mellish
Synopsis: Life as a foreigner in Denmark, one of the world’s most homogenous countries, isn’t always easy. In this book, based on her popular podcast series, Kay Xander Mellish offers a fun guide to Danish culture and Danish manners, as well as tips on how to find a job, a date, someone to talk to or something to eat.
Expat credentials: An Wisconsin-born journalist, Mellish has lived in Denmark for more than a decade.
How we heard about: Mellish’s humorous and somewhat irreverent take on expat life caught our attention about a year ago, when she posted a story about the first woman to guard the Royal Palace at Amalieborg, who was fired not for being a prostitute but for refusing to follow orders and stop moonlighting—a post for which Mellish earned her one of our coveted (?!) Alice Awards. We were pleased to learn she’d published a book, and plan to feature it soon.


SoYou're_Moving_to_Australia_cover_smallSo, you’re moving to Australia?: The 6 essential steps to moving Down Under (June 2014)
Author: Sharon Swift
Genre: Self-help
Synopsis: Swift has distilled her formula for a successful international relocation into a 6-step process, outlined in this book for those making the big leap from the UK to Australia.
Expat credentials: Since her birth in Singapore to a British father and Singaporean mother, Swift has lived across five continents, experiencing life and cultures of 14 countries. Her move to Sydney from London in 2005 was her 18th international relocation. She lives in Sydney Inner West with her husband, both now Australian citizens.
How we heard about: Pinterest.

* * *

Your turn again, 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 these three categories or to the ones presented yesterday? Beth and I look forward to reading your comments below.

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

In closing, 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.

Without further ado, we thank you for making this year great and wish you a season full of mirth and good cheer, along with the odd quiet moment for a displaced read or two!

(Oh, and pass that eggnog!!)

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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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TCK TALENT: Alice Shu-Hsien Wu, Cultural Bridge Builder and Global Nomad Videographer

Alice Wu TCK TALENT Collage

Alice Shu-Hsien Wu (her own photo).

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 was the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference.

—ML Awanohara

Happy summer/winter/rainy season, international readers! As some of you may recall, last month I talked to Cathleen Hadley, a fellow ATCK contributor to the anthology Writing Out of Limbo, dedicated to telling the stories of those of us who grew up among different countries. Today I’m interviewing another Limbo contributor, Alice Shu-Hsien Wu. An intercultural communication consultant and lecturer at Cornell University, Alice is particularly interested in intercultural adjustment and in internationally mobile families. She has produced two acclaimed videos about college students who have led internationally mobile, nomadic lives, in which the students themselves discuss such challenges as transition, cultural identity, and rootlessness.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Alice. I understand that you were internationally mobile while growing up, living in England, Finland and Sweden in addition to the United States.
Yes, my father was a biochemistry professor and had sabbaticals in various places. We went from New York City to Palo Alto, California, when I was 6 and to Upstate New York when I was 7, and then to England when I was 11 and back to New York State when I was 12. We also sometimes traveled to various countries where my father had meetings. I was a Rotary exchange student in Finland when I was 17; went to college and grad school in New York; and then, at age 26, went to Sweden to study and work, returning two years later to Ithaca, New York, where I still live.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time?
I’ve been happy in many places—one of my favorites was California because of the sunny weather, fruit trees and flowers in my yard, and sand in the playgrounds (I was 6 then, remember). This was a welcome change from living in NYC—where the playgrounds were concrete and you weren’t allowed to walk on the small amounts of grass.

“Then when I got here it was a big adjustment identity thing: I didn’t feel American…” – Lynn, US

How did you find your various “repatriation” experiences?
My repatriation from Sweden was probably the most challenging—since I had lived there longer and gotten more immersed in the culture through school, work, and friends. I remember thinking American TV newscasters smiled and laughed too much compared to Swedish commentators and that college and grad students in the United States dressed very informally compared to students in Stockholm. Everything in the U.S. seemed bigger than I had become accustomed to in Sweden—gigantic tableware and portions in restaurants (especially in California), huge shopping carts and vast numbers of products in supermarkets. Also, I was surprised by the general lack of discussion about current world events in the U.S., compared to the amount and frequency of these discussions in Europe.

Now you sound like the other Alice: in Wonderland! (I mention because she’s the Displaced Nation’s mascot.) As an instructor at Cornell, you’ve made two important documentaries about global nomads/TCKs, Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the Future (1994) and Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the New Millennium (2001). What did you like best about the creative process?
Meeting the students and getting to know them—they were fascinating, honest, and articulate. I screened the first global nomads video for the student interviewees at the end of the school year, and they liked it so much they decided to form a global nomads club. They asked me to be their advisor and I ended up working with them for the next three years. They were amazingly creative, active, and energetic and brought a lot to the campus community.

“Global Nomads have the ability to educate others…” – Liliona, Ghana

What attracted you to the documentary format? I have talked to other ATCK actors like myself and to novelists and artists, but you are my first videographer.
Clearly, there are many effective ways to portray the GN/TCK experience, but I was more familiar with the documentary format since I’d used it in teaching. For example, I’d used videos during intercultural training sessions for students and staff at Cornell to introduce topics like cultural adjustment, culture shock, and reentry shock. I also videoed international students as well as first-generation Americans who were participating in panels about aspects of American culture, as well as some international students who were teaching and doing role-plays. So I was very comfortable with the format. I really like being able to feature students’ own words and impressions—especially when I can capture them interacting with other students. In the first video, all of the students were from Cornell. In the second video, the students were from six different schools across the United States: San Diego State University, Colorado State University, The College of Wooster, George Mason University, Syracuse University, and Cornell.

Limbo_coverIn your essay in Writing Out of Limbo, you describe the impact of the videos not only on the college students who participated in them but also on the TCKs in your audiences. You produced these two documentaries in the era before social media. How did the news spread?
I showed the videos to as many groups at Cornell as I could: students, including Resident Advisors in dorms and the members of an international student discussion group, as well as groups of staff. I also screened them at international and intercultural conferences. Also, the students who appeared in the first video were great with promotions. They showed it to their dorm-mates to help them understand the GN experience, as well as at an initial meeting of their global nomads club to introduce prospective members to the concept. And they traveled together to a Global Nomads International (GNI) collegiate conference in Virginia where they screened it for GNs and TCKs from other colleges. Audience members who’d been TCKs/GNs could really relate to the students on screen, and word soon spread.

“I never wanted to put down roots…”- Brian, US

Did making these videos help you to better understand yourself as an ATCK?
I could relate to many things that the students talked about, and making the videos helped me think about some of my own experiences such as leaving my friends many times and having friends in many different places.

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures? Or are you like many TCKs who are more likely to identify with people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds? (And of course it’s not a given that we’ll identify with them!)
I identify with some aspects of Nordic cultures like Sweden and Finland, some aspects of Chinese culture (due to my family background), and some aspects of American culture. I always seem to meet global nomads and Third Culture Kids wherever I go: I really enjoy it. After learning about the concept of global nomads and Third Culture Kids at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication and from the late, great David Pollock, I realized that a lot of the friends I’d made at college were global nomads (and they were very interested in learning more once I’d informed them).

As an ATCK, do you want to move frequently, or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
My suitcase is always partly packed so it is easy to go on the next trip. On a recent trip to the West Coast, I was thinking about how much I love seeing all the gates listing flights to various parts of the world. I like to imagine what it would be like to jump on one of these planes and end up in a new part of the world. That said, I also enjoy having a home base, especially since I have kids who are quite rooted and don’t like me to be away for very long.

Are you working on a new TCK video project?
Yes. This spring I filmed three panels of Cornell students at Cornell’s Language House. This time I am looking at the influence of technology on the global nomad/TCK experience and how this compares to the experiences of GN/TCK students in my previous two videos. In addition, I am making a video that follows up on some of the students who participated in my first two films, and am planning to use social media tools.

* * *

Thank you, Alice! Readers, if you’re interested in learning more about Alice’s work or obtaining a copy of either of her documentaries, you can go to the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) website. And, to reiterate, you can read her chapter describing her work in Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids. The subheds above are all quotes from the students featured in her second documentary. Please leave any questions or comments for Alice below.

STAY TUNED for our next fab post!

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TCK TALENT: Heidi Durrow, Afro-Viking Renaissance Woman and Award-winning Novelist

Heidi Durrow Collage Drop ShadowElizabeth (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 month’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, “The Global Family.”

Today I’m excited to introduce Heidi Durrow, the author of the New York Times best-selling novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books), which received writer Barbara Kingsolver’s 2008 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Heidi grew up in Turkey, the USA, and Germany. She and I first met at the Mixed Roots Literary & Film Festival that Heidi co-founded, which celebrates storytelling of the Mixed racial and cultural experience.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Heidi. As the TCK child of an American Air Force dad and a Danish mom, you’ve lived in North Carolina, Turkey, Washington state, and Germany. Can you tell us a little more about the chronology of the moves?
I was born in Seattle and moved to Turkey at the age of six months. The next years until I was 11, I was in North Carolina and Germany, with summers and holidays in Denmark. Since college, which was at Stanford, I have lived in NYC for grad school, Connecticut for law school, and now I split my time between the East and West Coasts.

Do you remember being happier in one place in particular?
I was pretty happy in all the places where I grew up—I was still very young. I never felt out of place or unwelcome.

Repatriations can be the hardest moves of all for TCKs, and repeated repatriation can be particularly tough, so I’m curious to know if this was true for you whenever you returned to the United States.
I had never thought of the moves as “repatriations” but that’s interesting. I think when I was very young I wasn’t aware of a lot of difficulties. But when we finally moved back to the States when I was 11, it was very difficult.  I was at an age of awareness. I felt more like an immigrant. It was so interesting to me that I had an idea of what America was when I lived overseas, and I learned quickly that America didn’t operate the way I’d imagined it from far away.

“We family.”—African-American proverb

Tell us about your summers and holidays in Denmark with your mom’s family.
It was awesome for me—in particular because my mother raised us speaking Danish and English. I am forever grateful that I have both languages. It made me infinitely closer to my aunts and cousins, whom I adore. As an adult, it’s been interesting to see how Denmark is changing. I remember going back when I was in college. I hadn’t been in ten years. My cousins had Copenhagen boyfriends, and they’d laugh whenever I talked. It wasn’t because they didn’t understand what I was saying, but they found my country accent strange. I guess I sounded like someone from Birmingham, Alabama, visiting NYC. It’s English, but it sounds very different. For years after that visit, I have often wondered whether certain traditions or sayings I learned were in fact Danish or just my mom’s own quirks.

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures? Or are you like many TCKs who are more likely to identify with people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds? (And of course it’s not a given that we’ll identify with them, either.)
I identify myself as an Afro-Viking—that is a small but growing demographic, by the way! In terms of who I am most likely to identify with—well, I think for many years in my adulthood I was very interested in finding other “mixed” friends. I wanted to know how they negotiated being multiracial and multicultural. I have found that I still have that affinity, but now I am more drawn to people who have the same career interests, who are moving on the same path at the same rate.

Studies have shown that TCKs have similar identity issues and struggles to children of mixed heritage. You and I are TCKs of mixed heritage, which makes our identities more layered than most, and makes for quite an identity struggle during adolescence. And sometimes there are shifts. I was culturally Guatemalan when I was very little, but that hasn’t been my main identity for decades.  
I haven’t shed any of my identities—I feel like I’ve added on to them over time. I remember in college I was essentially “passing” as Latina. I lived in the Hispanic-theme dorm, took Spanish classes and became the second-vice-chair of the Latino Electrical Engineering Society. I liked the idea that in latino culture they had already thought about the idea of the mestizo. So I added that on to my identity. And then when I moved to NYC I found that people thought I was what they were. Bangladeshis thought I was Bangladeshi, Puerto Ricans thought I was Puerto Rican, Greeks thought I was Greek. I’m not any of those things, but I feel like the fact that people see me as part of their own tribes has added another layer to my identity: a layer of belonging.

“He hath need of his wits who wanders wide.”—Old Norse proverb

I can relate: I was very pleased to be mistaken for Turkish when my husband and I honeymooned in Turkey. As an adult TCK, do you ever suffer from “itchy feet,” which make you want to move (locations, jobs, etc.) frequently?
You got me. I actually live on two coasts—flying back and forth every few days. I fly more than 100,000 miles per year. I can’t stay still. The same has been true for my career: I’ve been a Hallmark greeting-card writer, a journalist, a lawyer, a life skills trainer to NFL and NBA players, a podcaster, a festival producer and now a writer. Who knows what’s next?!

I often wonder if ATCKs who pursue writing careers do so because the story is entirely in their hands as opposed to the experienced upheaval of their peripatetic childhoods. Meanwhile, a peripatetic childhood fosters so many incredible experiences and thus stories to tell! Did your TCK upbringing influence your desire to become a writer?
My TCK upbringing has been great fuel for my writing, but it’s not the reason I wanted to become a writer. I do remember having a special feeling about writing as a child because of my upbringing—I loved to write letters. I’d write letters to the friends I moved away from and to my family—they were always far away. I was the kid who would save money to buy stationary and stamps.

girl-who-fell-from-sky-coverBut isn’t it fair to say that your choice of topic for your debut novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, was influenced by your TCK upbringing and mixed-race heritage?
The story is autobiographical only insofar as it is about a biracial and bicultural girl growing up in the Northwest. I guess that is to say: the confusion of the character is a confusion I experienced. But the story—about a girl who survives a family tragedy—well, that was inspired by a real story I’d read in the news many years ago.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky was fantastically well received. Did you learn something pivotal about yourself and your TCK upbringing in the process of writing it?
Oh gosh. I learned so much. I am still learning—in particular as the book reaches students in high school and college as required reading. I’m always so interested in the ways in which readers identify their own “displacement” with that of the main character, Rachel. I think the TCK experience is one of being an outsider in all places—and, strangely, that feeling is universal, familiar even to those who have grown up in one place their whole lives.

On your author site and your blog, Light-Skinned-ed Girl, as well as on your Mixed Experience Podcast, you mention that you’re working on a second novel. Can you tell us anything about it?
The new novel is still a work in progress. I’m on the verge of finishing a good complete draft at last! All I can say about it is that it’s about my obsessions again—about identity, and race and culture and grief; it’s about beauty and connectedness. Hopefully it’s something folks can relate to.

* * *

Thank you, Heidi! I wish you all the best in your endeavors, and feel confident you’ll soon be repeating your amazing successes. I understand you’ve got the Mixed Remixed Festival coming up in mid-June here in LA, which will celebrate the stories of the Mixed experience through films and books—something Displaced Nationers would love to hear more about. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Heidi below.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

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

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

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

1) CATHY TSANG-FEIGN, American psychologist in Hong Kong, specializing in expat psychology and adjustment issues

For her book: Keep Your Life, Family and Career Intact While Living Abroad
Published: September 2013
Snippet:
Cathy_Feign_cover

[Benjamin is a marketing buyer who was transferred to Hong Kong on a two-year contract. Having been through the phase of “elation,” he now finds himself in phase of “resistance,” with “transformation” and “integration” yet to come.]

Benjamin is getting annoyed by the frantic pace of life in Hong Kong, the indirectness of Chinese people in business, the crowds and difficulties in being understood. He is frustrated at the narrow choice of English-language entertainment on television or in cinemas and theaters. He finds himself missing his old friends, favorite foods, and the ways of doing things back home. Many foreigners in this [resistance] stage tend to associate only with others from their own country. They constantly compare everything to “back in England” (or New York or Frankfurt). Such people remain separate from the local community and establish their own secluded, privileged society. Many expatriates remain in this stage until the day they move back home.

Citation: Dr. Tsang-Feign, we wonder if in addition to Benjamin (who is presumably fictional) you might consider treating Alice in Wonderland as a textbook example of the four phases of acculturation? As you may recall from your own reading of Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice’s elation at falling down the rabbit-hole is rapidly followed by a period of resistance to the wonders found beneath. Down, down, down—Alice’s fall eventually culminates in unlocking a door to a passage through which yields the sight of the most fabulous garden. And her first taste of Wonderland is equally delightful: a drink that has “a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast.” However, it is not long before Alice begins to resist the local community:

“It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

Still, and as the latter statement attests, even at the height of her resistance Alice shows some potential for “transformation.” And though she never quite achieves “integration” before leaving Wonderland—she always feels a bit what we like to call displaced—her sister predicts that she will forever cherish the memories of her adventures. We can only speculate, not being psychologists ourselves, that this progress is owed to her not having had the opportunity to isolate herself with other Alices, to her having had a solo, and singular, set of experiences. Does that seem a fair assessment?

2) ANONYMOUS BLOGGER at Midwest to Midlands, who describes herself as “an American from the Midwest married to a Brit living in the English Midlands”

For her post: “First a Revisit in England”
Posted on: 23 September 2013
Snippet:

… it has taken me a while to get back on track since returning to England from out visit in the States. What do you do when you need to get yourself in gear? This time for me, some action was needed, or rather lack of action and enjoying the English countryside.

Citation:  M-to-M, we love the idea of getting over the often-rough transitions from homeland to adopted land by doing nothing and simply immersing yourself in your surroundings—we only hope you realize how lucky you are to have landed in the Cotswolds, which has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. (If you lived in, say, smog-covered Shanghai, this technique would have required more imagination.) In fact, your photographic record of your desultory wanderings—first stop, a magnificent house or two made of Cotswold stone; next stop, a tea room; next, a window-box; next, a shop; next, a tree covered in golden leaves; next, an 18th-century house with an American letterbox—put us in mind of this charming passage from Lewis Carroll’s classic:

“I should see the garden far better,” said Alice to herself, “if I could get to the top of that hill: and here’s a path that leads straight to it—at least, no, it doesn’t do that—” (after going a few yards along the path, and turning several sharp corners), “but I suppose it will at last. But how curiously it twists! It’s more like a corkscrew than a path! Well, THIS turn goes to the hill, I suppose—no, it doesn’t! This goes straight back to the house! Well then, I’ll try it the other way.”

3) MANAL AHMAD KHAN: Journalist, poet, world traveler, and blogger at Windswept Words

For her post: “Thoughts on Leaving Pakistan” (her first post in a year-and-a-half, since she and her husband moved back to Pakistan from the United States, and just before they left for a new adventure in Spain)
Posted on: 4 October 2013
Snippet:

It was a parallel universe, where we all lived free, modern lives, like citizens of a free, modern country, utterly disconnected from the “other” Pakistan, the bigger Pakistan, and for all intents and purposes, the “real” Pakistan. Yet perhaps it was our only survival, the only way to keep sane and creative and happy for those of us who chose to live in our native country.

Citation: Manal, your deep love for your native land shines through your many beautiful photos and stories—as does your frustration about its “overwhelming religiosity and self-righteousness.” We are glad that, unlike Alice, you were able to get out of “that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains” from time to time. And a very pleasant little Wonderland it sounds, that part of Lahore where people meet up in New York-style cafés for mocha cappuccinos, and have children who dress up for Halloween and parties where alcohol flows freely. By the same token, we can appreciate how happy you were to leave this “schizophrenic” life for Madrid. Readers, we will hear about Manal’s latest adventures this month as she has agreed to be one of November’s featured authors!

4) KAY XANDER MELLISH, Wisconsin-born journalist and now an expat entrepreneur in Copenhagen and blogger at How to live in Denmark: An irreverent guide

For her post: Danes and Privacy—Why public nudity is OK and public ambition is not
Posted on: 24 August 2013
Snippet:

Shortly before I arrived in Denmark in 2000, one of the famous guards outside the queen’s palace at Amalieborg was fired.

… She was the first woman to guard the Royal Palace at Amalieborg. … Unfortunately, this young lady also had a part-time job. She was a prostitute. She would guard the palace by day and run her business out of the royal barracks in the evening.

… But she was NOT fired because she was a prostitute. She was fired because she’d been ordered by her commander to stop moonlighting after her side-job was first discovered, and she did not stop. … She was fired for not following orders.

Citation:  Kay, we don’t know which experience is stranger: Alice’s discovery that the Queen of Hearts has cards for guards, or yours that Margrethe II had a prostitute for a guard. But leaving that matter aside, what’s even stranger in both cases is that the rules by which a guard’s behavior is judged are far from transparent, even after an explanation is offered. The Danes you queried about the incident told you that as far as they were concerned, even a Queen’s guard can do what she wants in her private time; but insubordination is unacceptable: off with her job! Likewise, when Alice asks a couple of the Card Guards why they are painting the roses, she gets this response:

Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a low voice, “Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a RED rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we’re doing our best, afore she comes.”

We expect you can empathize!

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

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment on blogging from JACK THE HACK.

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

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Helena Halme on the displacement that can occur when moving between neighboring countries, plus a chance to win her new novel!

HelenaHalmeonBoatIt seems like only yesterday that we were reviewing Helena Halme‘s first novel, The Englishman, and today we have the pleasure of a guest post by Halme describing the themes of another new novel, Coffee and Vodka. Plus she is kindly giving away 3 copies! (Details below.) A Finnish expat in London, Halme was featured in our Random Nomad interview series, and we called on her again for an international fashion special (she is a self-confessed fashion maven). Today, though, we celebrate Halme as an international creative who bravely explores themes of displacement and cross-culturalism through fiction. So, brew yourself a cup of coffee and/or pour a glass of vodka, and let’s hear what Helena Halme has to say!

—ML Awanohara

My novel Coffee and Vodka has been dubbed “Nordic Noir meets family saga”—but its central theme is really the displacement a young girl feels when her family moves countries, from Finland to neighboring Sweden.

Eeva is eleven and lives in a small town in Finland when her father decides that they will emigrate to Sweden in search of a better life. There the displacement the family experiences causes a rift so severe Eeva is still reeling from it thirty years later, when she is forced to re-live the dramatic events of her childhood.

Outsiders tend to think of Scandinavian countries as being similar in many respects. How could the impact of emigrating to a Nordic neighbor be so severe?

But for anyone who’s ever visited Finland and Sweden, the difference between the two is obvious: Finnish is a notoriously difficult tongue, and the country’s culture has been heavily influenced by the hundred years it spent under the rule of its Eastern neighbor, Russia.

Sweden: A sovereign—and superior—neighbor

Finland fought in the Second World War, and lost a large section of its territory to the Soviet Union as part of the price of remaining independent. Already poor, Finland’s less industrialized economy suffered greatly from the war effort.

Sweden on the other hand has no history of having been subjugated to another country’s rule. It remained neutral during the war, profiting from its mineral reserves and undisturbed industry.

Sweden has traditionally been the richest of Scandinavian countries. At one time it ruled over all its neighbors, and as late as the end of 17th century, Finland too was part of Sweden—before Sweden handed it over to Russia. Many of the wealthy, land-owning Finns spoke Swedish as their native tongue.

Even today, Sweden is very much considered in Finland as its Big Brother (for better or worse). For decades after WWII, many Finns emigrated to Sweden in search of a better life. But Finns were shunned in Sweden because of their different language and customs: they were seen as poor people who drank too much, didn’t learn the language and were often violent.

Notably, had I been writing about Sweden and its other Scandinavian neighbors, Norway and Denmark, the cultural differences would have been more subtle, of the kind that expats often find between the United States and the United Kingdom. This is because Swedes, Norwegians and Danes can (more or less) understand each other’s languages. (Anyone who wants to get an appreciation for the kinds of cultural differences that exist between, for instance, Sweden and Denmark, should try watching the Danish/Swedish TV series, The Bridge.)
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Portrayal of little-known cultural differences in a novel

How to convey these historical, cultural and economic differences in a novel? First, I decided to set the story at the time, during the 1970s, when immigration from Finland to Sweden was at its peak. Also at that time, foreign travel and even foreign telephone calls were rare because so expensive. Once you’d emigrated, it was hard to go back or even have much contact with your native land again.

I thought that a story about displacement would be less poignant when you can spend hours on Skype speaking with your nearest and dearest, or can browse the Internet in your own language.

In addition, I decided that the family at the center of my story would make the move from a small town in Finland, Tampere, to the capital of Sweden, Stockholm, as a way of further highlighting the differences between the two countries, and hence the challenges facing the Finnish immigrant family.

Getting into my characters’ heads

After I’d decided on the time and the setting, I told the story the way I always approach writing; I tried to get inside the heads of the characters. I began by seeing the world through the eyes of the 11-year-old Eeva.

How would she react to being uprooted? Did it matter to her how far geographically she was going to go?

Of course not. Just moving to a different town in Finland would have shaken Eeva. But to be moved to a country where she understood nothing people said to her, and to a large capital city with a different way of life? That would be life-changing.

In the first chapter we see Eeva living in Finland, safe in her world. When her father and mother excitedly inform her and her sister, Anja, that they are moving to Sweden, Pappa says:

In Stockholm everything is bigger and better.

This simple sentence indicates that the move will have positive effect on the family’s economics circumstances.

Later, when the family first see their new flat in Stockholm, we see how impressed they all are by the size and quality of the apartment, even though they eventually realize it’s far away from the city centre, in an immigrant area.

In Stockholm the sisters get their own bedrooms—in contrast to an earlier scene where, during the last night the family spend in Finland, the girls have to share the sofa in their grandmother’s small flat.

To suggest the first chinks in the shiny new world the family have entered, I describe the first shopping trip Mamma takes with Eeva and Anja. It’s also the first time the girls hear the then-common abuse directed at Finns: Javla Finnar (Fucking Finns)—after Eeva nearly collides with a Swedish woman’s shopping trolley.

During the same shopping trip, a sales assistant is rude to Mamma when she overhears the family speaking Finnish. This episode visibly shakes Mamma, and she seems quiet and withdrawn afterwards.

Contrasting reactions

When I considered how Mamma and the girls would react to this kind of rejection, I decided that they would try to learn Swedish and blend in as quickly as possible.

I show this desire for Eeva and Anja to sound convincingly Swedish when the girls go shopping with Mamma, and on leaving the flat remind her not to speak at all (not even in Swedish) in the tunnelbana (metro) so that the people around them won’t know that they are from Finland. At this stage the girls had already mastered the language well enough to pass as being Swedish-born.

But I thought Pappa would not react as well as the female members of his family to the situation. As his family begin to enjoy Sweden, learning how to appreciate their new surroundings as well as master the language, he grows resentful. Even though he originally had hopes of his family fitting in, he becomes jealous of the women’s success at adopting and adapting to Swedish ways, and regrets the move.

And so the stage is set for a tragedy. But that’s another part of the story—one you can read in Coffee and Vodka!

As luck would have it, I have THREE COPIES to give away. All you have to do is to post a thoughtful comment on this post. I will choose three of the best comments and send to each of you, in whatever format you choose.

* * *

Kiitos—or should I say tack?—Helena! What’s more, I understand we haven’t caught up with all of your books yet—you have a new one out, The Red King of Helsinki, described as Nordic noir meets Cold War espionage. Sounds tantalizing: will you please come back again???

Readers, to whet your taste even more for Coffee and Vodka, here are some excerpts from Amazon.com reader reviews:

It’s a beautifully written story about a family in turmoil, caused partly by the displacement, but also partly due to the cracks in family dynamics which were already evident before the move to Stockholm. I really liked the voice of Eeva as a 11-year-old full of hope and fear, and then 30 years later as a grown woman who’s unable to commit to a loving relationship.

Set between Finland and Sweden, between the 1970s and the present milllenium, Coffee and Vodka reveals what it was like for a young girl to be uprooted from her home and transplanted to another country. One where she doesn’t speak the language and is despised for her nationality. I’m not ashamed to say this novel made me cry, but it also made me smile. … [E]ven if these things are as foreign to you as they are to me, along with the settings in this novel, Eeva’s story will still strike a chord.

Don’t forget to comment on Helena Halme’s post to be eligible to win a free copy! Extra points, as always, if you’re a Displaced Dispatch subscriber!

The winners will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch on June 1, 2013.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, on creative international entrepreneurship.

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img: Helena Halme, taken on a ferry between Finland and Sweden, Finlandsbåt, which features in Coffee and Vodka.

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