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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Newbie expats, to keep waves of culture shock from crashing over you, practice the art of tacking

Culture Shock Toolbox Beth Green

Beth Green at a Buddhist temple in Cebu City in the Philippines, during Chinese New Year (supplied).

Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is back with her latest interview guest.

Ahoy, Displaced Nationers! This month, fellow Displaced Nation columnist Beth Green takes us on a brief tour of her extensive, initially aquatic travels. You know how children test the waters? Well, Beth got to do that quite literally. That’s right, Beth spent her childhood on a sailboat! Doesn’t that sound mouth-watering? Though I must admit that with my predisposition for motion sickness I’d probably spend most of the time with my head over the railing.

Anyhoo, Beth now lives on land—in Prague, the Czech Republic—where she works as a freelance writer and English-language coach. She is also a member of the Sisters in Crime mystery writers’ association. Upon discovering she is a traveler, bookworm and lover of spookiness, I knew I had to interview Beth for this column! And luckily for us, she kindly agreed to share her culture shock stories.

Join us as we talk about opening a conversation with an apology, cringing at our own meltdowns, sending stuff back in restaurants (or not!), and working weekends to make up for weekday public holidays (say what?!). You never know, you may pick up a few items for your culture shock toolbox!

* * *

Hi, Beth. Welcome to my column! As a TCK and an ATCK, you’ve led a peripatetic life. Tell us a little about where you’ve lived…

I’ve never lived anywhere for very long! As a kid, I traveled with my parents on a sailboat. We were in the Caribbean for seven years and the South Pacific for two, with stops along the coastal United States in between. I went to high school in Alaska and to university in the continental USA, but my junior year of university I went to Spain on exchange for a year. That experience inspired me to move to Europe when I graduated and work for a bit. I lived in the Czech Republic for three years, where I met my now-husband (who’s Australian…of course!). Then, we moved to China together to teach English. We were there for four-and-a-half years all together—but with a break in the middle when we did a long backpacking tour of Southeast Asia and India that included living on an island in Thailand for five months. After touching down briefly in the Philippines and Thailand again, we’ve been back in the Czech Republic for the past two years.

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

Oh, sure! The first time I moved to the Czech Republic I quickly realized I needed to start every conversation in Czech with an apology. That way I could make up for the inevitable times when I forgot to whom I should give kisses on the cheek rather than shake hands, or failed to greet everyone properly (as is customary in many more situations in Central Europe than in other cultures—you say “hello” and “goodbye” even to strangers in elevators). China as well was a tricky place to stay on the right side of etiquette. Speaking of which, I can recall an embarrassing meltdown I had once in China after being served a mango-papaya smoothie (what I had actually ordered, I realized later) rather than a melon smoothie like I thought I was getting. I lost all kinds of “face” that day.

Art of European Cheek Kissing

Photo credit: Women kissing at bus stop in Paris, France, by Steven Depolo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

How should you have handled that situation? What if any tools have you developed to adapt to this kind of scenario?

What I should have done—and what I learned to do later when I inevitably ordered the wrong thing due to either fanciful names on the menu or my ham-tongued attempts to speak and understand Mandarin—was just to give my smoothie to someone else and order another one. In certain cultures, you just can’t send stuff back in a restaurant! In other words, I had to get better at tacking: that’s when you zigzag back and forth with your sailboat instead of sailing right into the wind. I had to reminding myself constantly that expect the unexpected and not to make too many waves. Like the time in China when I was told that we would all work on Saturday to make up for a public holiday on Monday. What? That’s considered normal? Well, this will be a fun story later! And, I’d better make a note to check my next contract veeerrry thoroughly!

Smoothie debacle collage

Photo credits: (Top) Charm- and confidence-boosting smoothie, Ghangzhou, China, by Cory Doctorow via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Breakfast (Shanghai, China), by Martin Slavin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); dissatisfied character via Pixabay.

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

I feel like my latest move, back to Europe from Asia, went well because I made a decision not to hard on myself when the waters got choppy. I also decided to take measures right away that past experience had taught would help lower my stress; for instance:

  • hiring someone to help with my visa paperwork (instead of doing on my own);
  • asking for help finding an apartment instead of taking the DIY approach;
  • joining a co-working space right off the bat (even before the apartment) so that I had a quiet place to work even when everything else was up in the air; and
  • enrolling in a refresher language course.

Of course, I’m lucky that I had the option to do all of those things—not everyone will when they move cultures.

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

This advice is easy to give and hard to follow: develop patience and also trust in yourself: you will make progress eventually. Patience for yourself for not “catching on” quickly to situations (I find that culture shock seems to lower your IQ a bit at first!), patience for local people who might not understand your expectations (even though they’re crystal clear to you), patience for the culture shock itself. If we go back to our sailing metaphor: By tacking, you move into the wind gradually. But the zigzagging doesn’t necessarily slow you down. You can learn to tack efficiently—that’s what I tried to do when seeking help for some of the more stressful challenges of settling back into life in Prague. Use your first few months wisely, and eventually your culture shock will go away! Tacking is the Blu-Tack of the culture shock toolkit.

Tacking is the Blu-Tack

Photo credits: Tacking upwind, by Tom Purves via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Old blu-tack packaging, by Clive Darra via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Thank you so much, Beth, for sharing your experience with us! Like you said, if you develop the sailor’s tacking skill, soon it’ll all be water under the bridge. Plus, as you also pointed out, you’ll have great travel yarns to share! In the end, it’s the situations that are most difficult to navigate that make for the best lessons, right?! That’s what I love about culture shock: the lessons we learn and the way our horizons shift as a result.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Beth’s advice? If you like what she has to say, I recommend you visit her Booklust, Wanderlust book review column here on the Displaced Nation, as well as her personal site. And as those who frequent her column know, she’s a social media nut: find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Until then. Prost! Santé!

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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WONDERLANDED: “Can you make me a Manhattan?” by A. Spaice

Can you make me a Manhattan Collage

Drink a Manhattan at Eat Me in Bangkok. Photo credit: “Alice 15,” by AForestFrolic via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Eat Me Restaurant, Bangkok; Manhattan cocktail via Pixabay.

A couple of days ago, we wonder-landed in Phnom Penh with serial expat writer, artist and sometime photographer A. Spaice. She told us falling down rabbit holes in Europe and Asia has sparked her imagination in untold ways—not least by convincing her that a Mad Hatter’s tea Party would not be complete without champagne and an opera singer.

Spaice ended her musings on the expat writer’s life on this fittingly dramatic note:

Knowing it’s the connection that I write for now, instead of the “art,” I’m moving into a different channel. I trust this current, because it feels good. It moves, it flows. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, it even likes to dance.

Today she offers a sample of her work that seeks to connect with others who have wonder-landed and lived to tell the story—whether in words, photos, or other forms of creative expression. It’s an except from her short book Bangkok, which she produced as a kind of roman à clef after taking a trip from her current home of Phnom Penh to the Thai capital. Bangkok marks the first in an unconventional short book series she is planning, titled n+1.

Cover art for Bangkok, by A. Plaice.

Cover art for Bangkok, by A. Spaice

* * *

Excerpt from Bangkok

The story principally concerns Karin Malhotra’s attempt to reconnect with an old female friend in Bangkok, Thailand, the Land of Smiles, only to discover they are no longer that compatible. But in this passage, Karin is about to meet someone new, another displaced creative, a magazine editor who has professed an interest in her work…

“CAN YOU MAKE ME A MANHATTAN?” I asked, truly wondering. “Of course.” This was supposed to be the best bar on this side of Bangkok, according to the gay couple that seemed like good people to ask the day before. I wanted a comfortable place. Not too conspicuous, not too loud. But I didn’t expect it to have the kind of name it did. Eat Me.

Still, the guy from the magazine had said “yes,” to meet me there. I muttered something about the name and how I’d heard about it from a bunch of people (two being a bunch) and thought it could work for a conversation space.

He was taller than I’d pictured, and seemed like he might have been French, because of the two-kiss thing that the Europeans like to do when they meet you for the first time. For some reason, he was extremely close to the lips on the second one, but that was kind of flattering, in a way, because he had a rich dark musty scent and I rather liked it.

“So,” he said. “You’re Karin Malhotra. We meet at last.”

At last? Hadn’t we just talked online like, twice? Business conversation making, that was the agenda today.

“Tell me about what you do.”

Oh, boy. Here it was. The test. I hadn’t really prepared for this. I was going to have to wing it. Really, at the end of the day, pretty much everything good that’s come to my life has come of winging it, I realized. With that thought in the forefront of my mind, I got into character. “I make space. I know that might sound odd, but I was meant to be an architect. Designing physical spaces with bricks and glass and maybe new materials but not concrete because in Kyoto I got a giant magazine with Tadao Ando teahouses all in these sad greys which got me depressed for a while because the ones they have in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai and stuff? They have these lovely bamboo colors and textures and earth tones. Which is better. Anyway, I didn’t become an architect for lots of reasons, the biggest one being that I don’t like projects that take more than three or four months to finish. With books, you know, you can take years to write books, but I got into eBooks and nothing more than like a two-hour read, you know? People like that. Short and sweet.”

“Uh-huh.”

“People like it because we are so time-poor right now. Modern people, that is. I’m talking about the malaise of the Western progressive world, where we have books and medicine but we have nothing to get happy about because our souls aren’t nourished properly in the time we’re growing up.

“What I’ve been doing, what I’ve just started since putting the brakes on my own design studio, which you’ll never believe this but is the second time I’ve done that. The first time I just felt compelled to do the same thing again, when we moved from Seattle to Durham NC. Durham is in North Carolina. Have you been there?”

“No. I rarely go to America. I can’t say that I’d ever want to live there, and visiting is a trial.”

“So you’re actually from…”

“Vienna.”

Oh. Memories of college.

Schubert.

Nabokov.

A bottle of Sauvignon blanc.

“Yes, I knew someone from your country once.” I stammered. I wanted to forget about that, but you can’t really forget about those ones you fall for at first sight. Why was I talking about that, though? That was weird. “He was a colleague.” A lie. But… so?

“Where did you work together?”

Shite. I was going to have to keep going with this one? “Oh, just a small firm in Tokyo. They did architecture, but had a base in Los Angeles. I thought I’d make it to Los Angeles because I knew my husband was big into the West Coast, drier air and all. But we wound up in Seattle. It took a while to get there from our time in Japan, though.”

“I love Japanese teas, they are the best.”

“I prefer Darjeeling to everything, personally. But I do love those whisks from those places they have in Kyoto.”

“Are your genetics from India?”

Wow. That was a first. No one put it that way before. Are my genetics from India?

“Yes,” I said. Not barking at them that I’m from the outskirts of Detroit. I hate the where-are-you-from question but I still ask other people, for some reason. I guess it’s habit? Smalltalk.

My bar companion brushed his dark brown hair with his hand, and I noticed that it had a few stray grays. This was interesting. When did I ever think men with gray hair could be attractive? This was news. Maybe it had something to do with turning almost-forty. A round number.

“I have never been to India,” said Glenn. He had a really long last name that I couldn’t pronounce, much less remember to spell. What was the custom in Austria when greeting someone? Was it two kisses like the French, or three like the Swiss? I tried to remember how it had been in those couple of weeks with

“But I intend to go. This winter, in fact.” Glenn was all business, and that reminded me to focus. Not on his hair and his hands and his blue eyes, so puzzlingly deep, but the agenda. “I have to get more writers from that part of the world.”

“You do?”

“Yes. We want to diversify the magazine. It’s far too European for its own good. I really want to bring in some new voices. From afar. From the East. That’s why I contacted you. You seem to have… an Indian-sounding name. I’m sorry… I guess I just assumed…”

“Oh, that’s fine,” I said, waving it away. The truth was it wasn’t fine. Why did my stupid name have to make me into an Indian person automatically? I’d been there enough times to know that the gender bias there is ridiculous and horrid and people aren’t nice within their families, especially to daughters. Goodness knows I’d put up with enough of that growing up with my mother. My complicit brother and father, standing by while she’d hurl psychological abuse upon stones. I hated thinking about those days, and pushed aside the thought as if it were one of Glenn’s locks. I had to stop myself from reaching out to touch his crown, to see if he might notice that kind of action. Just out of curiosity, I’d say, if he asked. Not trying to get with you or anything. Just like the look of you, and enjoy studying your features. High, strong cheekbones made him look a little feminine, but his hands were rough from, what? Magazine work couldn’t possibly be physical.

“Were you always in the publishing industry?”

He took a sip of a new drink that arrived, a tall slim glass that contained a mojito. Kind of a girly drink, wasn’t it?

“No,” he said. “I was a joiner in the past.” “A what?” “Joinery. It’s a kind of carpentry, but specialized. I trained in Germany for it, for about four years. That’s where I met my partner.” “Your… partner?” “He’s a joiner, too, yes.” He. I recalibrated, and quickly. “Ah.”

The waiter came around and saved me. “Another drink?”

* * *

Readers, what did you make of this portion of A. Spaice’s expat-life story? Among other things, I think she has nailed the down-the-rabbit-hole feeling of no longer knowing who you really are or anyone else is, once you have wonder-landed.

Interested to read more of Bangkok? It’s available for purchase at Gumroad and Amazon.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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Wonderlanded in Phnom Penh with serial expat writer, artist and sometime photographer A. Spaice

A Spaice Wonderlanded Collage

Tea in Bangkok and Yellow in Phnom Penh. Photo credit: A. Spaice.

Curiouser and curiouser! Residents of the Displaced Nation have always had a deep affiliation with Lewis Carroll’s Alice. We can identify with her experiences of falling down a rabbit-hole and stepping through a look-glass into a world where one doesn’t know, can’t even guess at, the rules of the game. Alice’s sense of discombobulation—which of us hasn’t had at least one pool-of-tears moment after moving to another culture?

By the same token, which of us hasn’t grown, and been stretched, in new and unexpected directions by our displaced lives of global residency and travel?

This year, to celebrate the 150 years of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I am hosting a new “Wonderlanded” series, beginning with today’s post.

Our very first Wonderlanded story is from A. Spaice, who has led a life of remarkable transitions after falling
d
o
w
n
the hole.

Spaice grew up in a rich Western country to be an engineer-artist, disappointing a lot of relatives who insisted (without invitation) that a more “normal” career would make life easier.

But this just pushed her to resent all sorts of social mores, sparking a journey that would never stop anywhere for more than six years. Her path cut a line to the Far East, looped Western Europe, and now, as we hear the details of her Wonderlanded story, Spaice writes from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, having assumed a few new layers to her creative identity as she continues to insist on looking inward to work out Alice’s big question:

“Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Without further ado, I give you A. Spaice!

* * *

Greetings, Displaced Nation readers! I look forward to telling you my story of how I became wonderlanded. But first, a few details about me. Before taking this new name, A. Spaice, I’d been happily writing under my own, mostly first-person essay style accounts and often set in foreign lands. It was fine. I got places. I enjoyed it. But then, I hit bricks. Through my writing, I’d wanted to tell my story and when that was done, I realized it was okay to stretch a bit, to try new things, maybe even third person. Crazy! So after a long time of not knowing one phase could end and a new one begin, I feel a reinventing going on, from within. This propels me, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt that kind of inward push, and I know this is the kind of thing you need to have if you want to get it done and make it good. So I’m happy to make the transition, and let go of the old style.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Along the way I got surprised about something. My major in college was engineering, and I worked in architecture firms for a while, so it’s been fun playing with new concepts in my work, like torque and momentum, or the radiation heat transfer equation, that kind of thing. I’m going to have to find a way to use ! for factorial. I’m terribly excited, and I hope this energy will reverberate through in my just-born, about-to-become-something N+1 series. (Mathy, right? I kind of dig it.)

“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”

A year ago at this time I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had no idea what I was going to do for work or how I was going to “make it,” or if I’d need to abandon some old idea about what that even means, or something else. Among my possessions was an old copy of You Can’t Go Home Again, which, if you are traveling Asia and the kind of person who sizes people up by the amount of luggage they have, you wouldn’t have given me an ounce of attention because this thing is cement.

You Can't Go Home_Thailand

You can’t go home again; you’re in the Kingdom of Wonder! Photo credit: Book cover art; A. Spaice.

Thomas Wolfe was pretty roundly criticized, it says in the back notes of the book, for not being able to edit stuff himself and relying on people to help him cut things into a story-like form. But wow. His writing. It’s just…it’s so lovely and right on.

It was there with me in the suitcases, and it is here with me now, as I write. It’s been a comfort. I didn’t know anything about what was ahead (a bus ride to Siem Reap, then another to Phnom Penh, a welcome from some people social media introduced me to, and then, falling in love with Cambodia in an abstract way, because of the whole “Kingdom of Wonder” thing, but also, in general, its aesthetics (architecture, attention to symmetry, detail, and something… something I’m working on trying to capture and will stay until I can name). Ask me about the tuk tuk driver whose floor’s decked out with astroturf. A humor, a style, something else. Unpretentiousness, perhaps? Directness? Reality? Maybe it was this that made me feel, “Yes. Stay.”

But the book, that book being with me, that’s been an anchor. I keep it for comfort. I read it for love. I look to it to remember that yes, the road is ahead of you, that you can’t go back, that you just can’t fall upon some idyllic picture that isn’t real. Snap! You Can’t Go Home Again. And accepting that, right there, in the middle of the wondering, in the enchanting early evening hour of arriving on that long road from Chiang Mai to Phnom Penh, with sun reddening this sky, I knew. Something would work out. “I’ve got this. This is going to be just fine.”

An early “pool of tears” moment

Ireland. 2000. I was plonking myself into the countryside “indefinitely.” There were times out there on the farm in southwest County Cork that I wondered, “What the heck was I thinking?” I was still young then, and feared I was missing something. The city, the lights. A more familiar variety of arts and culture. What did I have in the hills? Views, rainbows, sheep, the grass-fed cow’s milk and Kerry Gold butter, sometimes shared by friends and neighbors in Union Hall and Dunmanway. Lots and lots of partying, but the honest kind, with board games and stories and singing and the craic. This was before the Internet era, so I have my doubts it would be the same now. But little by little, sticking around three years and a bit, you got to know the place and the people, and they got to know you. (A part of me is Irish, you know. From West Cork, like, so.)

“But I’m not used to it!” pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone.

bathroom slippers anime

Through the Utsunomiya looking glass. Photo credit: Toilet Slippers, by Lloyd Morgan (CC BY-SA 2.0); Alice in Wonderland anime doll.

When I was in high school I did a Youth for Understanding exchange to Utsunomiya, Japan. I knew some things, like how you were supposed to bring omiyage so I had one small item each for my host brother, sister, father, and mother. I felt cool knowing you were supposed to leave your shoes in the genkan and wear slippers around the house. What I didn’t know was that when you go to the bathroom you change into special bathroom slippers.

I saw those, put them on, but forgot to change back into regular non-bathroom slippers and so entered the dining room, excited about all the new kinds of food. My host family was horrified. Awkward, but they made a printout of house rules, which they left on the kitchen table the next day. “Bathroom slippers are for the bathroom.” When I realized what had happened, I was redder than the cherry tomato atop the last night’s dinner salad.

“Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice.

Iced tomato smoothies. Saigon.

Recipe for a successful Mad Hatter’s tea party

I’d host it in a place with lots of windows, preferably floor-to-ceiling, maybe on the second floor of a well-maintained building with high ceilings. There would be just 16 people—I find this to be a magical number for gatherings, you can arrange guests in pairs and then change it up, into four sets of four. Also cozy. I love having people shift about when I throw a party, it changes up the energy, and gives it a tint of surprise. I would invite people of all ages and career types because there tends to be a lot of silos out here. There would be tea for everyone, and later, an impromptu concert, with an opera singer, and then, champagne. (The opera singer and champagne part actually happened once here, magic!, so I’d have that for my guests for sure.)

champagne and opera

This mad hatter entertains with champagne and opera. Photo credit: Champagne via Pixabay; singer via Pixabay

“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!”

I think it’s weird when I go to California, say, and see people eating salads out of boxes. Noticed myself wishing there was more rice around San Francisco. I wondered, quite out of character, why women don’t cover their skin, especially when swimming. Isn’t that funny, when you’ve grown up in the West? Yet there are also the nice parts: people understand one hundred percent of what I say, and vice versa, and I can joke around, and it’s received, and I feel like my “old” self again. Remarkable.

“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!”

But I also see now that I’m interested in other kinds of things and that my experiences have taken me to far edges, the kinds of edges that aren’t photographable, and these make me feel like I get along better with a traveled set, not necessarily those from a particular country, or style, or personality, or something else. I like the everykind, the mixitup. I like the sense of possibility and connect with those who also want to keep it open, not box it in. Maybe that’s why I’ve lost interest in identifying with a certain country, or any other kind of label, come to think of it, too. Disorientation is part of it, but it’s precisely because of the crisscrossings that I’m figuring out, slowly, who I am. And it’s this feeling, this waking-up feeling, that is why I wanted to connect with Displaced Nation because it’s here I see it’s not just me in this big pot of “Wait. What just happened?”

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

Trust the process.

“Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.”

Okay. Well, moving from essays in high school to papers in college to, later, writing that has to go out on deadline, I’m finally able to say: I’ve got my voice. I know who the writer in me is. I’m confident, too, that this writer really wants to grow and stretch beyond previous boundaries, and that’s where this new thing, this thing I’m calling “N+1”, came from. A series of short books, based on the people I’m meeting in real time in the places where I go for three weeks or maybe two months at a time.

"In Bangkok" by A. Spaice; cover art for A. Spaice's short book, Bangkok

Creative output from Bangkok. Photo credit: “In Bangkok” by A. Spaice; cover art for A. Spaice’s first short book, Bangkok.

I’ve spent my whole life observing and taking notes, but it’s not the notes I’m referring to anymore. It’s not the pretty turns of phrase that I can feel like I can put in there, just, there!, or things I used to think made a person go, “I’m a writer!” No, it’s other stuff. It’s knowing that something you’re saying actually resonates. Connecting deeply with other people in small moments of sharing—that’s important to me. Words have a brilliant potency to make that possible, but they’re just one way. Knowing it’s the connection that I write for now, instead of the “art,” I’m moving into a different channel. I trust this current, because it feels good. It moves, it flows. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, it even likes to dance.

After Bangkok I’ll publish a new piece set in Dalat. It’ll be the first thing I’ve written in third person. My best friend, and my go-to editor, is listening to me read this aloud, and nodding, and smiling. Switching gears, writing different. It’s a good, happy change.

* * *

Readers, how did you enjoy spending time being wonderlanded with A. Spaice? Did you find her story a curiosity or could you relate?

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an excerpt from A. Spaice’s short book Bangkok!

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

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: How to be a diva in another culture–by not being one!

Culture Shock Toolbox April 2015 Rossi Columnist H.E. Rybol never saw a culture clash she didn’t want to fix. She calls herself a “transitions enthusiast” and credits her Third Culture Kid upbringing for giving her a head start in that department. That said, H.E. is always looking for new tools to add to her kit, and toward that end has been interviewing other displaced creatives about their culture shock experiences. Today she speaks to Kristen Rossi, a New Yorker who is on a mission to spread the Golden Age of Broadway/jazz throughout Asia. Okay, H.E. and Kristen, time to paint the town and all that jazz!

—ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers! Today I am delighted to introduce Kristen Evelyn Rossi to Culture Shock Toolbox readers. Kristen is an American actress, singer and voice over artist based in Southeast Asia. Besides being a talented performer, she is an entrepreneur and, while living in Bangkok, has co-founded two organizations: Broadway Babe, an endeavor to bring Broadway style to the Thai capital, and Musical Theatre for KIDS, which offers Broadway musical and theatre workshops for Asian youth.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Kristen recently and ask her a few questions about her somewhat unusual life of crooning her way around Asia, while also teaching others how to traipse the Broadway boards. I can see from the YouTube videos on her Website that she has racked up many successful performances; but I wanted to know: have there been any cultural flops?

Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Kristen, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell us which countries you’ve lived in and for how long?

I have lived in London (UK) for just under a year; about seven years in Bangkok, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam for the past four months; and I will call Macau home in May.

That is quite a few cultural transitions! You are a singer, so I’m not sure if this is the right question, but did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Any memorable stories?

As an entertainer I meet people from all over the world. One common mistake I make is in judging a guest’s nationality. In particular I find it hard to tel the difference between Japanese and Koreans. Sometimes I can tell the difference and sometimes it is hard, especially when they come in their business suits! Several times I have said, “oh are you from ___” and they will just say “no, we are ____” and then look at me very seriously. Awkward.

Another occasional mistake related to nationality is that I don’t always know what the people of a country are called. I remember the first time I was speaking with a diplomat from Qatar. I was about to refer to the people…and hesitated. It made me feel a little embarrassed. (Of course I know now it’s Qatari!)

How do you usually handle these situations?

I try to quickly move on to something I do know and like about the country or culture in question. For example, with Koreans I always say, “Oooh, I just love makgeolli (an alcoholic beverage native to Korea).” Once I say this, I usually get smiles and “ooooh!” and laughs. I’ve found that it helps to learn a few positive facts about the nation and its culture—so you can always change the subject quickly.

In general, how do you think you have handled your many cultural transitions?

Most of my transitions have been positive and quite easy I think because I’m a performer by nature. I just get out there. I walk around, I interact, I am patient, I smile a lot. I figure out how to make the best of the situation.

If you had to give advice to someone who just moved to a new country, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

Engage with the culture. I can only speak on behalf of Southeast Asia/Asia, but what I have found is people want to share their culture with you. They want to be good “hosts”; embrace this. Ask your colleagues or new friends to show you their favorite local artists (music, gallery, etc). Ask them to take you to their favorite coffee spot or their favorite place to get their favorite local dish. Most of the time, they will be flattered you are interested in them, happy to share their culture—and you’ll probably end up making new friends. Another important tool is language. Make an effort to learn even a few words in the local language. You can practice simple words at home and then go into the office and ask your local colleagues if you are saying the words right. They will LOVE IT, I promise!

Thank you so much, Kristen, for taking the time to share your experiences. It’s wonderful to hear that a Broadway diva knows when not to be a diva. And I think you’ve hit the nail soundly on the head in advising that the best way to handle culture shock is to engage with the culture head on. Show interest and ask questions; learn the language and ask for feedback.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Kristen’s advice? Do you agree with my impression that she’s brought some of the energy of the “city that never sleeps” to this column?

If you like what you heard, be sure to check out Kristen’s site and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Until then. Prost! Santé!

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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For this up-and-coming visual storyteller and lover of travel, a picture says…

Jamie March 2015 collage

Canon zoom lens, photo credit: Morguefiles; Jamie in Bangkok, Thailand, for the Loy Krathong festival (November 2013).

James King is back with his ever-popular “A picture says…” column. English by birth, James is now semi-retired in Thailand. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My March guest is 22-year-old Singaporean Jamie Chan. She shares stories and images from her travels on her blog, No Foreign Lands, while shooting or writing for clients in the photography, lifestyle or travel genres.

Ever since she started photography in 2009, Jamie is rarely seen without a camera. Named one of Singapore’s 10 Best Young Photographers, she is an ardent traveler and enjoys documenting local cultures and lifestyles.

A specialist volunteer for Singapore International Foundation and various animal welfare groups, Jamie also finds time for good causes.

In addition, she sings in Schola Cantorum Singapore and plays the cello. She has clearly been allotted more hours than me in a day!

* * *

Hi, Jamie, and welcome to TDN. I’ve been looking forward to this interview since I first saw your street photography. For one so young you have travelled a fair bit and captured some great images. Can you tell us where you were born and when you spread your wings to start travelling?
I was born and raised on the sunny island of Singapore. My first solo trip was to Indonesia, when I was selected to be a photojournalist delegate of Singapore for the ASEAN Cultural Youth Camp of 2011, held in Yogyarkarta. At the time I was doing my final year project for my degree in Visual Communications (I majored in photography). After the camp finished, I decided to spend an entire month travelling around and documenting the culture and lifestyle of the peoples of Central Java. It was a big learning curve and stretched my photographic skills. I did not have the luxury of an editor to tell me what to look out for, and it was hard to get feedback from my lecturers because getting a wifi spot with Internet was like hitting the jackpot. The experience taught me to reflect, make decisions and work with what I had. I had to figure out how to shape and edit down my stories.

You were only 19 then. How did your parents feel about your decision to travel solo?
They were of course worried sick but came around eventually and even joined me for some parts of the trip. After all, what better way to spend time with your parents than on the back of a motorcycle going at God-only-knows what speed—’cause the speedometer was broken!

That must have been some trip! So once you caught the travel bug, where else did you go?
As a visual storyteller, I am always on the lookout for subjects that would make interesting photo essays. My blog, No Foreign Lands, started as a way to tell my mother that I was still alive while on the road. It has now become a platform for me to tell my stories and share my images with the world. Asia is one of my favourite places to travel. There is an incredible amount of interconnected history among the various countries. I am always learning.

I agree. Asia is a treasure trove for us storytellers and photography buffs. I only wish I had started my travels at an earlier age. So which countries have you visited so far?
There is a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson that goes:

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. The great affair is to move.

When I got back to Singapore after my Indonesia trip, I could not keep still. I was hooked on travelling, exploring and waking up to something new every day. I needed to move; soon after I graduated I booked my next trip—and I’ve never looked back since. Off the top of my head, I’ve been to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Indonesia, India, China and Australia.

That’s eight countries in less than four years; a lot more than most people visit in a lifetime. So tell us about where you are right now and why.
I’m actually back home in Singapore! I’ll mostly be based here for the remainder of 2015. That said, I can never stay put for long—I’ve taken three trips out of the country this year and it is only March! I am in the midst of getting a certification for my Japanese-language studies which I hope to finish by next year. Once that’s done, I intend to work and stay in Japan if possible.

“As a person who deals with visuals before words…”

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. I do believe Japan is a beautiful country which offers photographers some great opportunities. So now let’s see a few of your photos that capture some of your favourite memories.
One of the first stories I did in Indonesia involved visiting various “home industries” for a glimpse of what villagers do for a living. This man was performing a rather mundane job cranking out tiles with this old machine. It requires so much strength (I tried turning it and it barely budges):

Indonesia_machine

This Central Javenese man makes 500 tiles by hand every day using a cranky manual machine; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

I photograph Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated by Tamil communities, almost every year in Singapore; I took this picture in 2014. There is something about the spirit of the festival that never ceases to amaze me each time I document it:

The unforgettable Chetty Pusam in Singapore; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

Singapore’s unforgettable Chetty Pusam; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

I was very fortunate to be able to make it down to the final few performances of the Melbourne Docklands Blues Festival and photographed a set by Jimi Hocking.He is an incredible musician and performer and this image just reminds me of Guitar Gods and their worshippers:

Can Jimi the Human be real? Photo credit: Jamie Chan.

Can Jimi the Human be real? Photo credit: Jamie Chan.

My favourite places to take photos so far are India, Nepal and Australia—but picking three pictures to illustrate this was really hard as each of these countries has so many amazing places to shoot… Anyway, let me start with the Great Ocean and its apostles. While it may seem like a tourism pilgrimage, when you actually stay and watch the light, you will see that every moment reveals a new side to the gorgeous apostles:

The Great Ocean Road in Australia; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

A couple of the Twelve Apostles along Australia’s Great Ocean Road; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

This is a stunning picture, Jamie. You have made a simple composition with no clutter and very imposing subjects. I love it.
Moving on to Kathmandu. Where do I begin? Within the valley wherever you are, the Himalayan mountain line is always watching you. I felt a sense of peace throughout my stay in Nepal. It is kind of hard to describe the feeling. I recommend you go there yourself. Here is one memento:

Kathamandu; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

One of Kathamandu‘s peaceful oases; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

Ayuthaya in Thailand is incredible. I was fortunate enough to gain access to its inner chambers to photograph some of the world’s oldest paintings—an incredibly humbling moment. Here’s an external shot of the ruins that were left after the Burmese invasion:

Ayuthaya; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

The ancient Siamese kingdom of Ayuthaya; photo credit: Jamie Chan.

The more-than-a-thousand-year-old Khmer temples of northeast Thailand are really impressive and give us a glimpse of how the Khmer Empire stretched from Cambodia into what is now a large area of Thailand. Tell me, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of you doing so?
I try my best to observe and read a person’s body language. My camera is always with me and there is always a silent communication of sorts whenever I lift it to my eye. But there is actually nothing to feel reserved or shy about as the most that can happen is that your subject will say no or even hit you(!) if you are really obnoxious.

“I also happen to speak two and a half languages. The half language is Mandarin.”

I mainly do landscape but when I do shoot people I am the same. I hate to take “posed for” photos so I hardly ever get into a discussion. I take the pic or I don’t. Do you ever ask permission before taking people’s photographs? How do you get around any problem of language?
Since I am always reading a person’s body language before I shoot, I generally do not ask for permission. If I do ask and do not speak their language, I rely on improvised sign language—pointing to my camera and nodding with a big smile on my face. It’s worked so far.

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?
Yes, most definitely. As cliché as this may sound, the camera allows us to stop time for a split second and record the moment, preserve a memory.

So when did you realise the power of photography, and how has it changed you?
It happened by accident, like so many things in life, while I was looking through old photos of my family. I realised then that if no one had taken these photos, I would never have remembered how my mum looked like all those years ago.

“Who says the iPhone can’t photograph the moon!”

I know what you mean. For me, a picture is a diary of an event in visual form. The photographer “writes” about it in a way no one else could.Now for the technical stuff. What kind of camera and lenses you use?
I work with a rangefinder, the Leica M-E. My 35mm Summilux lens is stuck to the camera body most of the time as it is just such a beautiful focal length which allows me to respond quickly to different situations. On certain occasions, maybe twice a year, I will use the 50mm Summilux just to get a tighter shot. Other than that, my iPhone 5s takes wicked macro shots.

That’s interesting because although I have become attached to the versatility of my 18–55mm Canon lens there are times when I can’t get in close enough, so I need to add say a 70–200mm to my kit. And now I need an iPhone 5s!!!!! And which software do you use for post-processing?
I use Lightroom for post processing as I shoot entirely in raw image format.

“The perfect camera is the one with you.”

Join the club. Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
I’m not sure what advice I can give for wannabe photographers, though that hoary old chestnut “Don’t quit your day job” has just now floated into my mind. I say that because I sense that the golden age of photography is mostly over. Having said that, if you have the passion and perseverance to live, breathe and eat photography, press on and live it. But also remember that technology has made it so much easier to learn a new creative skill. Try your hand at video, writing or music. Use your creativity, mash them all together, and see what you come up with. At the end of the day, as long as your art moves someone and you are able to live comfortably with what you have, you know you are on the right track.

I actually think that is very good non-technical advice Jamie and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell your story so far in this interview. I am sure you will, undoubtedly, inspire other young and maybe not so young people.

Editor’s note: All subheds are excerpted from Jamie’s blog.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Jamie’s experiences? If you have any questions for her on his travels and/or photos, please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Jamie and her creative works better, I suggest you visit her photography site and check out her posts on her photography/travel blog, No Foreign Lands. You can also follow her on twitter and Instagram and/or like her blog’s Facebook page.

(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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For this former contractor in Iraq, now an expat in Thailand, a picture says…

Jackie Littletaylor portrait

Canon zoom lens, photo credit: Morguefiles; Jackie Littletaylor in Iraq in 2005 (own photo). Yes, it’s a real tank, which disappeared a year after this photo was taken.

English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King is back with his first “A picture says…” column of the new year. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

Happy new year, readers! My very first guest of 2014 is 64-year-old Jackie Littletaylor, who, like me, is an expat living in Thailand with a passion for photography. Unlike me, though, Jackie had a past incarnation as a professional photographer in his home country, the United States, which he is now putting to use in his new life abroad.

Jackie keeps a blog as well as a travel site, where he shares information about his travels around Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand. He speaks more in pictures, full of vibrant colors, less in words, about what he has seen and observed.

Today I hope he will give us his 1,000+-word story as well as some background behind a few of his favorite photos.

* * *

Welcome to the Displaced Nation, Jackie. I have been looking forward to discussing your photo-travel experiences ever since I discovered your blog some months ago. What first intrigued me was that although you were a professional photographer, you now seem to be intent on breaking the rules and creating your own unique style that flies in the face of convention. But before we go into that, can you fill me in on what led you to travel in the first place?
At an early age, I traveled with my family from Alabama, where I was born, to Texas, where I spent most of my life. My family loved to travel. Thanks to them, I’ve backpacked many of the great national parks including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain, and have seen almost all of Western USA. But I didn’t venture overseas until the age of 55. Never, for a moment, did I anticipate that my greatest travel adventure would come so late in life.

How did you end up in Iraq at the ripe old age of 55?
My approach to life changed after I went through a bad divorce. I thought, why not go have an adventure? I was no longer taking care of kids so there was not much holding me back. I took off for Iraq in 2005 and spent six of the best years of my life there. Actually, I hated it when I was there, but looking back, all I can think is how simple life was: just day-to-day living, with good money and some great friends.

Why Iraq?
At that time I was living in Houston. I heard about the opportunity to work for a company providing services to the armed forces in Iraq. I went to check them out and the rest is history.

“He’s so busy you’d think he was twins.”

I can relate as I did a similar thing after my divorce at 48. Up sticks and off I went to South Africa. What happened once you arrived in Iraq?
Work and more work. We worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. The first year’s average week was 102 hours. But then every 4-6 months we were given some vacation time. I traveled all over Iraq, from the Syrian border to the Iranian border, and also to Kuwait—that’s where I spent Christmas in 2005. In 2006–07 we were very busy, and there were many days I had no sleep—but it was still the adventure of a lifetime. Many of us left in 2010, when troops were being pulled out. I have a vivid memory of being at the airport in Baghdad and seeing the tears in the eyes of a retired general who’d been one of our leaders. He knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that could never be repeated. I went back for another year and could have stayed when the US military pulled out, but decided six years was enough.

You probably saw and experienced more in six years than many people do in a lifetime, but let’s move on with your story.
I had friends in Iraq who went to Thailand for their vacations and always had good tales to tell. So, having become an intrepid explorer, I decided to check it out. I flew to Phuket via Dubai with a good friend. Thailand captivated me at first sight: the people and the culture, along with the opportunities for more travel. Although most of my time has been spent here since Iraq, I have also visited Burma, Cambodia, Malaysia, Oman, France, and Kuwait.

I would definitely place you in the seasoned traveller category! So where in Thailand do you call home now, and what is life like in a new place?
As I was saying, I fell in love with Thailand—and with a Thai woman. We now have two young kids! Imagine, at my age! So Thailand has become my home. My wife is from a village in Isaan, in the northeastern region, near Sisaket. We live in Phuket because I love the sea, but we visit her family regularly in Isaan.

“There’s no slack in his rope.”

I know Sisaket as I lived in Buriram, which is nearby, for three years. I understand you are retired now. Tell me, how do you keep busy?
I love to work so have taken up fine art photography. Last year I started a blog on life here in SE Asia. Along with taking care of the kids, these activities keep my mind and body busy. I’ve been learning a lot.

But photography hasn’t always been a hobby for you.
No. When living in the US I was a wedding and sports photographer, where the challenge was to capture the shot and, through skillful editing, please the customer. It is a real pleasure seeing the customer’s smile when you present some good work. I discovered Fine Art rather by accident while I was doing post processing.

It’s fascinating how, so often, we stumble across exciting things by pure accident. And now let’s have a look at some of the shots you’ve selected for this interview, which capture a few of your favourite memories.
This first photo, of a rice field in Isaan, is what set me free as a photographer. When taking the shot, I envisioned it in my mind’s eye in a certain way, and through processing I managed to achieve this vision. I took my inspiration from impressionist artists, such as Monet and Gauguin, not from other photographers as you may think. Here is the before and after:

Jackie Collage

Rice fields in Isaan, Thailand, before and after processing. The experiment led to Jackie’s “a ha” moment. Photo credit: Jackie Littletaylor.

I took the next photo on my first trip to Isaan. A young woman, Nicha, took me to Prasat Ban Prasat Khmer temple ruins on a motorbike from her village. She did not know I was taking her photo:

IssanPraying_pm

Nicha’s quiet moment of prayer at a shrine in Isaan, Thailand; photo credit: Jackie Littletaylor.

Preah Vihear Khmer Temple ruins on the Cambodia-Thailand border (Southern Isaan) has been the subject of dispute between the two countries for some time now. On this trip, in 2006, I was with my family. We had no idea where we were going or the significance of what we were seeing. These ruins are now off limits to tourists:

CambodiaRuins_pm

What remains of the spiritual life of the six-centuries-long Khmer Empire, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; photo credit: Jackie Littletaylor.

This next one you will recognize: the restaurant scene on the paved promenade along Rawai Beach, located at the south end of Phuket Island. I love taking photos at night or late evening using a tripod sometimes but with a slow shutter. It takes a lot of editing but is fun:

RawaiinEvening_pm

The seafood restaurants along Rawai Beach, Phuket, affording beautiful views on the many nearby islands; photo credit: Jackie Littletaylor.

On a more personal note, here is an old photo of my parents, in an old-fashioned pose:

Jackiesmom&dad_pm

Dad and Mom Littletaylor, back in Texas, USA; photo credit: Jackie Littletaylor.

Last but not least, my two adorable little angels—I love this photo!

ThaiKiddiewinkles_pm

Jackie’s kiddiewinkles, son and daughter; photo credit: Jackie Littletaylor.

Indeed, I do recognise the one in Phuket. Thank you for sharing this special collection of your photos, including a couple of family portraits. I wonder, do you ever feel reserved about taking shots of people you haven’t met?
I do feel reserved about taking photos of people unless it’s a crowd of them, and I usually ask if I want only one person in the frame. I don’t find language a problem. People can see there is a camera so they know what is happening. In the Thai villages I now have people who actually ask me to take their photo, which is great. In my wife’s village in the past I made 8×10 prints of the villagers for her to give away as gifts.

“He’s got more guts than you could hang on a fence.”

That’s one way to boost your popularity. I believe there is a history of photography in your family?
Yes, photography runs in my family starting with my great grandfather and then my grandfather. But I think I’ve also been influenced by my time in Iraq. That experience reminded me that life can be short and should not be taken for granted. Without being over dramatic, every evening before we left the “wire” or base, I would get out and look at the moon or setting sun, not knowing if it was going to be my last. No sadness or fear. I feel the same with people. You never know when you see someone if it will be the last time. Photography can refresh the memory even after a long time, so it has become a part of my life and it would be strange to be without it. I also just love the beauty of landscapes. I know my photos are quite different. Some like them and some don’t. But most importantly I like them.

I have to agree with you there, Jackie. Trying to create art just to please others rarely works, and it’s a bonus when you find others with similar taste. On the technical side, some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use.
I have always used Canon and now have a Canon EOS1 along with my L lenses which are in the US. Darn! When I left Iraq the last time I was told not to bring them back. These days I use a Canon G1X, which is small and has a great processor but not much lens for zooming. For post processing I use Adobe Lightroom for my basic editing and Nik for most of my artistic editing.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
My advice to others is simple. Take LOTS of pictures. I started in analogue where you bought the film and had to pay for processing to see the good and bad shots. Those were costly days. Now we have digital cameras the exposures are free so you don’t have to worry about cost and can experiment freely. Steve McCurry is the photographer who took that famous photo of the Afghan girl with the green eyes in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, which ended up on the 1985 cover of National Geographic. But he didn’t know the photo was so good until he was back in New York editing. That wouldn’t happen now. So, learn what your camera can do. Forget the flash and buy the best lens you can afford. On prints, don’t accept poor printing as no two printers or processors are alike. As to timing, I prefer early sunrise or the last two hours of sunset. But to repeat: experiment and use your own judgement; the photo is yours.

Thank you, Jackie, for the tips and for taking the time to tell us your fascinating story.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Jackie’s experiences? If you have any questions for him on his photo–travel adventures, please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Jackie and his work better, I suggest that you follow:

You can also contact him by email.

(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.)

Editor’s note: All subheadings in the above post are old Texan sayings or adages.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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And the December 2014 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, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have 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 as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post hono(u)rs our four Alice recipients for December 2014. Listed in order of most to least recent, they are (drumroll…):

1) Lani Cox, half-Thai expat in Chiangmai, Thailand

For her comment on a post: “Dealing with Loneliness Abroad (and at home),” by Mary, former expat in Japan and blogger at The Ruby Ronin. (NOTE: Lani’s own blog is Life, the Universe and Lani.)
Posted on: 9 December 2014

2) Amanda Mouttaki, American expat in Morocco and blogger

For her post: The NOT-SO-NICE Side of Expat Life to her blog, MarocMama
Posted on: 25 November 2014

Alice Connection:
Pool of Tears Quote

LANI: “When I first moved to Thailand, … I was deeply confused over what I was expected to do and where I was supposed to go and basically get the help that I needed for my visa. So, I spent the day crying into my pillow! It didn’t help that we lived by this horrible electrical monster thingy and had squatters outside our window.”

AMANDA: “I cried. And cried. And cried. Over nothing specifically…”

Citation: Lani and Amanda, is it any wonder we have associated your writings with Alice in Wonderland’s “pool of tears” moment? Let us begin by saying how much we admire you both for overcoming the feeling of shame that comes with realizing, and admitting to others, that even “great girls” cry.

Lani, it seems that you blamed yourself, thinking that Thailand shouldn’t have confused you so much since you were raised in the United States by a Thai mother (she’d married an American soldier she’d met during the Vietnam War). But that of course is silly, especially as she didn’t teach you any Thai language (knowing some Thai would have helped with getting your visa sorted). On the other hand, maybe it’s good she didn’t teach you the language, you might have been further disappointed. (We speak from experience, having been Brits in the US or Yanks in the UK.)

Amanda, you say you didn’t want your readers to think you were complaining, especially when so many of them find your story romantic—and it is romantic, meeting and falling in love in fairy-tale fashion on the streets of Marrakesh. In any event, becoming catatonic over nothing specific sounds perfectly normal to us. We’re just glad MarocBaba was there to give you a hug—more than Alice could count on!

3) Kevin Lynch, American expat in Hong Kong

For his interview: “My Airbnb year in Hong Kong: ‘Big fat American’ discovers hidden sides to the city”, by Vanessa Yung, in the South China Morning Post
Posted on: 5 December 2014
Big Alice Quote

“Part of it is I’m a big fat American, which makes things even smaller. It’s just such a different scale of living. Just when I’m used to it—I don’t even take pictures of most of the small things any more—and then something will surprise me.”

Citation: Hats off to you, Kevin—even the Mad Hatter is removing his—for deciding to forgo Western digs to stay in Airbnb accommodation during your first 14 months in Hong Kong, a city that is challenged for space and known for its cramped accommodations. Recall that Alice, who isn’t fat, found the White Rabbit’s house a bit of an uncomfortable fit. You are right, of course: serviced apartments for expats don’t afford many opportunities to meet the natives even if they do have taller ceilings, longer beds, fatter sofas, and proper cutlery. Kudos to you for learning how to tilt your head when standing up in the low-ceilinged rooms and to sleep “in the fetal position” when beds are too short. You had the kind of Hong Kong experience not usually available to the generous of flesh.

4) Amanda van Mulligen, British expat in Holland, blogger, and one of the contributors to the new book Dutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style

For her post: “My Love Hate Relationship with Sinterklaas” to her personal blog, Expat Life with a Double Buggy
Posted on: 4 December 2014
Mock Tortoise SongAlice Connection:

“Now, I’m all for a good sing song. I’ll croon away with the best of them. But Sinterklaas songs get tedious sang at the top of a child’s voice for weeks on end.”

Citation: Amanda, surely a song repeatedly begging Sinterklaas to leave something nice in one’s shoe or boot is preferable to a song about green soup, such as the Mock Turtle sings to Alice? That’s after she had to withstand the Lobster Quadrille, with repeated refrains of:

Will you come and join the dance?
So, will you, won’t you, won’t you,
Will you, won’t you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you,
Won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

But we do appreciate your attempt to convey the strange, Wonderland-like experience of raising children in a country other than the one in which you grew up. And we grant that you’re not as lucky as Alice, who was saved from having to hear the soup song in its entirety by the announcement of the trial, whereas for you the Sinterklaas din carries on until May! Sinterklaas bloody kapoentje indeed.

*  *  *

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 the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly 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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For this TEFL teacher with a strong Cornish identity but a compulsion for travel and the expat life, a picture says…

Cornish Kylie Collage

Canon zoom lens; photo credit: Morguefiles. Kylie Millar (self portrait).

Welcome to our monthly series “A picture says…”, created to celebrate expats and other global residents for whom photography is a creative outlet. The series host is English expat, blogger, writer, world traveler and photography enthusiast James King, who thinks of a camera as a mirror with memory. If you like what you see here, be sure to check out his blog, Jamoroki.

My guest this month is 27-year-old Kylie Millar who was born and bred in Cornwall, England, and, though she now finds herself in Thailand, just like me, she remains proud of her Cornish heritage, having branded herself on her travel blog as Cornish Kylie.

Not only that but Kylie informs me that the Cornish were granted official minority status earlier this year. Being born and bred in Cornwall now means, technically, that a person is identified as Cornish first, British secondwith the latter identity being confined largely to one’s passport. Well, it is true that Cornwall was its own Celtic nation before the Norman Conquest, and they have their own language, Kernewek, which is distinct from Welsh.

After the Scottish vote for independence, can a bid by the Independent Republic of Kernow be far behind?

How times have changed!

* * *

Hi Kylie. It’s good to see you at the Displaced Nation. As the name of your blog implies, you are a proud Cornish lass—rightly so! You have also travelled a fair bit. But since Cornwall is a place close to my heart, can you reminisce for a bit about your childhood in that part of the world?
I was born in Truro, the main hub of Cornwall, which has a cathedral and is therefore designated a city as opposed to a town. But I was raised in the hilly seaside town of Falmouth, known for its lovely beaches, fishing port and docks. To some, it may seem like an aging coastal town, but the recent influx of art students to its expanding university has given it a new lease on life and a nice arty vibe. My dad is a fisherman so I grew up living a typical Cornish life: summers on the beaches, the smell of a crab being boiled on the stove top (which to this day I cannot abide—the curse of being a fisherman’s daughter and not liking fish or seafood!). But I really do appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in such a wonderful place and fully intend to return one day.

Gwrys yn Kernow (made in Cornwall)

As you know I spent my last year in the UK before emigrating to South Africa (1994/5) in Falmouth, so it’s interesting to hear about the changes. How long after I left did you spread your wings and start travelling abroad?
I actually didn’t spread my wings all that much growing up. Family holidays consisted of trips to Butlin’s holiday camps and a few package holidays to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. I didn’t even move away from Cornwall to go to university, I just commuted the 75 miles east to Plymouth. Why would I want to move away from somewhere like Cornwall?

I agree. It’s a magnetic place even for those of who weren’t born there. Carry on, please.
As part of my degree I had the opportunity to go to China for a few weeks to do a little bit of English teaching and a cultural exchange with Chinese university students. This was my first time to experience a culture completely different from my own. I was only 19 and in a constant state of “culture shock”. It wasn’t until after I completed my degree and had a few years’ work under my belt that the urge to explore really kicked in.

Please tell me a little more about your travels.
Aside from the trip to China, I have holidayed in Egypt and Morocco. Then my next big trip was a month backpacking around Thailand with one of my best friends. That’s how I first caught the Thailand bug.

You certainly don’t intend to let the grass grow under your feet, Kylie. I foresee you becoming a seasoned traveller before long. I know there is a lot more to your story, but let’s start with the reasons that drove you to travel.
I’m not a fan of people traveling purely to “find themselves” or even to “make the world a better place”. Actually, I have changed a lot since coming to Thailand, and I’m sure that, as a TEFL teacher, I’m contributing in some small way to the education of Thailand’s future leaders. But that’s not the sole reason I came here. I had a job in the UK that I loved, but I sensed I was stagnating. So I followed my instincts (very scary but it felt right) and quit, upped sticks and came to Thailand, got a TEFL certificate and started teaching English to Thais.

“Life is so short, you must move very slowly” – Thai proverb

You say you’ve got the Thailand bug, which in my experience can be difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t lived here. So let’s leave it at that and talk about where, precisely, are you right now and what are you up to.
I spent my first 18 months living in the city of Hat Yai, in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border. I was teaching English at a government high school, with classes of fifty students and few resources apart from those I conjured up myself. Later I went to Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, to work as a teaching assistant in an international school. The two posts and their locations were poles apart.

Can you say a little about that for the sake of readers who don’t know Thailand?
In Hat Yai I was one of a handful of farangs (Caucasian foreigners) living in a village on the outskirts of the city. On my daily commute to the school, I would meander through rubber plantations, passing water buffalo. At first people would stare, but their stares quickly turned into smiles and shouts of “hello!”. Nobody spoke English beyond that one word, so I had to learn to speak Thai very quickly to be able to order food. In Phuket, by contrast, I am one of thousands of farangs and when Thai people see me they assume that I am a tourist and treat me accordingly. It’s harder to win over the locals here because tourists are their meal ticket. You have to convince them that you aren’t a tourist; you live here like they do. That said, life in Phuket is a lot easier. It has familiar things like pizza and sandwiches (I haven’t got used to eating rice three times a day yet). And of course the island’s beaches are stunning, which reminds me of Cornwall and makes me feel at home.

Ah, I think I detect something of the home bird in you, alongside the intrepid traveller… And now let’s see some of your favorite photos and hear the stories behind them.
When I was in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the many beautifully decorated doorways. This picture was accidental as the boy emerged from the doorway just as I pressed the shutter release. Then I realised how people can add an extra dimension and started to include people in more of my photographs. This trip to Morocco was special: it opened my eyes to a very different part of the world.

Kylie_BoyinMoroccanDoor

A boy in a Moorish door; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I love this. Dirty, dusty, old and full of intrigue. A great shot. What else do you have for us?
Songkran is the festival held in mid-April to celebrate traditional Thai new year’s. It’s probably the most famous of all the Thai festivals because it’s the scene of the world’s biggest water fight. Determined to join the festivities, I locked away my main camera and went out to the streets. I got this shot when the water fighting stopped to let a convoy of vehicles, carrying Buddha statues, pass to the temple. Songkran is absolutely insane, and if you ever find yourself in Thailand at this time of year, prepare to get wet—or hide!

Kylie_ThaiNewYear

Happy New Year, Chiang Mai style; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

And here’s one more of Thailand. As you know, anti-government protests took place from November 2013 through May of this year. I live close enough to Bangkok that I was able to come in and take photos. Having a big camera was useful as it made it obvious I was an observer, not a participant. Foreign involvement in the protests was a big no-no. On the day I took this shot, anti-government protesters had made progress, spirits were high and the atmosphere was unlike any other I have experienced. People were happy to have their picture taken, and this lady was my favourite, standing proudly in traditional yellow to signal her support for the King. For some reason, the scene made me think of the crowd around the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury music festival in England—not what you’d expect at an anti-governmental protest. I’m glad I was able to see it all firsthand.

Kylie_yellowlady

A sunny presence at the Bangkok protests; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

Getting to the zuggans (Cornish for “the essence”)

Now could you show us the kinds of places that tend to bring out your shutterbug instincts?
One of those places was Jemaa el-Fnaa, a bustling square in Marrakesh that offends all of the senses. Said to be the busiest square in Africa, it is hot and dusty, and the air is full of the smell of tagine spices and roasting meats. The sounds of hawkers and snake charmers mix with the buzz of the crowd, punctuated by the call to prayer that reaches every corner of the souks—it’s the largest traditional market in Morocco. Rugs, lamps, cushions and fabrics in deep oranges, luscious reds and striking purple line the narrow lanes of the souks. Rusty tin roofs let in shards of light that make this a photographer’s dream. But cameras can only capture so much…

Kylie_souk

The wonders of the Marrakesh souks; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

You captured the smells as well as the intrigue. Well done. What’s next?
I visited George Town, in the northeast corner of Penang island, twice recently. It’s famous for being one of the main destinations for visa runners and backpackers alike. I was drawn to its hodgepodge of cultures: mosques, churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples all sandwiched together. Ethnic Chinese and Indian communities live alongside each other, and traditional clan families can still be found living on stilt houses on the jetties. In this photo I tried to capture some of that:

Kylie_bikeforrent

The back streets of George Town, Penang; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I’m not generally a fan of black-and-white photos but this subject lends itself so well. And finally?
Many of the things that make Thailand unusual are seeming more normal the longer I live here—like the bright orange monk’s robes in this picture, the turquoise sea, the towering Buddha statues, multicolored long boats, the outrageously decorated temples and colourful tuk tuks. It’s home now but, as I think this photo shows, I still like to play the tourist and explore:

Kyli_ThaiOfferings

A novice Thai monk and spirit house; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

I like the way you captured Thailand’s vibrancy. Tell me, do you feel reserved about taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious that you are doing so?
Actually, I like to try and get natural photographs without the person knowing at all. I want to capture moments and events not someone posing. People generally enjoy having their picture taken, so if they spot a camera they will smile or pull a face and the obligatory peace signs come out. Not quite what I’m looking for… Driving an old banger of a car helps because Thais will sometimes take our picture—because we farangs are assumed to be rich and usually drive smart cars.

“Today I’m going to shoot someone…and they will love me for it!”

It can be annoying, this Asian misconception that all Westerners are rich, but I guess we all get used to it in time. So you don’t ask permission unless you need to before taking people’s photographs—but how do you get around any problem of language?
If I am unable to be stealthy, then I use the universal “can I take a picture?” sign consisting of pointing to my camera. I have learned how to ask in Thai but the words sometimes escape me. The big camera is usually a clue! When I was in a mountain village in Morocco, getting some shots of the decorative doors as mentioned above, an old lady smiled at me and gestured that she’d like to have her photograph taken. As I released the shutter button, she held out her hand, demanding payment. Not wanting to cause a scene, I forked out some change. Although not too happy with my offering she took it—if only she knew I only wanted a picture of her back door, not her face!

Kylie_Atlas Mountain lady

People shots for a price; photo credit: Kylie Millar.

Would you say that photography and the ability to be able to capture something unique that will never be seen again is a powerful force for you?
My mum always says that I take so many photographs but I am hardly ever in them. And that is very true. I know that when I am older I will wish I had more pictures of myself having adventures. But for now photography is a means of capturing what I see and feel. If I think the photos are worth sharing, they will end up on my blog. Photography is changing with the times, though. When I studied A-level photography we used film, processed by hand after spending hours in the darkroom. Filters had to be slotted into the machine; now they are just options on an iPhone app. When my mum was younger she went on a trip to Israel and Jerusalem, and she has two rolls of film from that trip—around fifty photographs. Nowadays people will take more than fifty photographs on a single night out. The technology has evolved so much that nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket on their phone, which is great. It makes photography more accessible to all, with no wasted film. But it does mean that photos are not so special and precious as they once were.

Some of our readers may want to know what kind of camera and lenses you use, as well as any post-processing software.
I’ve got a Canon 600D with standard lens, and a 75-300mm telephoto lens (perfect for those stealthy pictures of people, and for animal shots). I’ve also got a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot for the days when a bigger camera isn’t practical. If I am going to edit, I use Adobe Lightroom, which I am still finding my way around. Having never been taught how to use digital post-production software, I have to rely on trial and error—but that was also what it was like in the darkroom. It’s more fun that way!

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad?
Take more pictures than you think you need. Bring spare SD cards and back them up—you will lose one or one will break. Don’t keep your camera locked away in a bag, keep it to hand, it needs to become a natural extension of yourself, not this big cumbersome thing you have to get out every time you want to take a picture.

Even though we are more than 40 years apart, we both left Falmouth and ended up in Phuket with the same camera (Canon T3i 600D). No wonder your pics are so good! Thank you for taking the time to tell your fascinating story.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Kylie’s experiences and her photography advice? And do you have any questions for her about her photos or her travels? Please leave them in the comments! And don’t forget you can follow Kylie on her blog, Cornish Kylie. You can contact her by email at info@cornishkylie.com, and you can also find her on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(If you are a 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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TCK TALENT: Esther Williams Kalbfleish, Military Brat with a Heart for Theatre and a Mind for Teaching Other TCKs

Esther & Leon collage

TCK BELLS: Esther with her ATCK husband, Leon Kalbfleisch, on their wedding day six years ago. The couple originally met at the International School in Bangkok. Photo credit: Vikki Goodman.

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 and will be staged in Europe for the first time this August.

—ML Awanohara

Greetings, readers! Today’s guest is Esther Williams Kalbfleisch, an actress who also works as an ESL teacher in Alhambra, California, teaching kids from around the world whose families have migrated to the USA. I hope you enjoy her TCK Tale as much as I did!

* * *

Hello, Esther, and welcome to The Displaced Nation. I know you grew up in a military family, which gave you automatic admission into the ranks of us Third Culture Kids. Is it true that your dad worked as a spy at one point?
Yes, my dad was an army officer who served for 33 years, and while we were in India he was assigned to the Diplomatic Corps and worked as a spy!

So what did your mom do?
She was a housewife. Besides being a Cub Scout Den Mother and Girl Scout Leader, she assisted my dad with all of the entertaining that was necessary in his position.

I understand you were the youngest of four TCK siblings and the only girl, and that only one of your brothers traveled with you the first time you went overseas.
Yes, John was my only sibling to go overseas with my family after I was born; he was four years older and was born in Germany. My two eldest brothers, Wynn and Dennis, were from my dad’s first marriage and had gone overseas with him years before I was born. Wynn was 17 when I was born; Dennis was 13. Wynn attended West Point for a year and then served in Germany and Vietnam—my first memory of him would be from years later. By the time we went to India, Dennis had enlisted in the army.

Hey, we serve, too!

Tell me about all the moves and transitions you experienced as a kid.
We moved about every two years after I was born at Fort Eustis in Virginia. At that time my family was living off post, in a town called Lee Hall. Eventually we moved on post, to housing on Fort Eustis, and then to Springfield so that my parents could attend a foreign language school in D.C. in preparation for my father’s next assignment, in India. I remember my mom and dad bringing home films to give John and me an idea of what was to come. They also taught us how to count and say some simple phrases in Hindi. We moved to New Delhi when I was six, where I attended an American school. After two years we were transferred to Travis Air Force Base, in California, where we were one of the few army families. My dad was MATCO (Military Air Traffic Coordinating Officer)—his job was to organize and send materials to Vietnam and other places overseas. We moved to Thailand when I was in my last month of fourth grade. I enrolled in the International School of Bangkok, where I stayed and graduated from high school. My dad retired in Thailand, and my parents continued living there until 1976, when they moved back to the States.

When did your love of acting start?
Like many other military brats, I was raised in a very strict environment. My parents taught us that as Americans living overseas we were mini-ambassadors for the USA. Country, God, and family came first, especially country. When outside the home, we had to be polite, quiet, and respectful to all, and it was like that at home as well: no heated discussions or emotional outbursts. But then I got cast as Princess Lonelyheart in the second-grade play. Princess Lonelyheart stomped her feet when angry, cried when sad, and jumped up and down for joy. I had no idea one was allowed to react to the world in such a way—and thus began my life-long love affair with the theatre. I helped to found Thespian Troop 1163 at my high school in Bangkok, and performed or worked on over 12 productions.

The drama of choosing an acting career

But you went on to earn an education degree?
When it came time for college I was torn. My parents (who paid for my college, bless them!) considered theatre to be impractical and frivolous. And I had to struggle with my own feeling that acting was basically selfish. It didn’t fit in with my sense of duty to others. But even after I enrolled at the University of Colorado to study education, I couldn’t resist the pull of theatre. I continued to take classes and work with local theatre groups, both in college and immediately afterwards. I taught for three years in Dallas, Texas, before deciding to quit and study acting full time. I earned a second degree, in theatre, from the University of Texas.

So you got a second degree in theatre?
Yes, and eventually a master’s degree, from Cal State L.A.

It sounds like you really were torn.
For my entire adult life, I’ve been going back and forth between teaching and acting, struggling to find a place where I can best “serve” my community. After pursuing a career in theatre in the Chicago area, I moved to the L.A. area, where, for a time, teaching took over as my second love. For three years I was content to teach—there is nothing quite like watching a spark of understanding flit across a child’s face. But then one morning I woke up and vowed to find a theatre community. I learned that Theatre of NOTE was holding auditions the following day. I dragged out some monologues and went to the audition. For the next 24 years, Theatre of NOTE would be my artistic family. Due to my teaching demands I have now become an associate member. I still struggle with my choices.

Give me someone who has lived in another country…

Like many other ATCK artists I’ve talked to in this series, you’ve lived among worlds—first quite literally, when growing up in different cultures; and then professionally, as you found yourself torn between acting and teaching. As an adult TCK, have you also struggled with your cultural identity? And do you tend to gravitate towards people with interests or backgrounds similar to yours? 
To this day I have a particular fondness for the Thai people and their culture. Like most TCKs, I imagine, I identify most closely with people who have similar interests or who have lived abroad. I was a bit of a snob when I came back to the states for college. I couldn’t believe everyone was discussing Homecoming. I was far more interested in the latest Thai coup d’état… Give me someone who has lived in another country and I can LISTEN, as well as talk, for hours.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time? 
I have fond memories of each place I’ve lived in, but I think India captured my curiosity. I was 6–8 years old when we lived there—old enough to be curious and yet not old enough to be set in any particular way of thinking. For me, India was a great mystery just waiting to be discovered. As I was always accompanied by my brother, John, I had nothing to fear. We would wander the streets of Dehli together or with friends, having adventures.

“The worst thing about being a military brat is not being a military brat anymore.” —Marc Curtis

As an ATCK, do you have “itchy feet” or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
For many years I had “itchy feet”—I moved to different states or apartments every two to three years. Then someone asked me, was I running away or towards something. That got me thinking! I had three older brothers, all of whom were married with kids. I realized I was in search of something similar, a sense of community and family. That’s when I stopped moving and bought my own place. I realized I had to learn the skills to keep friendships and relationships going. There are wonderful people everywhere, but it is making the time to be with them that creates enduring bonds.

Have you kept in touch with friends from your TCK days?
One thing I’ve done for many years is to attend reunions of the International School in Bangkok, which are held every two years in different locations in the United States and even sometimes in Thailand. What is unique about the reunions is that they are for all graduating classes at the same time. I’ve attended almost every one since 1984. It has been great to reconnect with old friends and create many new ones.

I understand your husband is an old friend from the international school in Bangkok.
Yes! I re-met Leon at the 2000 reunion in Virginia—we had worked together on some plays in high school and were in choir and a couple of shared classes, but there had been nothing romantic between us. During that particular reunion we enjoyed a few nice chats. Fast forward to the next reunion, held in Arizona, in 2002. I had just returned from a magical, month-long trip to Kenya, and when I saw Leon, there was a little flutter in my stomach. It’s a long story, but for a while we had a long-distance relationship, after which he moved to California. We got married six years ago. We both enjoy traveling, but our first priority is visiting family and friends. We still attend the reunions every two years.

A good teacher is a good actor

What drew you to teaching?
The 1974 documentary film Hearts and Minds, which is about the Vietnam War. I came out of that movie believing that if everyone could learn to love and respect others as they love and respect themselves, no one would need to “react” out of fear, and we would no longer need war. It’s a somewhat naive thought, of course, but I can’t let go of it. I hold it in my heart each day when facing my students.

Do you think your international upbringing makes you particularly well suited to be an ESL teacher?
Definitely. As you mentioned at the outset, the students I work with are recent arrivals to the USA. Together we share what it is to leave your own country, family, and friends and try to create a new world for yourself in a new place. I’m currently working with high school students. Besides culture shock, they have the usual teenage angst about boyfriends or girlfriends left behind… Because I lived overseas and constantly moved around as a kid, I can easily relate to what they might be feeling.

Do you use both acting and diplomacy skills as a teacher? 
I think all teachers are actors to some degree. Especially working with high school students, one needs to react in a calm and thoughtful way, even if you’re not feeling that way inside. Teens will try to unnerve you if they can. I am constantly using both my acting skills and my diplomatic skills to create an environment of mutual trust and respect. One thing that drew me to the ESL students is that because their English is so limited, they don’t use language to hide what they need or want; they are too busy trying to make their meanings clear. Their needs are laid right out there for all to see. I find my ESL students to be especially honest and compassionate.

Our time is nearly up, but let’s give acting the final word. Are you performing anything soon? 
I’ll be performing in the New Short Fiction Series, L.A.’s longest running spoken words series, on Sunday, October 12, at 7:00 p.m. at the Federal Bar in North Hollywood. I’ll be presenting a new work of short fiction by a featured West Coast writer. Anyone who is passing through LA at that time is welcome to attend. You can sign up for tickets at www.newshortfictionseries.com.

* * *

Thank you, Esther! Readers, please leave any questions or comments for Esther or me below. I’ll see you in September, after I’ve returned from Iceland. As ML mentioned above, I’m kicking off a global theatre tour of Alien Citizen on August 20 and 22 at the amazing Tjarnarbíó creative center in Reykjavik! Thanks to all those who supported my Kickstarter campaign.

STAY TUNED for next week/month’s fab posts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) We mostly just want to have fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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

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