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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, if success in another country is what you’re after, throw the tools away and go for total immersion

Fiona Citkin for Culture Shock Toolbox
For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews displaced creative Fiona Citkin about her culture shock memories and coping strategies.

Hello, Displaced Nationers! Today I’m excited to introduce you to Fiona Citkin, who is a professional “diversiculturalist.” She runs her own consultancy on intercultural business competence and has written a major work on the link between intercultural competency and diversity in business, for which she was named Champion of Diversity in 2012.

Lately she has turned her attention to women leaders in the United States who are immigrants. These women came from other countries and “made” it in the world’s most competitive society, despite facing what Fiona calls “quadruple jeopardy”: 1) being women; 2) being mothers; 3) being ambitious; and 4) being foreign born. Fiona’s book is called Cracking the Code: How American Immigrant Women Leaders Achieve Success under Stress. If you’re curious to find out more, I urge you to follow her Huffington Post column, where she provides monthly reports on her research findings.

Fiona has experienced no small measure of that immigrant stress, and success, herself. She grew up and was educated in the Ukraine but has now made the leap to New Jersey.

Though Fiona is constantly on the go, I was able to catch up with her and ask her a few questions about her own culture shock experiences and tools for dealing with them. Here’s what she had to say…

* * *

Hi, Fiona, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I was born in Ukraine and lived there most of my life. I started a family; defended two doctorates; wrote an academic book on terminology and translation science; and became head of the English Department at Uzhgorod State University in Transcarpathia (Western Ukraine). I was a visiting professor at the Universities of Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Bern, Switzerland, etc.—and have attended many linguistic conferences all over Europe. The longest time I stayed abroad while living in Ukraine was for a teacher-study semester at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In short, I knew the taste of success in my homeland. And then I became a Fulbright Scholar to the United States, which gave me the experience of what it means to have one’s old life burn down and try to be a phoenix in a foreign land. As a newcomer in America, I have reinvented myself more than once.

In the context of transitioning from Europe to the United States, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

Here’s a story: I’ve been taught British English, like everybody in Europe. Learning the differences between the British and the American English seems funny now—but wasn’t then. For example, my co-worker Hugh, a friendly guy, suddenly started paying compliments to me, like “Oh, your pants are beautiful” – “Another pair of pretty pants, Fiona” – “I wish my fiancé had such nice pants as yours.” I felt confused and didn’t respond, because in Britain “pants” typically denotes ladies’ underwear…what does he want, I thought? Finally, a girlfriend explained to me that Hugh meant to praise my choice of what in Britain is referred to as “trousers.”

He likes my pants

Photo credit: Pixabay.

What does one do in a situation like that?

When I am not sure what to say, I say nothing and just smile.

Looking back on your transition from the Ukraine to the East Coast of the U.S., can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I hate to brag about “finesse” in cultural matters. No amount of time you live in your new/adopted country can guarantee your 100% integration and “finesse”—because deep down you’ll always be yourself, have a soft spot for your native land, and retain some inborn traits of your original culture. For my upcoming book I have interviewed 50 outstanding American women achievers who happen to be first-generation immigrants, so I have not only my own experience but also their accumulated know-how of how to handle cultural transition. The main fact is: cultural integration is a must for those who want to succeed in a new country.

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?

First, focus on strategies rather than tools, or tactics, because first things should come first, right? After twenty years of living and working in the United States, I have some worthy advice to share—and my books’ subjects have even more. To put it in a nutshell:

  1. Get the best education you can, hopefully in the field that’s most desirable in the host country (high-tech is the best for the USA).
  2. Learn the language BEFORE you come as an immigrant—but remember that culture trumps language, e.g., cultural integration is more important.
  3. Learn to be outgoing, friendly, and helpful to others; participate in the work of your local community.
  4. Be entrepreneurial—as this is the best way to sustain yourself: immigrants experience difficulties in getting jobs, everywhere.
  5. Last but not the least, use whatever your cultural heritage equipped you with to your best advantage.
American Flag and immigrant women successes

Photo credits: Ivana Trump, by Lloyd Klein via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Firma de Isabel Allende, by Pedro Cambra via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Gloria Estefan, by Louise Palanker via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). American flag by Pixabay.

Finally, before my book comes out, you can pick up ideas and pieces of advice from my monthly blogs at the Huffington Post.

Thank you so much, Fiona, for taking the time to share your culture shock stories. Developing an outgoing personality—but also knowing when to smile and say nothing—sounds to me like the kind of gauge or caliper we could all use in our cultural transitions. And if you’re in it to win it, so to speak, then it’s time to throw the toolbox away and immerse yourself, hook, line and sinker!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Fiona’s advice? It would be particularly interesting to hear from those who meet her quadruple stress test (woman, mother, ambitious, foreign) but still have managed to achieve some success: do you have anything to add to Fiona’s prescriptions?

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.

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 pry open your mind to new cultures—and keep them all sorted

Yelena Parker for CST Displaced Nation Columnist H.E. Rybol never saw a culture clash she didn’t want to fix. A “transitions enthusiast,” she credits her Third Culture Kid upbringing with giving her a head start in this department. That said, H.E. is always on the lookout for shiny new tools, and toward that end has been interviewing other displaced creatives about their culture shock memories and coping strategies. Today she speaks to Yelena Parker, a Ukrainian expat, executive coach, and writer who, through her many international moves, claims to have mastered the art of “moving without shaking.”

—ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers! I’d like you to meet today’s guest, businesswoman and author Yelena Parker. Yelena is Ukrainian but has lived in the United States, Switzerland, Tanzania and now the United Kingdom, and has conducted business in many more countries. Last year she published a book titled Moving without Shaking, which made the Displaced Nation’s “Best of 2014 in Expat Books” list. Described as a “guidebook-meets-memoir,” it aims to help women “who are interested in building their new global life styles whether through working, studying, volunteering or simply living abroad.”

One of Yelena’s contentions is:

Once you are on a serial expat path, new relocations get easier.

Can we take this to mean it’s possible to get better at handling culture shock?

Let’s find out by asking Yelena to describe a few of her own culture shock experiences. She may advocate for moving without shaking; but how does that line up with her own adventures? Has she never shaken like a leaf at some point during her various international moves?

* * *

Hi, Yelena! First can you please tell us which countries you’ve lived in and for how long?

I came to California from Ukraine in my 20s to get an MBA and ended up living there for more than nine years. I didn’t make it till the very end of year 10 as an opportunity came along to relocate to Switzerland for work. After two years in Geneva I moved to London to continue working in tech. I’ve now lived in the UK for four years, only interrupted by a four-month volunteering stint in Tanzania, with a Kilimanjaro climbing break in between.

You’ve certainly made your fair share of cultural transitions. Did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Any memorable stories?

I travel to Moscow frequently for work. During the last trip the taxi driver asked me where I was from. This question is always complicated since, like many here at the Displaced Nation, I now feel as though I’m from everywhere and nowhere in particular. I tend to focus on the most recent location when giving an answer. To be polite, I share where I am coming from literally (versus where I am from). On this occasion, the last port of call was St. Petersburg, which in Soviet times was known as Leningrad. Some wires in my brain must have crossed as I blurted out: “From Leningrad.” The driver said “Really???” We ended up engaging in a much longer conversation, about my Soviet childhood in Ukraine and so on. I think I had a reverse culture shock reaction after being away from where I grew up for so long.

What lessons can you offer to the rest of us from this story?

It’s a bit of a strange example, but what I am trying to get across is that keeping your life truly connected to multiple worlds is very difficult. You are bound to lose some of your identity, forget the basics, replace them with new realities and then, perhaps, come full circle as you find yourself back in your good old comfort zone. You and your memories have many layers now. It can be challenging to keep them sorted. That toolbox of yours needs to have quite a few compartments!

Looking back on your many cultural transitions, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

Moving to Tanzania, I was surprised at how quickly I embraced the pole pole (slowly-slowly) way of life. Until I went on this amazing adventure, I had always been a workaholic. But then I found myself living enjoying the most beautiful sunsets and spending a lot of time talking to people in front of me instead of using various digital ways to connect with people remotely. I didn’t complain about the lack of speedy or efficient services anywhere as I no longer expected that kind of thing. I was not rushed or overwhelmed so wasn’t concerned about being late or other people being late or not showing up to meetings. I just enjoyed every moment of this new experience: no deadlines, no crazy work hours, only things I truly wanted to do. You could say I felt burnt out after working non-stop (or being in school) for 23 years. I do believe, however, that something in that culture was appealing to my natural preferences, which had been suppressed by years of working in the corporate world. I also realized that I wanted to teach again. My first career was in teaching English at a university level in Ukraine—work I’d chosen to abandon when I took a degree in business. That said, I am back on the corporate path again.

If you had to give advice to new expats, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first
and why?

I guess it would be some kind of crowbar to pry open your mind to new experiences, no matter how many times you relocate. Learn everything you can about your new home country. Explore it thoroughly. If you end up moving back home, you will regret that you didn’t do enough. If you stay, the more you learn, the easier your assimilation into your new life is going to be.

Thank you so much, Yelena, for taking the time to share your experiences and reminding us that keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn about other cultures can be effective tools, sometimes in unexpected ways! I love your example of becoming immersed in an East African culture and learning more about your own (suppressed) natural preferences as a result. And I of course love the idea of moving without shaking! That’s what this toolbox is for…

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Yelena’s advice? Have you ever found yourself having a Rip-Van-Winkle moment like hers? How about discovering your “true self” in a vastly different culture? Do tell!

If you like what you heard from Yelena, be sure to check out her author 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.

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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LOCATION, LOCUTION: Janet Skeslien Charles, bringing Odessa to life through writing

2013-11 jsc visual

Images, clockwise from top: Moonlight in Odessa cover art; Janet Skeslien Charles author photo; JJ Marsh author photo

In this month’s “Location, Locution”, expat crime writer JJ Marsh interviews Janet Skeslien Charles, author of Moonlight in Odessa.

Janet, welcome! Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up on the plains of Montana, in a town of two thousand people. I have always been a writer, with a journal for observations, prose, and poetry, though for me, writing is a very private activity.

At the University of Montana, I studied English, French, and Russian. I also spent a year on a university exchange at the University of Maryland. After graduation, I went to Odessa, Ukraine, for two years as a Soros Fellow.

I found a job in France and intended to stay for a year. On my first day in France, I met the man who became my husband, and I’ve been in Paris for over ten years.

Moonlight in Odessa is truly an international effort. The novel is set in Odessa, Ukraine. My agent is English. My editor’s assistant is Japanese-Danish, my copy editor is from New Zealand. I’m American. The book was written in France and typeset in Scotland. My first fan letter came from a Swede. Rights have been sold in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil, Sweden, Iceland, Serbia, Romania, Taiwan, and Denmark.

When you’re writing, which comes first, story or location?
My novel was an ode to Odessa, a city I love. The story grew from the place.

How do you go about evoking the atmosphere of a place?
The way my characters speak, what they eat, how they dress, who they believe, how they love, and where they go are all very particular to the city of Odessa.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?
For me, it is how characters react to situations. Odessa is the humor capital of the former Soviet Union, which means that my characters use humor as a shield to ward off painful situations. Odessans are capable of laughing at things that would make me bawl. Their mental toughness is impressive. So for me, the sense of city is the sense of self.

Also, trying to understand what is important to characters is important. My character Daria is defined by her ambitions, which exist because of her experiences in Odessa, a comsmopolitan sea port.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?
I was immersed in Odessa for two years and am still in touch with friends there, so it was easy for me to write about the city, but I love that Jeanette Winterson wrote The Passion without visiting Venice. It is one of my favorite books and so evocative of time and place. I don’t think you need to know a place, though it helps. I think imagination and observation are the most important tools when creative a setting.

Could you give a brief example from your work which you feel brings the location to life?
Daria, my main character, is at a job interview and must decide whether she is able to do the job and stay ahead of the lecherous boss:

Chess. There’s a reason the former Soviet Union has more world champion players than any other country. Chess is strategy, persistence, cunning, and the ability to look farther into the future than an opponent. The bloodlust of killing off others, one at a time. Chess is every man for himself. Building traps and avoiding them. It is mental toughness. And sacrifice. In Odessa, life is chess. Moves. Countermoves. Feigns. Knowing your adversary and staying one step ahead of him.

I took the job.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?
I absolutely love Venice in Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. Michael Perry’s Population: 485 and Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents are also great examples of how place shapes the narrative. I have also read two unpublished novels by friends — one evokes North London, the other life in small-town France — and six months later, I am still savoring these two places I have never been.

The authors are Marie Houzelle, a French woman who writes in English, and Katya Jezzard-Puyraud, who wrote about North London so convincingly, I finished her novel feeling as if I had grown up there.

Next month’s Location, Locution guest  will be Jeet Thayil, the winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and the Hindu Literary Prize 2013.

 * * *

JJ Marsh grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After living in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Dubai, Portugal and France, JJ finally settled in Switzerland, where she is currently halfway through her European crime series, set in compelling locations all over the continent and featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

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

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For travel & shutter bug Ildrim Valley, a picture says …

Collage_1000words_Ildrim_dssWelcome to our new series: “A picture says …”, featuring interviews with displaced creatives for whom a camera is a mode of artistic expression for the sights and people they encounter in their nomadic wanderings.

To kick off the series, I have the pleasure of conversing with Ildrim Valley, an intrepid adventurer who is also an economist(!) and travel photographer. It is, of course, this last point we’ll be focusing on, so to speak…

But first a few of Ildrim’s vital statistics:

Place of birth: Baku, Azerbaijan
Passports: Canada; Azerbaijan
Overseas history: From least to most recent: Azerbaijan (Baku); Switzerland (Geneva); Kenya (Nairobi); Canada (Vancouver, British Columbia); Hungary (Budapest); France (Toulouse)—2012 to present.
Occupations: Graduate student of economics; travel photographer; amateur snowboarder; adventurer!
Cyberspace coordinates: Curious Lines (photography blog)

Without further ado, let’s find out more about Ildrim and the way he uses photography as a creative outlet for his international adventures.

Peripatetic from an early age

Hello there, Ildrim. Welcome to the Displaced Nation. Let’s begin by having you tell us a bit about your travels. What inspired you to set off and what has motivated you to keep on going?
My first travel experiences come from traveling with my mom and brother. My mom is eager to change her surroundings, so thanks to her I was lucky to move around and travel early in life. At an early age I’ve been amazed at how life can be so different for people elsewhere than my hometown.

I think that this early fascination developed into a strong curiosity about lifestyles. Now that my mom no longer takes me on adventures (she gets herself into trouble without me!), I try to find my own means of traveling and satisfying my curiosity about places around the world.

You are a self-described adventurer. Do you prefer going and going, or do you sometimes settle in one place for a time?
As I travel more, I realize that it’s not just about seeing a new place that excites me the most. As fun as it is to keep going and going, simply being somewhere new isn’t always satisfying. Settling somewhere for a time gives me an opportunity to live through something different and possibly understand it.

I understand you recently moved to Toulouse, France?
Yes, I moved to Toulouse in September 2012 for graduate school. I felt like grad school would open a few doors to pursue some of my other interests, and it presented a fairly easy way to move to another country. So I set out to look for good schools around the world that fit my background as well as academic interests. At the time I was interested in southern Europe, and Toulouse offers the right kind of balance: it’s a great school with welcoming people and fine landscapes to be explored. Plus an opportunity to finally master French was very appealing—though I have to say I’m not doing a very satisfactory job so far.

On your photography blog, Curious Lines, you say:

Photography for me isn’t just an art form, it’s a way to share experiences.

When and why did you start using DSLR cameras?
I got my first DSLR in 2010, shortly before moving to Budapest. I got it in order to document the move.

Does the process itself of capturing a place or moment affect the relationship you have with that place? For example, does capturing a good set of photos increase the fondness you have for that place?
The process of capturing a moment does affect the way I experience a place, which in turn affects my relationship with it. But how I feel about a place has a lot to do with how I feel about the people from that place. So when I spend enough time in one spot, I get to meet people and build relationships. However, when the stays are short, the camera has a more significant role as it facilitates a connection with others. It helps me get a reaction, an emotional response—a smile or maybe a conversation.

But it’s important to point out that in some places around the world, carrying a camera can have a negative affect. People are fast to judge you on how you look. In Kenya, for example, I have a lighter skin tone, which results in the locals treating me differently, not necessarily in a positive way.

Likewise, having a large camera around your neck or in your hand will send a different signal and will be interpreted in a different way depending on where you are in the world.

I would just like to add that one way in which camera affects my experiences is that it taught me how to look at things differently without a lens. It helps me appreciate things differently and it’s important to know when to put the camera away and enjoy things with your own eyes. It’s easy for me to get sucked into continuous photo taking when I’m in a new place. Though I enjoy it, there are still other things to be enjoyed behind the lens, which is even more true when you’re traveling with someone else. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other; with time I’ve been learning how to balance the two.

For me, the camera has to be an extension of the adventure and not the purpose for it.

Looking back on all the places where you’ve taken photos, which have been your top three favorite places to shoot?
Although my opinion changes with time, my top spot for now is Mongolia. Last year I spent about a month there. The people and their lifestyles around the country fascinate me. The landscapes are pure and surreal. When you have such a keen interest and curiosity about your subject, shooting becomes that much more enjoyable. I’m actually redesigning my Website to present more content via other channels than a blog. One of the new sections will be about my experiences in Mongolia. The other two places that I love for photography are coastal British Columbia and Croatia.

An eye for the London Eye

On your blog you also say:

Once I started using a DSLR I’ve realized that scenes that come out on my computer screen don’t reflect the whole beauty of the moment. They don’t transmit the same type of emotion I felt standing behind the lens. So I tried and am still experimenting with different techniques to bring myself and others closer to how it actually was, at least in my mind. I don’t always try to achieve the most “realistic” looking photos, but rather try to transmit the feeling of the scene.

the-london-eye_dropshadowI notice that one of the techniques you’ve used is High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDR), an example of which can be seen in this striking image of my hometown London (original here)—by the way, you’ve now made me feel a little homesick! Tell me a little about HDR and how a novice photographer like myself can go about trying to achieve similar effects with a DSLR camera.
I have a very basic example of what High Dynamic Range (HDR) does in one of my blog posts. In a nutshell, cameras don’t capture the range of light the same way our eyes do. Our eyes adjust to both bright and dark spots in the same scene while for cameras it’s always a trade off.

HDR photography allows you to capture more light by taking multiple shots of different exposures. I take three: one normal, one overexposed bright photo, and one underexposed dark photo. By combining these three shots together you get a higher range of light information available to play with. Some people take five or even seven photos, but three is enough in most situations.

To achieve this HDR effect, I take my three shots bearing these points in mind:

  • The auto-bracketing option on modern-day cameras helps you take three photos with a single click.
  • Set the camera on Aperture priority mode (“AV” or “A” on most cameras) to have the same aperture and depth of field in all three shots.
  • Ensure that the three shots are as identical in composition as possible. A tripod could be useful. (The surroundings or simply holding your breath will do in many cases.)
  • Use software* to combine all three shots together and then let your imagination take charge.

*Some of the most popular softwares are Photomatix Pro, HDR EFEX PRO and HDR Darkroom. Then there are options like Luminance HDR, which is free (open source) but will take some time getting used to. Whichever software you choose, it will help you combine all this light information into one image. Then it’s almost always a good idea to take it into your preferred photo editing software and continue working as you would with any other photo.

People pix

Streetvendor_drop shadowTell me about this recent photo you took of a street vendor in Kiev (original here). How did you find yourself in Kiev?
I was on a long earthbound trip in 2012 from Budapest to Hong Kong, which took me through Kiev.

How did you come across this street vendor? Did you converse with him before taking his photo?
There was no verbal communication. Rather, I nodded at the guy while moving the camera in my hand slowly, indicating that I wanted to take his photo. His face was blank in acceptance so I went ahead and snapped the photo.

Do you always try to try get permission from people when trying to take a photo?
I prefer to ask for permission, but sometimes it’s the spontaneity that makes the photo and asking would yield a different result when they prepare themselves for the photo. Either way, I make sure the subject knows I’m taking their photo.

Is it difficult to obtain permission when facing a language barrier?
It’s important to learn how to communicate with your facial expressions and your body as well as being able to read others. In my experience, regardless of whether your communications are verbal or non-verbal, the more confident and subtle you are, the more likely you are to get approval.

One thing about the street vendor picture that really stands out for me is the boldness of the colors. Can you tell me why and how you set up the shot like this?
Initially, I tried to achieve an effect that would provoke an emotional response akin to the one I had in that moment. A new environment can be emotionally overwhelming—a feeling that can be difficult to capture. First impressions are special. So when I first started editing it was the exaggeration of colors that made me feel the closest to “re-experiencing” the place. Although you can never really re-live the moment, you can come up with something that reminds you of it.

In a way it’s like when a friend tells you a “you really had to be there” story—and exaggerates the details to make the point. It’s not that the true story needs any exaggeration to be interesting, but you need to have the exaggeration to translate the feeling.

Many of these aspects of photography are, of course, a matter of experience and taste. Believe it or not, my earlier photos were even more color crazy. With more experience I’m leaning away from it and trying to express the moment in other ways. I really like black-and-white photography and the subtlety of its expression. I find it trickier and am experimenting with it more at the moment.

Parting shots…

When you take a look at the two photos mentioned above, what’s the first thing you remember?
The London photo reminds me of my host, a friend I haven’t seen in years.

The photo of the Ukrainian street vendor reminds me of a young violinist I met on the train and spent the day with. It also reminds me of how hot the day was and my craving for kvass (a fermented drink made from rye bread). Believe me, a hot day in Ukraine can make you crave kvass as a refreshment.

Are you hoping that these photos will evoke similar emotions in other viewers?
The intent is not always to prompt the same reaction I had. The same photo can prompt many different reactions. I like it when visitors to my site send messages expressing how my photos reminded them of their own experiences.

Finally, do you have any advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling or living abroad, on getting started?
I’d say to take photos for yourself first and not to think about what others would want to see or to try to meet their expectations. The first person your photos should move is yourself.

Thank you, Ildrim! Readers, what do you make of our first photographer post? Some wise words here, and who knew that autobracketing could be so useful? So, any further questions for Ildrim? Please leave them in the comments!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from expat author, Helena Halme, who is giving away THREE COPIES of her latest novel! 🙂

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

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Images (from left): Camera lens from MorgueFile; Ildrim Valley (on right) with a traveler he met last summer in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. Says Ildrim: “He was originally from Slovenia but didn’t like being associated with any particular place. He’d been traveling on his bicycle for about four years at that point.”

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present: THE EXPAT OSCARS! Um…hello? Anyone there?

TheExpatOscarsThe Expat Oscars — really? Now that would be an unusual event. What would it look like?

I live in Spain. Oscars are something that are on TV Sunday night. Basically, very late at night. You don’t watch, you just read the news after who won or who lost. — Javier Bardem

Well, for starters the Expat Oscars would be held via Skype. If we had our own version of the Kodak Theatre, it’d be big and posh and empty — ’cause folk from ’round here…ain’t from ’round here! We’re displaced — all over the bloomin’ planet. Which is kind of the point. If we had to collect our awards in person, that ceremony would have a carbon footprint the size of a football stadium.

So we’re streaming live on the Internet. The Red Carpet is a million pixels long and is digitally re-mastered in every country participating. Unfortunately, Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t be invited as she’s never been displaced, only her clothing! Indeed, you won’t want to make a slip-up — or down — as the clip would literally be on YouTube before you knew it.

But if there wouldn’t be any wardrobe malfunctions, we could at least look forward to getting that delicious hang-fire moment when the Skype picture freezes, and then it cuts back in, seconds later, like this:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner is…” PIXELATE — jittery jump — lips purse with a hint of spittle and stay like that — and pause — and pause —

Cut back in to rapturous applause, the digital wheeling of spotlights and we’ve got to sit through another five minutes of high-volume celebrating before we finally make out the individual giving an acceptance speech. (That’s if it doesn’t cut out again before we get that far!)

Who would host?

Milla Jovovich, you did a great job hosting the sci-tech awards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so you’re being promoted — to hosting the entire Expat Oscars shebang! We’d love it if you’d wear that white-sequin, one-shoulder gown you wore for the main event last night — and leave the granny glasses you donned for the sci-techies at home (wherever “home” is!).

From Long Beach to Pacific Palisades? Sorry, Billy Crystal, but that’s not displaced enough. Jovovich is Ukrianian, has lived in Europe and the US, and acted in films in several languages. All of that counts for a lot in our book.

Should Milla request a co-host, it would have to be either Keanu Reeves (he was born in Beirut, a third culture kid!) — or why not go for the daddy of successful expat movie stars, the man who redefined the phrase “I came, I saw, I conquered”: Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself!

No? Well, it’s either him or Borat. With his penchant for embodying other nationalities rather too literally, Sacha Baron Cohen belongs more with our tribe than with the Academy’s. At the Expat Oscars he will be free to attend in his dictator’s uniform without having to get special clearance and can “ash” anyone he likes in the name of terrorizing fashion — the mess will only be virtual.

We’re talking a looooong ceremony

Besides, his antics might keep people awake. The Expat Oscars will have to be a long, LONG show — either that or we’d insist that everyone stay awake all night, and it would be 4 a.m. for someone.

Listen, you think it’s bad at the real Academy Awards sitting on the edge of your auditorium seat for several of hours, sipping champagne while you wait for your category to be announced — what if it’s being announced by someone eight time-zones away?

Charlize Theron*: “Ladies and Gentlemen, here to accept this prestigious award, please welcome Mr. Sung, live by satellite from Hong Kong! Please excuse the penguin pyjamas. And the fact that he’s drunk eight vodka-Red-bulls just trying to keep himself awake…”
Mr. Sung: “Fangssshhhverymussssh…hic!”
*With her South African pedigree, Charlize more than qualifies for the role of Expat Oscar presenter.

Best Foreign Language Film — is that second or third?

Our next category is for Best Film in a Foreign Language…but wait a minute! That’s not a foreign language! That’s my language! Ah…

So could we have Best Film in a Second Language perhaps? But would that category also include people who’ve made a film in their third language — or should they get their own category? And so on.

How about “Film in a Language So Obscure Even the Director Has No Idea What’s Going On”?

No politics/fashion, please, we’re expats

What a thrill. You know you’ve entered new territory when you realize that your outfit cost more than your film. – Jessica Yu, Academy Award Winner 1997 for Documentary Short Subject*
*Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brian, about a person with a breathing disability.

The traditional Hollywood bash is often clouded by politics not to mention gossip and verdicts on the gowns of the nominated actresses.

It wouldn’t be like that for us. The Expat Awards would be about the films.

Because we just don’t get each other’s governmental strife — we haven’t got time for sorting it all out.

For instance, I’m sure there’s plenty of fascinating developments in the politics of Milla’s Ukraine (they’re a Presidential Representative Democratic Republic, don’t you know!) — but to be honest, I don’t think that would figure in anyone’s acceptance speech.

How could it? I don’t even know what a PRDR is — do you?

And the fashion would be a bit more varied than in Hollywood. We’d have people walking down the Virtual Red Carpet in burkas, galabiyas — or board shorts and “thongs” for the Aussie nominees! And there’s bound to be a few unwashed backpacker types trying to get away with khakis and a vest…and not shaving. Okay, so that’s me.

And my speech — probably on accepting the World’s Most Ridiculous Person Award?

Tony: “I’d like to thank my Mum…”
Milla: “Well actually, we have your Mum on the phone right now! She’s asking where you are, and why you haven’t called her in the last six months…”
Tony: “I’d like to thank the Academy…and ask them to keep her talking long enough for me to get to a taxi.”

* * *

What else would go wrong with a displaced film award ceremony? Would the statuette be a little gold Buddha? Or a waving cat? Or a mermaid from “Here be dragons”? What would the categories be? And who would win?

Please share your craziest thoughts in the comments!

You could win…hmm, let’s see: the respect of the international film community?

Nah. Not even the real Oscars have that… 🙂

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s review of A Separation, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, by expat author Matt Krause. Krause’s book, A Tight Wide-open Space: Finding love in a Muslim land, was featured on our site this month.

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