The Displaced Nation

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A clueless immigrant’s 5 expat highlights for the year

I am not doing well with the passing of the years: they are over at an alarming rate. That we are already coming to the end of 2012 fills me with anxiety and dread. So perhaps I am not the best person to be in charge of one of those prerequisite “best-of-the-year” lists that fill up space this time of year. Nonetheless I have revisited my 2012 posts on The Displaced Nation to come up with my personal expat highlights for the year. Do join me on my existential journey.

1. “Travel for excitement, not enlightenment”

We started 2012 with a look at travel and moving abroad as a search for spiritual enlightenment. While I may possibly in the minority among this blog’s readers in finding the Elizabeth Gilbert idea of travel patronising, irritating, and misplaced, I do think travel is important. It (when done properly) broadens the mind; it can also be the most exciting thing you can do in your life. But — let’s be clear — in of itself buying a Virgin Airways ticket does not nourish your soul. That can be done much closer to home.

Now most of us can’t be as amazing as Pico Iyer — that’s just the burden we have to carry through our lives. We can’t just move to rural Japan and fetishize solitude. We will still spend our evenings in the grocery store, our weekends in the mall, they will still be those 2.4 children and those bloody traffic jams — as David Byrne sang, “same as it ever was.”

What I am going to do try and do in 2012 (and yes even though it’s mid-January I still feel it is early enough to mention resolutions in a post) is to take advantage of technology to find some solitude. I’m not going to posture by lighting an incense stick as if the path to personal enlightenment lies in sniffing in something called Egyptian Musk. What I am going to do is take advantage of the quiet moments that my everyday life provides by sitting and concentrating at a task and deriving satisfaction from that. It may be by learning programming, a foreign language, or taking advantage of the sheer, vast number of books that are now available for free on Google books. In this well-known brand of coffee shop while Tony Bennett plays to me and the tattooed man and the policeman and the baristas return to talking about the smaller one’s mother-in-law, I have on my iPad access to a library of books greater than the Bodleian — reason enough not to throw the iPad across the room when I’m annoyed by Iyer.

2. What to wear for an Independence Day party

Being British I always find Independence Day just a little bit awkward. Choosing appropriate clothing is always something of a dilemma.

Finding the Target employee that looked the most patriotic — the telltale signs are a sensible haircut, good posture, and a strong jaw line — I asked where I might find the most patriotic T-shirts in store. Leading me to a selection of T-shirts featuring the stars and stripes, it was difficult for me to contain my disappointment with this somewhat anemic selection.

“Hmmm, do you have anything more patriotic?” I asked.

The patriotic youth seemed a little confused, a look that made him seem increasingly un-American.

“I was,” I said, “looking for something with a little more pizzazz. Something more OTT. I was kinda hoping you’d have one where Jesus is cradling the Liberty Bell while a bald eagle looks down approvingly?”

3. London Olympics

In 2012, I was swept up by the Olympics far more than I anticipated. What I did not enjoy, however, was the poor coverage I had to put up with by NBC which revealed their own awkward world view.

The Games have made me homesick. My usual cynicism is no match for the enthusiasm of my London friends, all of whom seem to be attending events (if Facebook is anything to go by) while I sit watching it in one of the dullest towns in California. The opening ceremony elicited in me a mixture of pride and embarrassment — and as such, perfectly encapsulated for me what it is to be British. The ceremony also irritated Rush Limbaugh — so clearly job well done on Danny Boyle‘s part there.

4. Are you an imposter or a chameleon?

The release of a new documentary film about the French con man, Frédéric Bourdin, led to my favorite discussion of the year: what sort of expat are you, an imposter or a chameleon?

I know that I find myself occupying roles I had previously not thought I would before. Sometimes I am the imposter. I play a role that isn’t me. In my case, it may be exaggerating national characteristics and language that I feel people expect of me, but that I would never use back home. At other times, I find myself trying to be the chameleon. Trying to scrub away my otherness so that no attention is drawn to me because I sound different, or behave differently.

5. Donkeys and elephants: The US Presidential election

Here in the US, 2012 was marked by the presidential election. As a resident alien, a domestic election is an interesting thing as you have one foot in and one foot out.

It’s a strange feeling waking up on the morning of an election in the country that you live, and not voting. Equally, it’s a strange feeling posting your ballot in an election 6,000 miles away as I did in the last British election in 2010.

What are some of your expat highlights of the year? If you have a blog, feel free to leave links to a favorite blog post you may have written.

STAY TUNED for next week’s 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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RANDOM NOMAD: Bart Schaneman, Experience-hungry Newspaper Editor in Seoul

Place of birth: Scottsbluff, Nebraska, USA — I was raised on a farm nine miles east of town. I had an incredible childhood.
Passport: USA
Overseas history: South Korea (Jeonju, Seoul, Jeonju, Seoul): 2006-08; 2008-09; 2010-11; 2011 – present.
Occupation: National editor for the Korea JoongAng Daily, an English newspaper in Seoul; and author of Trans-Siberian, a travelogue about a trip on the the world’s longest railway.
Cyberspace coordinates: Bart Schaneman (Tumblr blog) and @bartschaneman (Twitter handle).

What made you abandon your homeland for Korea?
I left because I wanted experiences. I wanted material to write about. I wanted to travel and get out of America. I didn’t want a mortgage. I didn’t want to get trapped. I didn’t want to wait until I was too old to see the world.

Was anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
I’m the only person in my immediate family who doesn’t live in the region called the Great Plains.

Tell me about the moment during your stay in Korea when you felt the most displaced.
I don’t really have a moment like that. Korea’s an exceptional place. It’s safe. The people are kind and educated. It gets easier to live here as a Westerner all the time. I’m here by choice — it gets lonely, and I miss my family, but I don’t really question why I’m here. There were minor annoyances about how things are done differently than what I was used to when I first got here. I don’t really notice those anymore. People here move to their left on the sidewalks. That’s not too hard to get used to.

When did you feel the least displaced?
Every time I go home I remember how lucky I am to live in a foreign country. Not that Nebraska or the Midwest is a bad place. I love it and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to get to live there again someday. It’s just very familiar. Difficult to find interesting. In Asia, I’m rarely bored with my surroundings. I value that more and more as I get older.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Kimchi. But only from Korea. It’s not right anywhere else.

We are therefore looking forward to the meal you are invited to prepare for Displaced Nation members, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

I’m going to serve you all a bowl of chamchi kimchi jjiggae: tuna and kimchi soup. It will make you feel like you can flip over cars after you eat it. Great when you’re sick or hungover.

And now can you offer a Korean word or expression for the Displaced Nation’s argot?
The most important word to understand in Korean culture, to my mind, is jeong. It doesn’t translate directly, but the closest way to describe it is as a type of deep bond that is formed between people over time that helps you care for someone. You might not see an old friend frequently any more, or you might not be romantic with your partner, but you have jeong for them so you still want to help them when they need you. It explains a lot about the Korean mind and Korean society.

Earlier this month we did a poll on expat voting. Do you still follow your home-country politics?
I work as a journalist so I pay attention to American politics. Koreans pay attention as well. I’ve heard it said by people here that when the U.S. coughs the whole world gets sick. Most of my co-workers are from the U.S. and very well informed.

Do you vote despite living abroad?
I vote when I like the candidates, but I don’t vote if I don’t like what’s offered.

Were you surprised at the 2012 outcome?
I’m always surprised at how divided America seems around election time. People I love and trust can think about the world in an extremely different way than I do. That’s more surprising to me than who won the election.

The American Thanksgiving took place last week. What do you feel most thankful for in your life right now?
I’m lucky to have the life I have. I’m healthy. I’m alive. I don’t need much more than that. No complaints from me.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Bart Schaneman into The Displaced Nation? He may have us all eating kimchi, but at least he can amuse us with tales of the Trans-Siberian! (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Bart — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby.  Yes, this time she really is posting! Last week, the washing up after her Thanksgiving dinner took longer than expected…! (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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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Img: Bart Schaneman in the Boseong Tea Fields in Boseong, South Korea (May 2011).

The accidental repatriate on the 2012 elections: Looking back — and forward

The Displaced Nation’s coverage of the 2012 U.S. elections would hardly be complete without a post by our accidental repatriate, Sezin Koehler — who, to add yet another whammy to her many counter culture shocks, had to cast her vote in the District of the Hanging Chads. Please note: Although Sezin always gets our vote, her opinions are her own, not necessarily those of the Displaced Nation.

The last time I voted in the United States was the disastrous 2000 election in which George W. Bush effectively stole the race from Al Gore, all on account of “hanging chads” and allegations of voter fraud in Florida.

That election was actually the first time I ever voted, and the polling station was even in my place of residence for my final year at the Occidental College (in Los Angeles) — at the Women’s Center. I cast my ballot with shaking hands: my dear friend Wendy had been murdered just the week before and I had returned from her funeral in Texas only a few days before the election.

Emotional to the max.

The long — and nightmarish — march to Election Day

My accidental repatriation in December of 2011 brought me right smack dab in the middle of the so-called American election season. I had completely forgotten that, unlike many European and other governments which only allow campaigning for a short period directly before the election (for example, in the Czech Republic it’s a mere six weeks), the USA has no such rules.

And worse, the addition of Super PACs — a new loophole passed in 2010 that allows for an organization to indirectly campaign for the candidate of their choice, spending as much money as they can raise — brought home a frightening new reality for me in the form of the corporatization of our government. The Campaign-Industrial Complex.

Further, I would actually be voting in the same Florida district that was under such great contention in 2000.

Horror mounting, I watched President Obama forced to make his birth certificate public even though his opponents kept their tax records secret. The outright lies about the president being a Muslim, socialist, un-American, and so on swirled around me in the conservative pocket of Florida in which I live. Every other commercial on television was an attack ad, each more vicious than the last. It was becoming clearer and clearer: the problems people here (and Republicans) have with the president comes down to the color of his skin.

Bumper stickers like “Re-Nig 2012” and “Put the WHITE back in the WHITE HOUSE” adorned some of the cars in my neighborhood, so proud were some of the anti-Obamaites of their willful ignorance.

After voting from abroad all these years, it was a complete shock to the system to be confronted daily with the dysfunctional American political system.

I asked myself over and over: How is it possible that I’d ended up here?

From jitters to jubilation

As the presidential debates unfolded it became more and more clear that Romney and Obama represented two distinct visions for the future of this country. Mitt Romney’s a plan to bolster the already wealthy and set women’s rights back to the 1950s. President Obama’s to continue the slow going of getting the country out of the mess his predecessor left behind as well as get the United States in line with the rest of the developed world by providing things like affordable healthcare and protecting the rights of women.

Clearly, a very Divided States of America.

Election Day loomed ever nearer and my anxiety levels were through the roof, stomach in knots, wondering which America its citizens would choose.

When I went to cast my ballot I was shaking so terribly my husband had to hold me up and help me to my voting seat. It only occurred to me afterwards that my body remembered the trauma of 12 years ago, right down to a terrifying election.

After leaving the polling station, my husband and I wandered around in a daze. Waiting for results felt like years passing by. Every bit of news a cause for momentary relief or stark panic. As the first reports — from Fox News no less! — said Obama had been re-elected, we were still too scared to get excited. It wasn’t until Mitt Romney finished his acceptance of defeat speech that I stood up and cheered.

We had won.

I’ve never in my left felt such a feeling of sweet relief. I hadn’t given America enough credit. There are more than enough Americans like me, concerned about healthcare, women’s rights, human rights, to balance out the conservatives! Hallelujah!

However, that didn’t stop the losing party taking to social media and proving what we’ve known for ages: their biggest problem with the president is that he’s African-American. I predict it’s the beginning of the end for the Republican and Tea Parties.

Gee…am I no longer displaced?!

Though it took five days for us to get the Florida results! WTF?! Seriously, developing countries get election results quicker than that! And President Obama even won here, in spite of Governor Rick Scott’s illegal attempts to disenfranchise black and Hispanic voters by sending out mailers with the wrong election date, purging voter rolls, and making it generally difficult for Obama-supporting areas to vote.

Amazing. I moved to a Republican state and even with all their tampering, it is now Democrat. I feel instantly better about where I live. Just like that.

In these seven days since the Obama victory I’ve lost five+ pounds without doing anything, the weight of incredible stress that’s simply melted off. I’ve been sleeping better than I have in years. My husband tells me I’m even snoring, something I’ve only done when with cold!

So, after a miserable first year in Florida coupled with an absurdly harrowing “election season,” I finally feel there is reason to hope in this country’s future and my own place within these red and blue borders.

Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters, is a woman either on the verge of a breakdown or breakthrough writing from Lighthouse Point, Florida. Culture shock aside, she’s working on four follow-up novels to her first, progress of which you can follow on her Pinterest boards. Her other online haunts are Zuzu’s Petals‘, Twitter, and Facebook — all of which feature eclectic bon mots, rants and raves.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, announcing this month’s book giveaways.

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Images: From Morguefile, apart from the one of Sezin Koehler, which is her own.

How the 2012 elections looked to a repatriated American who is now a digital global citizen

Global citizens follow the US elections closely; some even see American politics as a spectator sport. For today’s post, we asked Anastasia Ashman, an occasional contributor to the Displaced Nation, to tell us how she felt about the 2012 elections. An expat of many years and an active proponent of global citizenship, Anastasia recently repatriated, with her Turkish husband, to her native California.

Rather than drifting away from the American political process when I was far from my fellow citizens, it was during an expat stint that I became most deeply involved.

My involvement had a displaced quality, of course.

I have always been on the edges of the American experience, hailing as I do from the countercultural town of Berkeley, California. The first time in my life I owned and brandished an American flag was after 9/11. It felt like a homecoming after a lifetime of being the outsider.

Even now that I’m back in California, my political involvement continues to have a displaced quality because I know what it’s like to be a citizen on the front lines of our nation’s foreign policy. For most Americans, the issue of how the rest of the world perceives our country is distant, amorphous, forgettable — but not for those of us who’ve lived abroad.

Clark for President!

I’d discovered Wesley Clark on television after 9/11. A four-star general, he was talking about the world we’d suddenly plunged into like a polished, collected and thoughtful world-class leader. It was easy to feel a kinship with the philosopher general even though I’d grown up in a household that vilified the military. Instead of activist or escapist pursuits, I chose to join him in geopolitical chess.

During the months between September 2003 and February 2004 when Clark competed in the presidential primary to become the Democratic candidate, I campaigned for him from afar. My email inbox soon filled with security warnings from the U.S. Consul urging Americans to keep a low profile.

If I had been able to get my hands on a campaign poster back in 2003 and 2004, I wouldn’t have displayed it publicly in my Istanbul apartment window. We were invading Iraq, and Istanbul was the site of four al Qaeda-related terrorist bombings that November. Avoid obvious gatherings of Americans, the emails cautioned. No mention of red, white, and blue “Clark for Democratic Candidate” campaign posters plastered on your residence — I had to extrapolate that.

Instead, I became active in online forums and wrote letters to undecided voters and newspapers in numerous states for my choice, the former N.A.T.O. Supreme Commander Wesley Clark. That was all I could do.

Obama for Re-election!

I’ve now been back in the USA for a year and have followed this election cycle, like the last one, mostly via social media. Online is an ideal place to become disconnected from echo chambers you don’t resonate with, and to stumble into rooms you don’t recognize. Both have happened.

But for the first time in the American political process, I don’t feel displaced. I feel like I am right where I belong.

Maybe it’s the San Francisco environs, which, although they may not match my concerns, don’t rankle too badly. At least I’m not in Los Angeles being asked to vote on whether porn actors must wear condoms. (They should, obvs!)

I feel less displacement in this election because of the resonant connections I’ve made online in the last four years or more. I’m in open, deep geopolitical conversation with Americans, American expats and with citizens of other nations, all over the world.

During this election I’ve been using my web platform, my digital footprint, to gather political news and opinion, enter discussions, and raise awareness. I’ve been reconciling my patchwork politics by weaving together who I relate to, and what I care about, and what sources I pass on to my network and what conversations I start. I now know that I am

  • A woman from an anti-war town who campaigned for a general!
  • A Hillary supporter who’s backing Barack, and
  • An adult-onset Third Culture Kid who understands how and why Obama’s Third Culture Kid experience confuses the average American.

What I have chosen to share on social media during this election cycle is a processing of all that makes me a political animal. I feel I have participated in this election cycle as the whole me, and that is all I can do.

I’ve shared that I care deeply that

I am buoyed that these abominations are leaking out and being countered. I was edified to hear others share my disapproval of eligible voters who choose to throw their votes away.

I have been able to be an active digital world citizen during this election cycle, someone who votes for the bigger picture, not just at the ballot box, but in everything I do. And that feels like home to me.

ANASTASIA ASHMAN is the cultural writer/producer behind the Expat Harem book and discussion site. The Californian has been on a global rollercoaster: fired in Hollywood, abandoned on a snake-infested island off Borneo, married in an Ottoman palace, interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today show. She brings it all home in the “Web 3.0 & Life 3.0” transformational media startup, empowering people to be more visible in the world and develop personally/professionally through social web technology. Get your copy of the Global You manifesto here.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s account of the American election cycle from a British expat’s perspective.

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Calling expats from all countries — it’s not too late to vote!

Unless you’ve gone into early hibernation for the winter, you’re probably aware that there’s a presidential election going on today in the United States. If you’re not an American citizen, of course, this election is merely a spectator sport for you, as Americans exercise their hard-fought right to vote by passing out in 2-hour queues in West Palm Beach, or stabbing ineffectually at a voting machine with a political mind of its own.

Given the difficulties of voting within the country, you’d think the ease of voting from abroad — via mail, fax, or even email — would ensure full electoral participation from expats. Statistics from the 2008 election, however, suggest otherwise.

Election apathy?

According to the Overseas Vote Foundation, a mere 7% of overseas voters took part in the election four years ago. In other words, a teenager or high school dropout is more likely to cast a vote than an expat is.

“Why?” is an interesting question, and one that doesn’t seem to have been investigated.

At a guess, your average expat is already staggering under the weight of red tape and bureaucracy, and a voting form is that piece of paper that breaks the expat’s in-tray. It’s the piece of paper that turns up four months later during a home office blitz, under a pile of credit card offers, with a Post-It attached saying “Don’t Forget!”

Or perhaps, living outside the home country for a length of time has initiated a feeling of detachment. A feeling that it doesn’t really matter what you think because you’re not there.

Or a misguided conscience kicks in, whispering that you, living abroad, are making a decision that affects others more than it affects you.

Expats: The other “swing state”

Although the exact number of Americans abroad is a little hazy — the State Department estimates just over 6 million, whereas the non-profit American Citizens Abroad puts the figure at 5.2 million — US expats equal the population of Missouri or Colorado, depending on which figure you believe.

Either way, it’s enough to make a significant difference in the outcome of an election, if they all voted.

Take our poll!

So, to all expats of all nationalities: how do you feel about voting in your home- and adopted countries’ elections? Are just overseas Americans lethargic about their civic duties, or do all expats feel the same?

Take our poll!

Our voting booths are open 24/7 for the next 30 days!

Stay tuned for Wednesday’s post, in which American repats Sezin Koehler and Anastasia Ashman reflect upon their first stateside election in quite a while.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of the week’s posts from The Displaced Nation. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Image: MorgueFile

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