Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Taking the good with the bad: 4 countries in 8 years

In June, when Dan and I move back to America, I will have been 'abroad' for eight years. How did this happen?! I only planned to move to Japan for a year to teach English, but foreign countries have this way of luring me in and redirecting my course.

There was Japan for two years (where I met my husband), vagabonding another year (ie living out of a suitcase in various locations planning my wedding), England four  (with the man I married) and now New Zealand six months (with said husband's parents). The vagabonding year did include six fantastic months back in Seattle, but I was sleeping on a blow-up mattress in my parents' living room, so I was hardly settled in America.


 The wedding

Since that day we started Dan's green card process from London last summer, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the move back home. I've become so used to being a foreigner that the thought of living somewhere that I'll be a native daughter sounds amazing, but also strange. I've become used to being asked where I'm from, having an accent and always feeling, ever so slightly, out of my comfort zone.

On the whole I cannot wait to go home – I think I made that clear to everyone I came into contact with my last few months in England. But I also recognize that there's something amazing about being a foreigner in a foreign land that I will miss. To fully process this – and I like processing – I started a list of the good and not-so-good points of living overseas.

Here it is...


Ridin' the tube in London

The not-so-good news first...
  • It's hard to be away from the amazing people in my life who live in the States. Especially when they start having cute little babies I can't be there to cuddle with. I hate how hard it is to be in touch by phone because of a difficult time difference; calling twice a year and facebook updates just isn't enough.
  • It's humbling to be foreign and have different instincts to everyone around me. This was a particular challenge in England where we speak the same language, but sometimes just have completely different mindsets and understandings of what is 'normal'. It's hard when what you've learned is right your whole life is challenged, such as the American philosophy that it's good to be bold, confident, direct and friendly with people you don't know. This is what I had learned anyway, so eight years in subtle, self-deprecating and private cultures was a steep learning curve.
  • It's exciting to move to a new city effectively every two years, but it also prevents you from ever letting your roots grow deep. I make friends easily and that's fun, but sometimes I miss spending time with friends who have stories from ten years ago or who even know my maiden name.
  • And of course, anti-Americanism, the final frontier of politically correct snobbery. This is so, so tiring yet is the plight of any American who chooses to live overseas. If I hear one more snide comment about how awful the US is and how amazing Canada is in the same breath...God give me grace. (I like Canada by the way, it's the American stereotypes that I don't.)


 A cheeky pint at The Fighting Cocks

And the good news is...

  • I believe in stretching and challenging myself, even when it's uncomfortable. I like the risk involved with plopping myself (with my husband) into a completely new place and thinking, now what. It's an adventure.
  • I'm naturally curious and different cultures fascinate me. I've always been obsessed with how other people live and I like people watching to figure it out. Japan and England have taught me so much about learning to be quiet, calm and patient. And of course to chop wood...

Wood chopping at the North Umbria monastery - who would've thought?

  • Overseas I've met some amazing new friends I would never had the chance to otherwise. My husband being the prime example.
  • Sometimes its nice to be an outsider, to have an excuse for not knowing what's going on and for asking questions. I've asked lots of questions.
  • I appreciate my country more than ever now. To be honest, when I left at age 22 for Japan I thought America was pretty boring. As I return, just shy of 30, I see that it's a fantastic place to live. I know all it's flaw (they've been pointed out ad nauseum), but I also know that every place has flaws and that enjoying a place is about focusing on the good rather than driving yourself crazy with the not-so-good.
Ahh... the final stretch of a long awaited homecoming...

23 comments:

Emer said...

Thats a good list Alisha and I for one and very grateful for your insatable curiosity and intreped travels - otherwise I would have never have gotten to know the girl that I have come to think of as my amazing Japan sister whith whom I have shared THE most amazing experiences and whom I love dearly and am so greateful for.
Don't go throwing away that blow-up bed as you can expect an Emer-chan to be paying you a visit Stateside! xxx

Heather Rene said...

Alisha, sometimes I feel as if we are the same person (and I think people at Tearfund do to) blonde, washingtonian/American, baking fiends and travellers!

You have lived abroad longer than I, but it is certainly true that the longer I am away from home (america) the more I appreciate it for all that it is and represents, despite its faults - which are, as always, blatantly pointed out when living abroad. (As if being European means life is perfect - bah! Americans had to introduce the chocolate chip cookie and the cupcake for goodness sake!)

I am certainly not finished adventuring, and I know you are not. I have a little while longer to be abroad before i settle back home. My roots are always shallow, waiting for the next sign to pick up and move. In a way I feel like Mary Poppins - coming and going with the wind.

I am glad you two are doing well in NZ!!! I Look forward to hearing more about your new adventure back home. :-)

Jenny said...

the anti-american mindset really gets under my skin!!!

i think every place you go has positives and negatives and i'm really proud of your experience abroad...i think you express that lesson very nicely.

and don't get too excited about seattle...i'd hate for it to get built up in your head and then have you get disappointed. i mean, i love it...but there are some bad days here too. but these babies are sure pretty cute and i know Wes is really wanting to say "hi" to you and for YOU to have your own "baby" (those are his very best words)!!

La Dolce Vita said...

I hate stereotypes, especially those related to a country. But I think it's inevitable for most people to have them, especially for those who don't have much experience of travels around abroad. And I hate when people judge a foreign person just considering the politics of his/her country or his/her religion. Unfortunately many people do.
Traveling or living abroad helps a lot to understand that most stereotypes that we have been used to in our country are wrong. Except few borderline cases, reality is completely different.

As far as I could experience USA is a fantastic place to live. People are so nice, helpful and friendly. Maybe I am not objective because part of my family lives there and is American, but if I could choose a place where have the same experience you had in Japan and England, I would choose USA.

I was tempted many times to leave all here in Italy and have a gap year in the US, but then life decided for me and couldn't give a try. Anyway I am thankful enough to have been there 3 times...and it's never enough!!! :)

By the way...I hope you don't have stereotypes about Italy. Don't you? Fortunately it's not only: mafia, pizza, pasta and mandolino! :)

Jess Fouche said...

I love the picture of you chopping wood and hearing your experiences and thoughts on living abroad and coming 'home'. I love your curiosity and love for other cultures. Remind me to tell you about what our fam has started doing/working with- so exciting!!:) Talk soon?!

Jenny said...

btw, i love how your blog aesthetic is coming along. 2 legit 2 quit ;)

alisha said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I feel so grateful for all the people I know around the world.

Emer, there is ALWAYS a blow-up bed for an Irish friend to use. Now you'll have even more excuses to come to the US!

Heather, I was so glad we could tag team blonde, nomadic, American Washingtonians into the TF office. I love your adventurous spirit so much as well as your quest to raise awareness for quality baked goods. :)

Jenny, so good that Wes is able to articulate that he can't wait for another little friend. And thanks for the wise words about not building up Seattle - but it IS a great city really.

Mario, not sure if you know but I was in Florence with Jenny and absolutely loved Italy. It's actually a pretty hard place not to be captivated by and I think any stereotypes I may have are all positive.

Jess, let's definitely talk soon. Send me your number in an email and I'll give you a ring!

La Dolce Vita said...

Yes! I know you was in Florence with Jenny...mine was only a funny provocation to demonstrate that - in fact as you also said - stereotypes are silly! :) I was sure you didn't have any, also because you lived here for some time and knows what it is! ;)
Florence is so beautiful! I visited Florence and Tuscany many times, but there is always a good occasion to go back visiting! :))))

alisha said...

Ha ha, I knew you were only joking Mario. I have been away from Italy for far too long though - I can't believe it's been ten years!

La Dolce Vita said...

So...when you have finally settled in the US...you could come back visiting Italy again! :)))

Jocy May said...

i don't have a deep comment, just that i love that woman's hat in your wedding shot- is that dan's mum? looking forward to you visiting me in NYC... no pressure :)

alisha said...

That is indeed Dan's mum. I love the British wedding hat tradition and will try to bring it over to the States. Or perhaps even to NYC!

ululani said...

I know how you feel about the American stereotypes for sure! Also it is weird being back home where "I belong" and am not the "foreigner". As I've lived abroad I've only come to appreciate America and Americans more, just the fact that they are friendly and positive (most of the time) compared to other cultures, and I was just thinking yesterday how much "breathing space" there is here, almost like a "no worries" kind of feel (okay I HAVE to stop using the quotes...) but anyhow, I know that you will be welcomed home just like I was after moving back to the US. I still sometimes feel a bit out of place, like the people around me should be speaking with British accents and not American ones, but I'm sure you're going to enjoy your next season and I am excited for you!

alisha said...

Hey Ulu, it is so strange to suddenly "hear" American accents and think it sounds foreign. I think my accent is just straight messed up now though!

Vanessa said...

I definitely relate to every point you made in your blog.

I came to England as an exchange student for 5 months thinking that would be it. I didn't expect to fall in love 3 weeks into my programme and then 4 years later (today actually!) living in rainy London.

I have been living here for over 2 years and plan on being here a little while longer but I look forward to settling down in CA with Tim. Before that, there is so much more travelling we want to do together.

For now, I am content living in London because it has allowed Tim and I to grow as a couple and pretty much depend on each other. Our relationship is stronger because of it.

There is so much more I can say but I feel like I am just rambling now!

Great post, Alisha! Definitely my favourite (I am still in London so will add the 'u')!!!

alisha said...

Vanessa, happy four years in England! It's so true how relationships can become stronger when we're forced to depend on each other because we're out of our comfort zones. And you're right, you've got more traveling in you before moving out to sunny CA. :)

Nadine said...

I love this post - so very very true!

I've gotten the anti-american views from a few Canadians who live here. My opinion - if you don't like America, then go back to Canada. (for the record, I love Canada and Canadians, this was just one example).

Although I don't live abroad, living outside of my comfort zone has done wonders for me and for my relationship with my husband. I'm not the same person I was four years ago and I have to say, I love who I have become.

alisha said...

Nadine, I'm so glad you've reaped the positive effects of living outside your comfort zone on your marriage as well. I recommend a huge, uprooting move for all newlyweds. :)

Karen said...

Hi Alisha-
I am your mother's cousin - Joey and Ike Workentin's daughter. I am a missionary and I am working with RHEMA Bible Training Centre Australia in Brisbane...is there any way you two can make your way up to Brisbane to see me and to see the work we are doing here? We have just started a church in January 2010. I would love to have you visit. You look like Tasha!!! Let me know...Karen Workentin Karen Workentin - www.rhema.org.au

TheLadyWhoLunches said...

Such a great post. I have just finished writing one about old friends coming to visit (since I just had one), and it's so true about yearning for your home country. In fact, most of the things you mentioned I totally relate to. I have about three more years of living abroad - at the beginning of next year we're off to travel the world. I think we tend to view our home country in a shinier light the longer we're away because we forget about all the crappy stuff that made you want to leave in the first place. I'm not naive enough not to know those things will come back, but hopefully I'll have a better appreciation for them when they do.

Di said...

I'm feeling this whole post. Also, the Fighting Cocks! Legend! x

APB said...

I completely identify with what you've said about being humbled by living in another culture. Being Canadian (and yes, being North American- because it's a pretty similar culture if we can just get over ourselves), being bold and friendly was natural. I found my first couple years in NZ, this made the locals suspcious of me. I was pretty lonely until I figured it out!

alisha said...

APB, it's very true, Canadians and Americans have so much in common! It's so crazy how boldness and friendliness can be read in such different ways in different cultures. I love your Cafe Press tote bag btw. :)

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