What It’s Really Like To Live There
Tales from other countries
The Art of French Indifference: What life in Paris taught me about the futility of fitting in
I’m sure it’s common, when embarking on an overseas posting, to have ambitions of learning the language, becoming immersed in the culture, and making lots of local friends. If you are given to romanticism (check) and unrealistic expectations (check) and that country is France (check) that desire likely burns especially hot. This would not be my first time living overseas –as an aid worker, I had been to many beautiful but challenging places and had met my recently acquired husband, an American diplomat, in the Middle East – but I’d only ever been to France as a tourist. I had...Read More
Letters from Amsterdam: First Letter, January 4, 1979
Letters From Amsterdam is a recounting of an idyllic time our family spent in 1979 in The Netherlands, in Amsterdam. Although I have taken a few liberties with names and timelines, the stories I tell are all true based on the letters I wrote home to my parents and in-laws. Our kids were 6 and 3 years old and the piece tells of their school experiences and our lives through their eyes as well as my own. Our day-to-day life related in these stories has come to mean much more than the trip diary I kept filled with appointments,...Read More
Love Again, in Spain
Kate stands outside the white villa looking at the small sign on the stone wall. It says BILL JOAN in shiny black letters on white tiles bordered by a tiny Arabic floral pattern.
She does this walk every couple of weeks, usually on Wednesday, to check the mail. Kate is a doer of cryptic puzzles. Toward the end, James had resented the time she put in on them. But it is something of hers alone, one of the things that keeps her sane. Especially now, in the time of Covid. And now there is no one to care how much...Read More
The Snake and I: Close Encounter with a Spitting Cobra
I live in Singapore and a year into the pandemic, with the borders closed, the city-state was starting to close in on me. Every day, the sun rose at 7am and set at 7pm. Every day, the weather was hot, humid, and bright with occasional torrential cloud bursts. Every day, there were Bentleys and Porches, glass-and-steel high-rises, and sharp-eyed Safe Distance Ambassadors ready to enforce the rules. The pandemic locked 5.7 million of us in a high-functioning bubble, and inside the bubble we all stayed. The days blurred together, one season indistinguishable from the next.
I feel deeply grateful to...Read More
The French Bistro Social Experiment
I was so busy in high school with sports, drama and music that I never gave much thought to anything happening outside of my small town in Iowa. That all changed the first day of university when I met my future husband. He was a very tall, dark, and handsome 17-year old who promised to be my study buddy for our freshman religion class. He was a double Russian and IT major with a French minor. This beautiful French language would spill out of his mouth at record speed every time he encountered a French classmate on campus. As we...Read More
Family Standard Time
“What time is it?”
A pretty mundane question, and in the COVID-19 pandemic, often irrelevant. If you can’t go anywhere or do anything, does it really matter what time it is?
Like many others, our family was uprooted temporarily from far-flung locations and unexpectedly thrown back together. But that period eventually morphed into something else entirely, distorting our very notion of time. Just like everyone, we needed to create a new version of normal life, but for us this also required creating our own time zone.
When the pandemic took root in March 2020, it...
Doin’ You Wash
“But—won’t you be lonely?”
Ms. Crosby gazed at me through glasses which magnified the concern in her eyes.
“No, no. I’ll be all right.”
“But you livin’ in dis big house all by youself!”
I strained to understand the Grenadian dialect and refrained from laughing at the notion that my house was “big.” The sitting room came furnished with a couch, a coffee table and two armchairs. The kitchen had a chest-high fridge, a kerosene stove with a broken-off knob, and a table with seating for two. The bedroom I slept in had space for a desk, but the guest...Read More
Why We Want to Return Abroad - Regardless of the Pandemic
2020 changed everything. It’s understandable that people may reconsider moving or going abroad, for a number of reasons:Not wanting to get too far from family and friends (or wanting to come back closer)
An unstable job market
Wanting stability after a year of lots of (unexpected) changes. When we returned to the U.S. almost three years ago, we knew returning abroad was in our future. When the pandemic started, we wondered if the way things were going would make us change our minds.
Living and working abroad as educators have definitely influenced our mindset and our...Read More
My Children And Other Animals
Here in Italy, where I live with my family, the cockroaches are small and crafty things. You almost never see them. They stay well out of sight, and their only desire is to be left alone with those microscopic fragments of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that they might be so lucky to gather here or there. I mean, who could blame them? They’re shy creatures, and frankly, kind of cute.
And yet my kids are terrified of them. Now teenagers, my children are far smarter and world-wise than I was at the same age. Nevertheless they won’t even approach certain corners...Read More
Adjusting the Culture Shock Curve to a Pandemic-Era Move
It’s December, which in my world usually means I’m settled and making plans for the holidays, or I’ve recently moved to a new country and I’m worn-down and melancholic. This is the eighth international transfer my family has made, but moving in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic is a game-changer.
In a ‘normal’ move
I’m an analytical thinker, even in my personal life, so I tend to rely on the culture shock curve to make sense of my emotional state after a move. According to this model, most expats begin life in their new country climbing...Read More
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