While traveling alone recently in the United States to visit family and friends, I kept myself company with several books on the airplanes. There is one book in particular which I want to finally share with you all about.
But before I begin, I choose this topic as my end to the year because it's been an interesting year for me as an expat. I learned and grew a lot. I think it's been the most eventful and interesting year for me living abroad since the first year I lived abroad. 2009 was a year of some ups and downs, many of which I didn't get to write about unfortunately because I had not enough time or perhaps I felt at the time it was too personal. But much of it I was able to cover. Great things. Good friends made and a lot of great things seen. I have an interesting 2010 in store for me, which will feature some twists and turns in my expat adventure, and those things I will be sure to cover about because I am sure it could be in some ways very helpful to some.
The experience of others, I feel, is valuable. At least it helps me, reminding me that I am not the only one doing this. Because there are tough days, and I think it is the same for all expats, no matter where we live in the world. Whether we came to live abroad alone or with a partner/spouse. Days when even the slightest thing to go wrong can create a huge drama or a reminder that we indeed are not living in familiar surroundings. Whether it is having to deal with jumping through hoops of the protocol in the process of living abroad or even a bad experience at the grocery store, I believe we all have these bad days which make the glory of living abroad lose it's luster. Sometimes all it takes is a positive outlook or a sharper set of claws with a sense of humor to make it through those rough days, but what also helped me was to learn from another expat how to make it through it all. The experience of another has been constantly some of the best medicine for me, to help me make it through it all.
My first fellow foreign friend who I made here in the Netherlands is from Indonesia. She and I are still good friends and try to make the time to visit with each other. Each time, we always discuss for a little while "how it's going." I mean expat talk: that can be venting, laughing or both. In her case, it's is immigrant talk. She plans to be here permanently and I don't. But I'll never forget how when I first came here, when I first met her, she was a big help to me. She helped me in so many ways, and I am so grateful to her for the things she helped teach me. I also began to learn on my own where my own personal boundaries were here, especially when I began to notice cultural differences. And the more I learned the language, the more I noticed this. After my first taste of culture shock, I began to turn more often to other expats and sources where expats could share. I looked knowledged, experienced tips and especially for the positives and how they found the positives.
Then I began this blog. And then I met Danielle!
Danielle Barkhouse is a Canadian who has lived abroad with her husband and son. On this particular journey covered in her book, it was to India. As the adventure began and unraveled, she shared the details of her journey and her surroundings. Albeit my living in the Netherlands and her having lived in India can be seen to be as different as night and day, the heart of the experiences are very similar to what an expat or immigrant will face. There is no "maybe" about it. You will face road blocks and homesickness, whether you are moving to the country for a few years or for the rest of your life. You may enjoy your experiences, overall, but you will find yourself in the midst of a day where you find yourself second-guessing. Danielle's book touches down on these similar experiences, and I could relate on so many levels while I read.
Along with her book, Danielle gave an expat interview [click here for the full interview]. She shares some great advice that I would give as well to any expat or immigrant living abroad, no matter where in the world you are headed or currently living. She was asked in the interview to give some tips to readers about living in India, and Danielle listed:
- When you get frustrated, keep in mind that WE are what is different in India, not India itself.
- Go with the flow or you can make yourself crazy going against the grain.
- A sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself helps.
- India has been the way it is for thousands of years. You won’t be changing it to "your way" in the short time you live here, so get over it.
· Sharing about her culture shock. She too had days when she missed where she was from. The Dutch call this heimwee. English: homesickness. You should never be ashamed of experiencing it. All of us who live abroad go through it to some extent. I consider it very low of anyone living abroad to criticize another for experiencing it. A few days of rollercoaster-like symptoms in behavior are not abnormal and are typically a part of culture shock for many. I experienced it heavily in 2008 and sometimes still do in patches. Read about my experiences here. If you don't live abroad but do have a friend or family member living abroad, look into culture shock. Your support for them during those times is so priceless! Just visit this link for thorough information.
· Her son. I don't have any children. It dawns on my sometimes, on those difficult days that I have every so often, how it could be worse. For instance, what if I had also a child who I needed to help through these adjustments? It is sometimes difficult enough for myself. . . Danielle has a son who also had to endure the changes. It was inspiring to me to read through what she shared, and I think this could be helpful for others.
· Bringing their dog, Kramer. This ione fact of bringing pets doesn't seem to get covered enough in the world of expats online. I don't have any pets, but I can imagine the difficulty factor in my own situation going up a few notches with this, even if it's just because I want to go on vacation for 2 weeks. Within Danielle's writings you can also learn of affects if you have pets in your family. Here is a tip from Expatica about bringing your pet[s] to the Netherlands, but other tips are appreciated. If you have any helps to share further about expat pet tips, please feel free to do so in the comments.
· Food. OK, I've never met anyone living abroad who doesn't still try to prepare or buy foods which were loved yet not quite so easy to come by in their new surroundings. Miss that dip they serve with the chips at that one sit-down restaurant you used to go to every Friday with friends after work? Danielle shared this website in her book: Top Secret Recipes. This is just one of many great websites I've been given by others who are living abroad, but if you have any others which you'd love to share in the comments, please feel free to do so!
· Customs within the culture and more! She shares a great deal information about Indian customs and cultures. Very interesting! I learned a lot about the Indian customs and different beliefs through her experiences. Some she learns about out of her own curiousity, while many she discovers in humorous [and sometimes not-so-humorous, for some with specific phobias] ways. There are beautiful photographs throughout the book to help give visual aid, but if you have arachnophobia, turn the pages with caution. I think I almost gave the lady sitting beside me on the plane a heart attack when I turned from page 61 on to page 62 and she got a clear view of page 63! This part of living in India would not bother me because I am not afraid of spiders, snakes or other creepy-crawly creatures.
You can continue to follow Danielle's adventures here, as she is now back in North America, currently in Texas. I've followed her and have read as she went through reverse culture shock or re-entry shock. Upon repatriating into your own original culture, everyone will face some form of re-entry shock. Even in visits home to your family and friends for a few weeks, most will not understand how living abroad has changed you. In either good or bad ways. Nor will most understand about the positive and/or negative experiences you had while living abroad. Some will return to their native land with a different perspective about living through their experiences, and most of the experiences are ones only possible to have while living abroad. While they were so glad to see me, my own family even noticed this in me when I visited last. And I noticed how some of what I spoke about to a few people about the Netherlands seemed to fall on deaf ears.
There is much to learn from reading what she has to share, even for those who are just curious about the expat life. You can learn a lot more about the book here, and the book is available on Amazon here.
From the back of her book:Happy New Year, everyone!
"Don't read this if you're expecting deep insights on culture, politics or religion in India. Oh no. I'm far too shallow and lack the intelligence necessary for that. I'm not an expert about anything. I'm just here for a good time and amusing myself about it to stay sane."
Danielle Barkhouse researched and prepared for her family's relocation from Illinois to India. She was an experienced expatriate, so she thought she knew the range of feelings that she would experience. She was wrong.
"I have found that most expats don't really talk about culture shock. We all look at one another and know we're each going through it at some level. Some people will say they're fine, when they're really not. And then there's me. Let's just put it under a microscope, magnify the details and write about it! That's all this really is, a magnification of the details."
The journey that most expatriates take when they leave their home country for an assignment abroad is like an arc. The Expat Arc is a collection of Danielle's journal entries detailing her expat arc path beginning with the honeymoon phase, hanging out in the rejection phase longer than desired and plowing her way into the phase of acceptance. It's a very personal and detailed description of her journey over the arc of culture shock, identity crisis and settling in. It includes nuggets of her humor, insight and a few 'light bulb moments' about living abroad.
"Luckily, coming back down the other side, the arc is transformed into a colorful rainbow and we know what's at the end of a rainbow!" Priceless treasures and golden nuggets.
Ik wens iedereen een gelukkig nieuwjaar!
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