architecture of a different kind

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Recently we learned that we are about to become expats. I'm not the first (or even second or third) generation of expats in my family so I am, luckily, not terribly upset about moving overseas. I'm also not terribly excited, although perhaps I should be. Overall, I have a feeling of trepidation. I think my biggest fear is just that I will forget to do something on my list, lose a form or the movers will break something I treasure.

The funny thing about being an expatriate is that you almost forget who you are and the things you love. A large part of this is leaving behind hobbies that were your entire life, a perfect example for us would be horses. Instead of replacing old interests, you're just putting them on hold until you can return to your old self.

A friend of mine just returned to the States after being an expat in Italy for two years. She said that something that I thought very poignant. Even though your time overseas is a relatively short period, it leaves an indelible mark on your character and perspective. We've been living in the South in various places for six years now and honestly I've felt like an expat here. I didn't understand some of the idioms or some of the customs, I tried fried chicken for the first time (I can hear my mother lecturing me on fried foods), I ate grits (I still don't get these) and I even caught my husband saying, "y'all" once.

I've met a lot of really interesting people. For every person who was terribly mean because I'm not a local, there were two that were funny, kind and wonderful to get to know. I hope that I'll be able to keep some of the friends I've made. I know for people who don't move a lot, their experience comprises of their daily interactions, so not being local means not existing for many. But when your whole life is on the move, you treasure relationships.

When I started blogging, a blogger friend said something about how a blog is a highly personal account, sharing yourself and your experience with the world. I can't help but think that my tastes are probably going to change. The nature of my blog may change as I explore regional architecture. I've spent some time over there before. And luckily, in college I spent a couple semesters studying Japanese art history and architecture with a professor who does a lot of work with Met. So as a result, I'm really good at faking the accent. Hopefully I'll pick up the language quickly so I don't seem like this SNL skit for these next several years.
ArchitectDesign™ said...

I look forward to exploring your new home with you! As a kid we moved around quite a bit but then since college I've settled into DC. Just yesterday i was wondering if this was a reaction to my childhood as I contemplate moving within the city.

BCN said...

So jealous! Have a great time. It really is an amazing opportunity to see a culture totally differently than you would while traveling.

Parnassus said...

Hello Ann,

You mentioned the risk of forgetting the things that you love. I have found that living overseas has the opposite effect, that I appreciate them the more, even though of course there are also many features of Taiwan undreamed of in Ohio. Still, I miss maple sugaring (explored in my last post), spring wildflowers, long summer days, and beautiful autumn weather. All right, I don't regret leaving the snow behind.

Good luck in Japan. We are all looking forward to seeing it through your eyes.
--Road to Parnassus

Becky said...

"I didn't understand some of the idioms or some of the customs, I tried fried chicken for the first time (I can hear my mother lecturing me on fried foods), I ate grits (I still don't get these) and I even caught my husband saying, "y'all" once."

You saying that about your husband reminded me of conversations I've had with a friend who emigrated six or seven years ago. She was still speaking English, but there were times when I got off the phone with her only to realise that there were things she'd said that I simply didn't understand. Mannerisms from that country that I'd never even heard of in the UK, much less understood. Many of those calls were followed up with an email asking "what does this mean". :)

I think it's perfectly normal to be nervous about moving overseas, you'd hardly be human if you weren't. And I think I know what you mean about forgetting who you are and the things that you love. I've never been an expatriate myself, but I was involved to some degree with my friend's process. And it wasn't visas, passports, overseas medical insurance and that kind of thing that she was worried about. She was worried about whether her English accent was going to set her apart, whether she was going to be able to be herself. Whether she was going to be able to make friends, whether she'd lose the friends she already had. And, sadly, she did lose some of the friends she already had. She could only make her own efforts to stay in touch, she couldn't control the efforts made by other people.

She did become a new person and there are things I remember about her that don't seem to be there anymore. I've never actually asked her if she misses them. For all I know, she might not have even noticed that they're gone.