I’m back! My time in Taiwan came to an end and I travelled halfway across the world to see my favourite hubby again. Only ten days later, we were back on a plane and heading to the motherland. It had been two years since I had stepped foot in Canada. I have to admit that I almost cried when we landed in St-John’s (which was not even my final destination). It was absolutely wonderful to see my friends and family again. But…
Previous posts on this blog and countless others have touched upon aspects of living and travelling alone, especially as a foreigner in new places. And every time I have read pieces touching upon this subject, I have felt this little nod inside my head that said, “You’re good, you can totally survive alone”, even though I’ve never really had to live alone until this year. Last year, even though I had a room to myself, I practically lived with two very close friends who were also my flatmates (miss them everyday!). Similarly, while I had done some solo travel previously, it was only a month or so ago that I did my first truly solo trip, lasting 2 whole days. And while it was definitely fun, it also made me acutely aware of something I have always suspected – it’s great to have time to yourself but living/travelling alone isn’t really my thing and THAT’S OKAY!
Standing alone and tall. All hail Lady Liberty!
I’ve been travelling across the world on my own since I was 15 years old. I love to explore new countries. It’s fun to travel with others, but sometimes it just doesn’t work like that and you end up travelling on your own. It can be a bit scary at first until you learn how to be independent and try new things. It’s going to be a bit uncomfortable to do things in a new way, but once you get the hang of it, you feel great! The first time taking a bus on your own through Dhaka and actually arriving at your friend’s house. When you finally feel like the lady at the tienda down the street understands what you’re asking for in Spanish. Catching your flight after navigating a long customs line and running through an airport to make it to your gate. These are all stressful situations, but once you master them, you feel totally accomplished – like you can do anything!
Then a person comes along… They may be a stranger, a colleague, a friend, or even your mom. They say “Are you sure that’s safe?”, or “You shouldn’t go there, because you might get murdered”, or “Did you hear about that tourist that was abducted just last week?”, or “What’s a small girl like you doing travelling all by yourself?”, or “You should go back to Canada and cook for your boyfriend.”. They probably mean well, and have the best intentions at heart, but it totally sucks. Telling someone not to explore the world just because “it’s a scary place” is not productive.
After a long hiatus featuring fieldwork across India in the blistering heat, my first ever visit to New York (!) and the wedding of one of my dearest friends, I am finally back in the Oxbox and ready to get back to my expat life. Or whatever remains of it 😛
For the entire time that I was away, I was running from one thing to another, which left me with little time to think. And while going back to India was obviously fun, it was my trip to the US that really gave me some fodder, despite the busy schedule.
However, in the interests of relevance, I decided to write this month about something that I have actually been meaning to write about for a while. It’s a happy coincidence that it will come into sharp focus in about a week’s time. And if that and the title weren’t dead giveaways, let me spell it out for you – it’s the UK General Elections coming up on 8th June! Well that’s not exactly what this is about. It’s really more about voting and being involved in the political life of whichever place you live in as an expat.
When you’re an expat in a new place, you have to get used to a new culture, with new types of people. Since I work in international development, I’m always working with colleagues and “clients” from different countries. Primarily, the country that I happen to be working in, but that’s not always the case. I also end up working with other people from all walks of life:
- Young and old
- Men and women
- Liberals and conservatives
- Christians and Muslims
- Volunteers and directors
- Partiers and quiet types
- Locals and international staff
- Every profession imaginable….
A lot of jobs these days have a requirement along the lines of “Values diversity”. It’s always a tough thing to answer. Of course, I value diversity, I’ve worked all over the world. But what do you actually say? “I worked with “x” group of people and they contributed a lot…” – not great I think. But I do love that working with a diverse group of people is included on job applications. Of course, some are probably just doing that for legal purposes or corporate social responsibility reasons, but probably not all of them. I really do think that having a diverse group is more likely to get you new opinions. Although this might cause a bit more discussion, I think it will ultimately lead to the most successful “product” for your organization.
How moving abroad can be a fast-track to something we all need to learn: how to be alone
A couple of months ago I took myself to see La La Land. I strolled, on a picturesque winter’s day over the hill to Hampstead’s small independent cinema. ‘Just one ticket?’ the clerk wondered. Indeed. I asked myself if I’d like popcorn, I replied, ‘yes please!’ and then me, myself and I stretched out on one of the theatre’s velvet sofas, put our feet up and proceeded to laugh and cry and snack with abandon. Continue reading
This weekend I had to say goodbye to one of the closest friends I made in Taiwan. We spent all of the most memorable moments here together. Waving goodbye to her from the other side of the barricade, waiting for the metro to come was the hardest thing for me to do. Seeing her with all of her suitcases packed made me want to go home and pack too. Maybe if my bags are packed that will mean that I’m going home as well. I’m not saying that I am not enjoying myself here, I just know that the life that I created is slowly slipping away. Over the past few months, my closest friends have gone home, leaving me as the last remaining member of our little group. You are probably thinking, why don’t you make new friends. Well, it isn’t that easy. I have friends with whom to meet for dinner and drinks, but not the kind of friends that I can call when I need some advice or a moral boost.
When I decided to move abroad, I felt like the move was itself the opportunity I wanted. Living in a new country is a really interesting experience, it gets you to think through the pragmatics of how other people live, it allows you to see new things, and learn about the world. But moving also gave me other kinds of opportunities that I never would have imagined in my doctoral research, my professional development, and in forming some big picture thinking.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve only eaten simple foods. If you ask me what I don’t like… well, it’s probably easier for me to tell you what I do like. I explain to people that I eat like a four-year old, so whatever your little niece or nephew likes, I probably do too. People laugh and think I’m joking, but then I list the foods I don’t eat and they stop laughing. “Huh, you were serious…”. I mostly eat a lot of bread and cheese, in various forms. When I tried to ask my Spanish teacher what the right word would be, she just said difficult. I guess it’s appropriate but doesn’t feel great. :p
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. I can cook, and my boyfriend is a good cook, and we eat a lot of meals at home with the ingredients I like. He makes food for me and then adds extra stuff for himself like hot sauce or mushrooms. In Canadian restaurants, I can always find something I like. When I’m travelling, or living in another country… that’s a different story!
Ghana was the first time I had lived in a “non-western” country for an extended period of time. For those of you who don’t know, Ghana is on the coast in western Africa. This means that the food is spicy, fermented, and there’s lots of fish – not exactly my favourites! While my colleagues were ripping of pieces of fermented dough like fufu to dip in their spicy peanut sauce or grab a hunk of tilapia (a white fish), I was learning how to eat with my hands. I had to emphasize to restaurants that “No, I don’t want any of that extremely spicy black sauce. No, not even a little. Yes, I know it’s boring without it.” They would laugh at me for eating “baby food” but serve me plain rice with chicken anyway. I ended up eating a plastic bag of plain rice with a hard-boiled egg, and maybe a small piece of chicken every day for lunch. Fortunately, I had my own kitchen so I could eat anything I wanted at home. Unfortunately, there were constant power outages and I had a major ant problem in my house so I ate a lot of staples – like pasta. I had to keep all my food on a table in the kitchen so the ants couldn’t find it. One time, I tried to eat some leftover vegetables and chicken that had been in the fridge during the daily black-outs – it was my first time getting food poisoning, and I gave it to myself. How embarrassing!
As you can see, I’m late with this post, which was technically meant for last month. That’s largely because I have been caught up with work but also because I didn’t really have anything much to write about. I have been wracking my brains but sadly, came up with nothing. And then it hit me – I don’t have to use words!
So, SO much of my experience living abroad has been captured in photographs – countless moments that were happy, sad, funny, stupid and crazy! So for this post, I thought I’d do a collection of pictures that capture some of the most memorable of these moments and reflect briefly on why each of them were significant to my expat life. Here goes 🙂
From matriculation to getting trashed, Oxford has weird traditions. Don’t question them, best to just go with it. Fun can come from unexpected sources.