Friday, October 17, 2014

Repatriation: The Art of Losing

Writer Abroad couldn't help but relate to the following post, written by Jill Boyles.

I don’t know what to do with myself. After having lived in Poland for almost two years, my husband and I returned to the USA. Mind you, I’ve lived abroad before, Turkey and China, and flew home to visit family and friends with the knowledge that I was going back. This time, I don’t know if I’ll ever go overseas again and writing that halts my breath. Breathe . . 

Two days ago, I opened a memo application on my computer, and a to-do list popped up, which I had written while living in Warsaw. A reminder of who I was then:  an expat. A reminder of who I am now:  an ex-expat. I was formerly absent from my country but not anymore. I’m present to drive to the store, to fold the laundry, to take the trash to the curb. During my absence, I walked across Plac Defilad with snow falling on park benches and lampposts, illuminating a dark, winter evening made warmer from the steamy kebab stand, the meat’s pungent scent pricking my nose.

I have a travel blog I started last year but don’t know what to do with it. My husband and friends encourage me to continue. Travels in the US, they say. I give this much thought, but writing about the States feels disingenuous, like I’m pulling the wool over my readers’ eyes. In truth, I would be disingenuous to myself. I’m no longer that person writing about this; I’m now this person writing about that. Last month, I deleted a post and submitted it for publication.

After I had arrived home from China, my dad asked if I wanted to go to a baseball game. I said that I’d rather watch a Chinese man pee in a bush – a common sight in the part of China where I had lived. His face cracked like porcelain. My intention was not to hurt him, but the mention of going to yet another baseball game, well . . . been there, done that. Fresh from China, I craved exciting experiences. Something I wanted my dad to understand. Instead, I sounded like a petulant child. I can never take back that moment.

Traveling familial territory is treacherous. The terrain dips in ways you never expect.

I’m about to move to a new state at the opposite end of the country. I’ll have trouble adjusting, and this frightens me. Different accent, different behavior, different climate. I search for the fearless, adventurous woman who lived and worked in other countries, who spoke with vowel harmony, tones and seven cases. It’s different here, not fitting in with your own people. Not like over there, where not fitting in is a faded, oversized sweater worn on weekends.

The speaker in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art” tells us “the art of losing isn’t hard to master.” A laundry list of lost items like keys, a mother’s watch, houses, and continents are met with the assurance that these losses aren’t disasters, not even losing a loved one.

Unlike Bishop, I haven’t lost a beloved although in some ways it feels like it. What I am doing is practicing the art of losing. When I want to say nie, I say no. When I want to catch the server’s attention to add ice to my drink, I put my hand down. When I correspond with overseas friends, I pause and look about me:  I am here, in this room, in this country.

Jill Boyles is a writer from Minnesota, USA. Her work has appeared in The Minnesota Women’s Press and Focus on Dalian, among other publications. Her blog is finding-place.com. The deleted blog post mentioned in this blog post will be in the November issue of Calliope Magazine.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Writer Not-So Abroad

Less than a week ago, Writer Abroad became Writer at Home. After almost a decade in Switzerland, she has moved back to the USA and is maybe staying awhile. Maybe.

She says “maybe” because thanks to Swiss bureaucracy, she has been granted a two-year leave to take care of some family issues. She’s not sure how it will go. Or how she will like “home” after being away for so long. So far she likes the friendliness and the taffy apples but dislikes the lack of walking and the obsession with football.

Writer at Home knows "home" won’t be easy. In fact, research shows it is harder to move home than it is to move abroad. The “Repatriation Blues” are a reality. In fact, Alan Paul wrote an entire column in the Wall Street Journal about them. 

Writer at Home wonders if these blues differ when one has an open door to return? Will it make things harder as it means her return “home” might not be final? Or will it make it easier to know the option of returning abroad is there? Only time and this blog will tell.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Writing for Travelers Who'd Rather Stay at Home

Guest Post by Celia Luterbacher

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport." Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort.  -  Douglas Adams

As an American expat living in Switzerland, where my husband was recently hired as a professor, I rely a lot on travel literature. I am still new to living abroad, and Switzerland is close to so many other countries that the Swiss consider a weekend not spent visiting Italy, France or Spain to be wasted. But reading travel blogs and books makes me feel guilty, because I know I am an imposter. While on paper I appear to be a travel-loving, adventure-craving explorer of foreign lands and cultures, I am actually a quiet, anxious introvert who adheres to routine the way some adhere to religion or veganism. I am a traveler who finds it difficult to travel, a homebody seldom at home, an adventuring hobbit. I am an "anti-expat," and I know I am not alone. My goal in writing this post and my blog, the Scrappy Traveler, is to train a spotlight on the anti-expat audience and provide examples of helpful anti-expat information and resources.

Living abroad out of happenstance--as a trailing spouse or as a professional relocated for a job, for example--raises a number of issues. For anti-expats, travel and life abroad are skills that must be strengthened through conscious effort, because we have not been blessed with wanderlust or an innate desire to leave home. This can be embarrassing to admit, because who doesn't love travel (or at least list it as an interest on Facebook)? Travel is the cornerstone of every bucket list, vacation and free giveaway. Saying you find travel difficult is like saying you don't care for puppies or happiness. For me, anti-expat life has meant packing up my things and moving permanently outside my comfort zone. But it has also brought daily learning, discovery and profound growth beyond my expectations.

Anti-expats must learn how to strike a balance between adapting to new cultural norms, and hanging onto old ways. I've found that keeping some familiar habits, at least temporarily, can help ease stress: for example, ordering takeout or buying only familiar foodstuffs for awhile before attempting to cook the local cuisine. I am proud to finally be at the stage where I only need to resort to Switzerland's American Food Market for peanut butter - a product that Europeans simply don't understand, despite their mastery of hazelnut spread (seriously, you can buy Nutella by the kilo here). But it's important for anti-expats to recognize where diving into the local way of doing things right away will make life abroad much easier. If living in Europe, chances are it will be less stressful to ditch the commute-by-car habit as soon as possible and learn the local train, bus, or metro schedule. 

Making new friends may be the most challenging aspect of anti-expat life. Natural travelers often have a knack for feeling comfortable enough in a second language, whether they have mastered the basics or not, to strike up a conversation with a stranger and go with the flow. They don't mind using a bit of sign language or making a few grammatical errors as long as they get their point across, and they enjoy the excitement of meeting new people. Before long, they’ve developed a network of friends who know the area and can provide advice and support. For anti-expats, learning the language as soon as possible is key, because the sooner one can say "please" and "thank you" and "how do I sign up for health insurance?" in the native tongue, the more connections it will be possible to make. Unfortunately, shyness can be an impediment to travel even within one's own country, but when foreign languages get thrown into the mix, social interaction can become nothing short of terrifying. If moving abroad for professional reasons, many companies will finance formal language classes, but for others this option may be too expensive or time-consuming. A fantastic way for anti-expats to become more comfortable speaking outside the classroom is to find someone who speaks the desired language as his or her mother tongue, who also wants to learn English as a second language (in my area, this program is called Tandem). This person could be a friend or co-worker, or a connection made through an online ad. But anti-expats should not discount the importance of traditional learning to supplement conversation practice: for this purpose, I can't recommend the app Duolingo highly enough.

Expat communities can also be wonderful resources for making friends, and finding groups of people with similar interests and backgrounds online is very easy. However, it is important for anti-expats to make sure they supplement time spent in expat activities with efforts to meet local people. Identifying inexpensive, low-key, flexibly scheduled classes or workshops focused on a favorite hobby can be a great way to for anti-expats to accomplish this, as can engaging in volunteer work.

Travel Writers Abroad, take note: there is an audience out there eager for information about travel, but not necessarily for the same reasons as traditional consumers of travel literature. These people may not find living abroad easy or natural, but they still find it worth doing, and targeted resources are essential. Rather than the Top 10 Places to Eat in Tallinn or the Most Scenic Bike Routes through Scotland, anti-expats are more likely to want to read about the Top 10 Tips for Budgeting in Two Currencies or Least Stressful Weekend Activities in Geneva. Perhaps these topics seem boring when there are so many places to see and things to do, but for an anti-expat, they can make all the difference in helping a reluctant traveler find their way in the world.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The truth about travel writing

When Writer Abroad used to dream about life as a travel writer, she imagined glamour. And more glamour. Oh, the free meals she would eat. Ah, the overnight stays she would enjoy. And yes, all those airline miles she’d acquire.

The reality is much different. Especially if you’re a travel writer who writes about Switzerland.

The Swiss laws of economics and commerce don’t really apply to the rest of the world. If you need evidence, go to a Swiss flea market and try to buy a garden gnome for less than $50. The seller won’t budge on the price—they seem to not care whether they sell the gnome or not.

Which brings Writer Abroad to life as a travel writer in Switzerland. Most Swiss establishments don’t appear to care that Writer Abroad is writing about them and therefore bringing them business. In their minds, they already have enough business and don’t see the point of more.

The first time Writer Abroad’s request for information was ignored by a Swiss establishment, she was pretty surprised. She is no longer surprised by these non-responses–or even by negative responses. Last week on a research outing she was pretty much told by one annoyed bakery owner that he didn’t have time for her even though he had agreed to meet with her. Swiss hotels consistently ignore Writer Abroad’s requests for images of their hotels even if they are going to be displayed on a website that gets a million eyeballs a day.

So. To those who search for the glamour in travel writing, let Writer Abroad be the first to tell you that there is none, except to say if you truly love travel and you truly love writing, then it is still the best job in the world.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day

Here's to the independents. The ones who believe in themselves and their artistic endeavors. The ones who turn marketing into a creative project as big as the one they are selling. The brave ones who say no to seven figure deals and yes to autonomy. 

Writer Abroad's
logo of independence
Today is American Independence Day. Let's celebrate the independents. 

Ira Glass is giving us a great reason to celebrate. Thanks to him, indie fever is spreading beyond book publishing and into radio and broadcasting. Ira Glass's "This American Life" left Public Radio International. And turned down a huge deal from NPR. As of July 1, the show is independent.

Independent.

Writer Abroad couldn't be prouder to be a part of the new class of independents. Are we all crazy? Maybe. Maybe not. But the ones who have the confidence to go ahead and create without the world approving us first are just the ones who might take that world and redefine it.

Happy Independence Day from Writer Abroad.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Eight Years as a Writer Abroad

Today marks Writer Abroad’s eighth anniversary of being an American writer in Switzerland. To celebrate, she’d like to list eight reasons it’s great to live abroad as a writer.

One: Living abroad improves creativity. Research from INSEAD proves this.

Two: You’ll differentiate yourself. Abroad, you’ll find you have unique skills in the marketplace—especially if you’re living in a country where English is not an official language.
Eight years after moving to Switzerland:
Writer Abroad's first book signing

Three: You’ll understand where you came from. If you never leave your country of birth, you’ll never see it clearly because you’ll never have anything to compare it with.

Four: You’ll learn to take initiative. With no English-language writing instruction in Zurich, for example, Writer Abroad had to offer it herself by founding the Zurich Writers Workshop or it wouldn’t exist. Bonus? Now she has event planning skills too.

Five: You’ll learn new skills. Besides event planning, Writer Abroad has learned to diversify her skills because living abroad gave her those opportunities. German to English advertising adaptations, proofreading, editing non-native English, travel writing, blogging…and the list continues.

Six: Isolation. Writer Abroad knows it helps her get more done. Writing can also be an escape from the pressures of living in a place where you’re not fluent in the local language too. It makes you prolific.

Seven: Inspiration. Stories come naturally when crazy things happen to you every day.

Eight: You’ll never have to think “what if?” Most writers have romantic notions of living abroad. While the reality can be much less romantic, living in another country is still a rite of passage for many writers. Why think about it when you can do it?

Why do you like being a writer abroad?



Thursday, June 5, 2014

What your favorite authors have in common

It took until last week to realize it, but here is something all of Writer Abroad’s favorite authors have in common: one-star reviews on amazon.

These are fantastic, funny, and talented writers. And they endure a seemingly endless wave of crappy reader reviews.

How did Writer Abroad come to this conclusion? Well, she got her first one-star review last week. And she’s not going to lie—seeing it for the first time was kind of like being punched in the gut.

But what helped ease the pain as quickly as it arrived was realizing that all of her favorite authors had one-star reviews too. All of them. Put your work out there and there is only one guarantee: it’s going to get everything from a one-star review to a five-star review.

Why? Because we all like to read different things and we all have different backgrounds and senses of humor. There’s a book for everyone but not everyone will like a book. It’s reality. One person loves David Sedaris. Another doesn’t get his humor at all.

And often people who give reviews haven’t even read the book they are reviewing, so they can’t be taken too seriously. One person who recently left a review for Writer Abroad gave her book five stars but said in the review that they hadn’t even read it yet. So there you have it. Good and bad on both ends of the non-reader reviewers of your book.

However, most writers, by the time they have actually published a book, are pros at rejection and humiliation. Writer Abroad has been through enough in the last ten years as a writer to know that if you want to be a writer, you must have two things: courage to put your writing out in the world and a thick skin to survive its existence in the public sphere.

Otherwise, you might as well apply for law school.
  

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