Part of the deal when choosing an expat lifestyle is being a foreigner. It’s just a fact. On the one hand, being a foreigner is really cool, since by definition, you are constantly discovering your new surroundings, and so your senses are heightened toward the new exciting world you have chosen. On the other hand, you don’t belong. Plain and simple, you don’t. I grew up a foreigner. My parents decided to move our family to the Philippines when I was 8 years old, and ever since then I have been a “third culture kid,” comfortable in many places in the world, but never truly at home in any of them. My skin color gave me away in the Philippines, and although I looked normal enough in the US, I never have felt a true sense of belonging there. We are at our six month point of living in England now. At this point in our journey in Germany, we were already preparing to leave, so any feelings of homesickness were irrelevant as we packed up and tried to figure out what was next. Even so, we had welcomed two sets of visitors by then, and were more integrated into life in Amberg then, than we are in Bury St. Edmunds now.
It has been hard for me to realize that we have been here for half of a year, and yet I still feel so displaced. Jeff goes to work all day with his co-workers, and is getting really comfortable with his new job. Amelia is doing really well in school, speaks just like her classmates do when she is there, and seems to be thriving here. I, on the other hand, spend most of my time at home and have no strong ties to the city around me. The person I see most often is my butcher. One man at the open market that I go to twice a week recognizes me and always cheerily greets me, “Hello, young lady.” I attend a weekly yoga class, but haven’t really chatted with anyone there. I have been loving my pottery class, and have on one occasion run into a classmate in town– but the others are not even from my city. The other moms at Amelia’s school are quite reserved, and so although I always have a welcoming and friendly expression on my face, and try to initiate conversation here and there, I don’t know any of them yet. It’s so different from what I experienced in Amberg. Here, no one wants to tell you their name, and sometimes when I introduce myself and ask them, they seem a little taken aback. I am OK with this in theory, but I feel alienated. I am an alien. I am not from this area or this country.
This was very pronounced this morning. Last night, Amelia announced that today is World Book Day. She explained that this means that children can dress up as their favorite book characters. It sounded like a lot of fun, but I hadn’t heard anything from the school about it. We get flyers all the time about various issues and events, but not a word about World Book Day or dressing up. Amelia, in her excitement, often gets special days mixed up. For example, she announced St. Valentine’s Day multiple times before the fact. So, I really had no idea what would be happening today. It was too late to call the school, and I just didn’t know if it was in fact the holiday tomorrow, or what the expectations were. To be safe, I had Amelia put on her uniform, but then I packed a costume (the queen from Alice in Wonderland) and took it with us to school. When we got there, everyone was very much dressed up as book characters, including hair and makeup. I felt simultaneously relieved that I had brought Amelia’s costume for her to change into, and terrible that I hadn’t helped her enjoy the event by making her up as the queen as much as possible. But what would have happened if we had shown up like that, and everyone else looked as they usually do on a school day?! I think there were no flyers sent home because everyone knows about this special day. Sigh. There are so many things like this that make me feel lame. For example, I love trivia and games, but I haven’t gone to trivia night at our neighborhood pub or at the school fundraisers because I would just not know the answers the British trivia questions! I should still go to meet people, but it’s just daunting to me.
Being a total introvert in a foreign country is equal parts blessing and curse. On the positive side, I can go for long periods happy with my own company, not so disturbed by knowing no one and not fitting in. I am not sure I’ve ever met someone that loves being alone as much as I do. On the other hand, getting to know people is much harder, much more daunting and exhausting for me than it would be for a very outgoing person. Even though I am energized by being alone, I still really value people and community very much. I am used to having people over for dinner, and hosting lots of social gatherings– I absolutely love to feed people and think I am good at hosting gatherings, since I know what it’s like to feel out of place in a group, and enjoy working to make introductions and ensuring that everyone feels comfortable. We have lived in our home since October, and– I can’t believe this is true– have not had anyone over yet. My idea of living well definitely involves eating good food with quality people, as often as possible, preferably in my own home. Jeff and Amelia are quality people, and I cook for them every day. So, that’s good. But we are missing something really important in our new life!
At this point, we haven’t had any visitors here, either. One of the most helpful things that can happen in adjusting to a new place is having people from your previous life come and visit. Introducing them to what is cool, different, and exciting is a very healing process, that helps one become really invested in all that constitutes the new life. I am sure people will eventually come… And that is why this blog is really helpful for me– I can show and describe our surroundings and life here in general. But not having any real witnesses makes life here feel a little bit like a (very long, very detailed) dream. Is it real? No one I know has seen me here! Having belongings around the house from different times in my life helps. But life is still lonely here for me. I have had to make major transitions to new places many, many times in my life. Usually, the six month point is when it all gets better, and I start to begin feeling at home. I am sure things will get better. But I have to be honest with you, that it’s not easy. Travel and fun new experiences help, but there is no replacement for feeling at home.