Let’s see… It’s been over four months since I first wrote about expat alienation, and almost two months since I wrote my second post on culture shock, in which I described the very difficult social climate where I live. Honestly, four months and two months are not that much time, as far as expat life goes– but some key things have happened in that period, and it’s important for me to write about the triumphs as well as the challenges. Becoming an expat is such a huge transition on so many levels… There are things that improve within a matter of weeks– basic ways to integrate very effectively, such as locating the best place to buy coffee, or where to take your recycling. Other things can take much longer, and some aspects of being a foreigner may never change. In all of these things, it’s important to periodically take stock, and see what has shifted, and how. Sometimes we can get stuck thinking things are just a certain way, without re-evaluating whether progress has been made. I want to always assume that conditions will improve, to be hopeful and optimistic about my life here in England, or wherever I may end up. So today I have some good reports to share.
Here are a few good things that have happened, socially:
- Amelia’s party was a nice way to reach out a little to some of her classmates and their families. Two of the guests were American friends, but the rest were classmates, and we had a good time, and were finally introduced to their parents. Unfortunately, I could not get any of the parents to come in… They were all just happy to have childcare for a couple of hours. Some of the moms say hello now.
- We were invited over for dinner by a family in Amelia’s school! This was our first social contact with them outside of school, and it was SO nice. They are a lovely family, and our kids played together beautifully. This was the first time we had been invited over by any family at school, or even shared a meal with a family in our town. Next time, they’ll come over to our place, which will be another exciting first for us.
- After the Olympic torch came through Bury, we went down to a local pub with everyone else to enjoy the celebratory atmosphere. No one spoke to us for the first hour, but then the friendly lady I had met from Amelia’s school showed up at the table nearby (I hadn’t even see her since that one conversation) but she recognized me, and introduced me to the friend she was with. I spent half an hour chatting with both of them. That may not seem like much, but it was a big deal to me, since people just don’t talk to me here! Furthermore, they gave me their numbers and invited me to meet them there again that Friday for a drink before we picked up our kids (also kind of funny, right?!)
- I met them, and getting a drink with British gals was quite a milestone for me. I met two other moms there, and they were nice. Ironically, all four of the women have boys and they are in different classes than Amelia’s so it’s not the most natural pairing for play dates, but it was just great to meet more people in my neighborhood.
- Lately, the few people who have found out about the type of bodywork I do have been really interested and have expressed that there is a real need and market for my skill set here. That is super encouraging. When we first moved here, no one I spoke to even knew what craniosacral therapy was, let alone the other types of work I do (visceral manipulation, for example.) So I am feeling hopeful about getting integrated into the community through work, which is exciting. I have even had a couple of people ask if I could come to their homes and work with them at some point. Great!
- It’s been mentioned before, but it’s still true– my butcher and his wife are my #1 contacts in town. They have continued to be really great, and are such a wonderful resource. Not only did they give me a bottle of country wine for my birthday, as well as other heart-warming gestures (like bringing in a gardening magazine for me that has an article on edible flowers, since they have figured out that I like that sort of thing) but they have helped me understand cultural norms better. For example, one expat had told us that inviting someone over to your house for dinner (or getting an invitation to dinner) here was a Really. Big. Deal. One that would require a babysitter, formal attire, flowers, wine, etc., etc. This, of course, seemed a bit daunting, and made me a little hesitant to invite new acquaintances over for dinner. I was really glad to learn that it’s just not like that, unless you are being invited over by someone who is “incredibly uppity.” Good to know!
- We are making plans for a trip out to see the family we met in Belgium next month, and looking forward to some fun with them.
- And then, there was this morning. I found myself walking the same direction as that first mom I had met at school, and we began to chat. She was headed into town and invited me to come with her. I had rolled out of bed and put on workout clothes, and hadn’t eaten anything… What to do? I invited her in for a cup of coffee, and she accepted. It was so nice to have a local friend in my house to chat with. She is funny, quick and honest. One thing led to another, and soon she was laying on my couch getting a craniosacral therapy treatment. I was so glad I could help her, that I had something to offer. So that was two milestones at once!
Things are slowly but steadily improving in the social environment here. And now there is another wrinkle– tomorrow is Amelia’s last day of school, and in the fall, she will be going to a different school. Jeff’s work will pay for her to attend a private school, and we found one that we think will be a much better fit for her. On the one hand, it’s kind of a bummer, since we were just starting to get to know some of the families near us. And this new school is on the outside of town. On the other hand, I think that the private school will have more international families, which will be really nice, and, I expect, easier to get to know. I am hoping that the overall environment of that school community will be warmer and more welcoming of newcomers. I am really thankful that we at least made these contacts before the school year ended, and I am hoping to schedule some play dates and get-togethers with these new acquaintances during the six week summer holiday. It’s real progress!
Thanks for listening, and counting these little steps with me.
Have you made any breakthroughs in your community lately?