22 August 2008

The tension between welcome home and my expat curiousity....

Expatriate (v): to leave one’s native country to live elsewhere. Expats are community of individuals who can’t seem to stay in one place. The seduction of a new place, new country and new experience draws them to leave what they know in search of a world with maybe octopus soup at Thanksgiving, maybe a room full of Germans eager to learn English, maybe homelessness on the Adriatic sea or a just simply finding out where they fit in the world.

I was strapped into my transatlantic flight as it slowly turned onto the runway, the pilot made the expected pause before activating the thrusters which would send the plane into its sonic assault on the big blue sky. This pause was my moment, to reflect on my ten month experience, to anticipate my welcome home and sent my emotions into bittersweet chaos. I felt I had accomplished my job in Germany but also had an intense urge to storm to the cockpit and tell them to leave me in Frankfurt. The pause only lasted a few seconds but in some sort of last moment of life kind of flashback, my whole experience exploded before my eyes and I wasn’t sure if wanted to cry or laugh.

It’s hard for me to summarize my whole experience and what it’s like to say goodbye to a place that has become a temporary home. You have read about what I have done so I don’t feel like I need to repeat myself, but I want to express the reasons I go and maybe help to justify why I think expat enthusiasts can so easily say goodbye.

To relocate your life abroad can be a daunting, exhilarating and anxious experience but in the end I always find myself craving more. More of the uneasiness of a foreign language, or more of an incomprehensible culture or more of that personal challenge it can take to be content.

As an amateur writer, I often look to more experienced writers for creative fuel, guidance and most importantly for advice. Chuck Thompson is a writer who has traveled in 35 countries and counting has recently released his book called Smile when you’re lying, a collection of his thoughts regarding travel writing. When reading his words on my flight home, he hit exactly on the head of what I felt and what I wanted to share.

“The insider’s knowledge of a strange place elevates the man abroad above [the masses] of his home country, and particularly above the tourist, whose appearance in his adopted country always comes as an unwelcome shock,” wrote Thompson. “The romantic attachment to place, even a difficult place, is almost impossible to break. All expat life is limbo. Lurking behind every discussion, the Return Home, whether it’s one or two or ten years away, provides the fundamental tension to every moment you live aboard.”

I finally want to say thank you for reading about my experiences and joining me on my Euro journeys. Thompson wrote, “one day you commit to going back to the States and either you succeed there or you don’t. And if you don’t, you leave again; to roll the dice on some other place that requires of you only a passport and the gambler’s faith in long odds.”

The comfort of family and being home is one of the most refreshing and welcoming moments of returning but my expat curiosity always calls me to explore some place new. The world is a playground and I just fell off the slide so soon I might have to try the monkey bars and investigate a new part of the world. So until next time.

So once when in Germany do as the Germans do but now back in South Dakota, do as the South Dakotans and cherish the comforts of home for my travel curisousity will have to be feed again soon...

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