21 September 2013

Expat to Expat: Identity & Homesickness

Thought up and hosted by the lovely ladies at Found Love, Now What and The Hemborg Wife thought that for the month of September we would focus on Identity and Homesickness. Toughies. 
 
The availability of great Flat Whites help, I'm not going to be coy. 

Question from Belinda at Found Love, Now What?: How do you fit in to your new culture without losing some of your identity? 

I’ve found it generally very easy to be a Kiwi on the continent. People seem to view us as exotic fruit people, from a friendly and very beautiful corner of the British colonial world which is nice. Sometimes because of Lord of the Rings, they also occasionally think that we live in tiny round houses and have hairy feet which is quite weird. Incidentally, loads of Brits seem to have travelled to NZ, or have family living there which always astounds me – it’s just so far away!
 
One of the cute locals & a gratuitous cute photo.
 
The most obvious difference is in our accents. I struggled a little in the first few months when I first came to the UK because Kiwi-English is fairly unlike English-English – my boss harassed me into say ‘tehn’ instead of ‘tin’ (10) and ‘sehvhen’ instead of ‘sivin’. It’s funny though now, because unlike a lot of my Kiwi mates who have been here much longer that me, I’ve mostly lost my Nuu Zulund iccint (New Zealand accent), it’s to the point that when I say I’m a foreigner it confuses people. They then look astonished, and mentally review every word I’ve said, picking out the ones that didn’t quite sound right. I think maybe it’s because I have an English hubby, English cat and English colleagues so it’s rubbing off on me on an unconscious level. I was also mentally prepared for it to take a while to attune your ear to the many variations of English accents. A Geordie lilt is quite different to a West Country twang but you get there eventually. I always take my hat off to people who move to countries that speak another language – it must be such a challenge to not only learn a new place, but to be unable to communicate must be frustrating to say the least.

Mmmm Lamingtons - I have a secret supplier...

Taking accent out of the equation, life has been sweet as for the most part, but there are a few oddball Americanisms us Kiwis have adopted which do perplex the English - I guess it’s from all the Hollywood blockbusters we watch. Take into consideration pants. To me, Dan Carter and President Obama pants are anything from Jeans to Corduroys to Capris; to the British, they are undies. This has led to several quite embarrassing situations where I’m chatting away, oblivious, telling a story about a walk through the bush where I realised that I had torn a hole in my pants, or I’ve accidently dying them in the wash or had a pair come off the washing line to settle in my neighbours garden, before realising what they thought I was saying. To say my colleagues were rolling on the floor laughing is an understatement. This had to change.


For the most part, I've fitting into my new country was all in the detail. When I landed at Heathrow, it’s safe to say that I felt like I was coming home in a weird way which helped a lot I think – also, when I came over to explore and see what it was like everything that was new and different, so it was fun and interesting. I have been quite lucky though, and meeting my husband helped in many ways because I have a resident expert to consult on pretty well everything. I guess I hold onto my identity in small ways that make me smile – Kiwi jewellery, attending rugby matches when I can, NZ artwork on our walls at home, a Kiwi key-ring/bottle opener, making sure I have a good supply of Kiwi treats either made or bought, keeping in regular touch on Skype with my family (this is a MAJOR thing), and it’s nice being able to vent at “how stupid this country is” when everything (read: the transport system) seems to go wrong. Being able to pull the foreigner card when I direct us the wrong way is awesome too!



One thing that I’ve found here in London is that you have be super brave, be prepared to work for your luck here and hold a positive attitude. It seems to be about having the confidence to put yourself forward for things that you mightn’t normally consider, working hard and being friendly. Some of my fellow Kiwis haven’t had lucky breaks coming to London though which has to be utterly frustrating – rubbish landlords, crappy workmates (believe me, I’ve been there), a broken transport system and everything is expensive. BUT you have to stick with it, and be willing to try try and try again to make things better. There is also a plethora of free stuff in London – the only problem is deciding what to miss!


Question from Bailie at The Hemborg Wife: What do you think your biggest trigger for homesickness is?

For me, it’s just being tired, stressed or ill. The times I’ve been the most homesick are generally because something isn’t going well in another part of my life, (even though you probably don’t realise it at the time) because you think that the grass is much greener at home. I’m not going to gloss this over – over the years I’ve cried in my old office (much to the panic of my male boss) and at times spent days moping at home unable to get myself out of a blue funk because I missed everything at home.

 
Why he puts up with me, I don't know!
 
Thankfully, I have a lovely bloke who can see the signs, and orders me Squiggles, Jaffas and Timtams at the sight of my puffy face, and a whole lot of hugs. I’m also very lucky to have lovely expat friends who understand what I’m going through because they have been through it too. When the times get tough, we often just try and get out and find a distraction. A show, a picnic in the park or something fun. Having holidays planned help too, but I'm not sure that's exclusively an expat thing!


It'll be no surprise, but food is also a big focus – there are things from home that I really miss, but I’ve managed to find most of them somewhere somehow or a UK equivalent. Some I’ve had to dig out my Edmonds cookbook for, some we’ve found at the Kiwi brunch spots here in London, and some in the randomest of places - this is a blog post I’ve been working on too for a while, over 5 years in fact, so stay tuned.
 

Regular Skype sessions with my family help. Phone calls are great, but there really is something special about being able to see the people you love and share a cup of tea with them. There are a few family occasions that I’ve not been able to go to, but we’ve ‘been’ there with a quick Skype sessions to have a nose & say hello to everyone.

Okay, so now it’s your turn!
Found Love.  Now What?

Expats from around the world sharing a bit of their travel highs and lows!

(A wee postscript: we had a bit of a language mix-up when Morgan from Peaches Please kindly made a delicious Pumpkin Cake, which in the us is called a coffee cake because you generally eat them with coffee, not because there is coffee in them... oops #expat mistake by me. Ironic, no?)

How do you cope with loss of identity & homesickness?
 

21 comments :

  1. So today is my 1 year anniversary of being a US expat in London. My husband and I moved first and, after finishing their school years, our teenage boys moved in July (being without them was heartbreaking but that's an entire blog in itself).
    Reading this post brought me to tears, both of joy and sadness. I've made really cool friends in colleagues here and we tease each other about our accents constantly. Two are from Essex and Manchester so they can't even understand each other! Throw a Valley Girl from Los Angeles in the mix and it's all over :)
    I will agree that the times I get homesick are when things aren't going well. Whether it's work or getting my kids into school or being smashed under someone's armpit on the tube in rush hour... It just seems easier to pack it in and go back to where I'm conformable and I know how to solve my problems. And I miss my friends and family and everyday life for sure. Its tough acquiring a new routine and finding your new favourite places.
    So why do I stay? Because this is an amazing adventure. I've become a much stronger person as I lived in the city I was born and raised in. And showing our kids that there is a great world outside of our American bubble is priceless, showing them that having a passport is rad.
    In just one year we've been to a dozen countries and fallen in love with a dozen cities. I've talked to strangers in pubs about heritage and travelling and where the good local places are. I haven't stopped saying "like" every other word, but I now use terms my friends back home can't understand on our weekly Skype calls like "lorry" and "piss up" and asking people if they're alright. I haven't driven a car in ages, but I know which buses get me home. I'm slowly becoming English and its scary, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

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  2. This was a lovely read, and hit close to home in so many ways - specially your point about feeling homesick when things aren't going great here.

    On a side note, your postscript had me breathing a sigh of relief. The term "coffee cake" has confused me for so much time, I feel I've cracked a true English language mystery when I found out what it's really about...around two weeks ago! :P

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    1. It's fascinating how many people are saying 'me too', shows that even when you are blue-est and feeling lonely, you really aren't!

      So ironic though - it really confused me.

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  3. Great post, Emma! Definitely relateable to all of us!

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  4. Thank you so much for joining us! It is so true that when things are down the grass seems greener and then you have to remember why you are where you are!

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    1. Thank you and Belinda for dreaming the link-up, up. It's a fantastic way to get your thoughts in order.
      It did kinda make me a little homesick though!

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  5. This was such a lovely post. I've just started my year abroad in school and I was really shocked about how homesick I was getting, cause I'd only ever wanted to move away! But you're definitely right, I've only ever been homesick when I was stressed or something wasn't quite going my way.

    France has been really different to the US, but your post has made me feel a bit better :)

    http://laceyajackson.blogspot.fr/

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    1. It's really nice to know that you're not alone in what you're feeling, isn't it? Good luck with living in France, that's quite some change!

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  6. What a lovely post! I can't say that I'm as brave as you are... I moved to Brazil in 2010 for 6 months (I'm a travel blogger). I speak Portuguese and got a job teaching English within days but the cultural shock was quite intense.

    Everything from not speaking English all the time(apart from to myself), the food, television shows (how I missed the BBC)to figuring out the transport systems (I know London's is expensive but it's somewhat organized) and beach "etiquette" puzzled me. It's such a beautiful country but for some weird reason I feel that I'd be more comfortable somewhere nearby such as Paris or Milan... Sometimes I wonder if it would have been the same in an English speaking country?

    This article on why cultural shock is good for you might be of interest to you:

    http://www.vergemagazine.com/blogs/guest-bloggers/item/980-5-reasons-why-experiencing-culture-shock-is-good-for-you.html

    Enjoy and thanks again!

    http://www.whatalicedidnext.com

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    1. See, now I think that you're much braver than me - going to a country that you don't speak the language is much harder than what I've been through.

      Lovely recommendation, thank you!!

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  7. What a lovely post! I can't say that I'm as brave as you are... I moved to Brazil in 2010 for 6 months (I'm a travel blogger). I speak Portuguese and got a job teaching English within days but the cultural shock was quite intense.

    Everything from not speaking English all the time(apart from to myself), the food, television shows (how I missed the BBC)to figuring out the transport systems (I know London's is expensive but it's somewhat organized) and beach "etiquette" puzzled me. It's such a beautiful country but for some weird reason I feel that I'd be more comfortable somewhere nearby such as Paris or Milan... Sometimes I wonder if it would have been the same in an English speaking country?

    This article on why cultural shock is good for you might be of interest to you:

    http://www.vergemagazine.com/blogs/guest-bloggers/item/980-5-reasons-why-experiencing-culture-shock-is-good-for-you.html

    Enjoy and thanks again!

    http://www.whatalicedidnext.com

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  8. A really lovely post, I can identify! I've definitely had issues with English-that-isn't-English, as I'm British but lived in the US between the ages of 10-15, then moved to England (I'm from Scotland), not even realizing how many Americanisms I'd picked up and spent my remaining school years having essays corrected to "proper" spelling. Then I move to Canada in my early 20s and went through the same thing again in reverse.

    I was once sent by a temp agency in Vancouver to a job interview, and the agent advised me to wear "smart pants" - I was so confused as to why the state of my knickers was relevant to an interview to be a receptionist. In a weird way life is easier in Sweden as I don't expect anyone to understand ;-)

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    1. Wow, you really have had it touch - I though one permutation was bad, I'm quite curious as to what your default is?

      Hahaha, yes it's a minefield re. pants - and one you kinda don't want to ask to clarify because you think you'll look like an idiot.

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  9. So pants are actually undies here?! Yikes. I'm mentally running back through my conversations I've had with ladies at Lexie's school hoping that word hasn't come up! So would I call pants 'trousers' here? That feels really unnatural. My friends back home would just die if they heard me using that word to describe a pair of jeans! :o)

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    1. Jeans seem to be the exception to the rule, they're just jeans.
      No, I don't get it either! :)

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  10. aaahh the great pants debate! I'm the same, when I'm sick or rundown I get homesick baaaad. It's a hard thing to deal with, but having a caring boyfriend helps :)

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    1. Yes, the great pants debate :D We have several others in our house as well!

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  11. I identify a lot with your article, even though I haven't moved yet from Sydney to London. I think what you've gone thru are perfectly plausible scenarios to happen to everyone and I will keep your tips for coping in mind.I am worried about the accents and language too, but am sure I will figure it out like I have done before with the Aussie accent when I first moved here from Malaysia. Thank you so much for sharing!

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    1. Definitely - and even though we come over & say we don't want to hang out with other antipodeans it's nice to have one or two to moan about Britain with! I think you're attitude, and to a large extent luck has a lot to do with it. Come over & expect an adventure that you'll work for, but it'll be like nothing else you'll ever experience!
      You'll probably struggle like I did initially, but eventually you ear comes round (and some Brit's don't even understand OTHER Brits!)

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  12. I can't imagine moving halfway around the world - I think that's very brave. I moved within Europe so I'm not that far from the UK but the most difficult for me was learning a new language!

    Found your post through Blow Your Own Blog Horn.

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