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Posts Tagged ‘expatriate’

I’ve always admired the rugged ability of certain adventurer-writers to appear masterful in the wider world.

True or not, it’s easy to envision legendary expatriate authors like Karen Blixen and Ernest Hemingway crushing it in their overseas exploits. Satisfying wanderlust. Surviving exotic illness. Operating transnational businesses. Donning local garb or exploration gear. Pictured alone on the landscape, or comfortably surrounded by teeming locals. Iconic.

Then they write personally relevant opuses Out of Africa and The Old Man and the Sea.

Larger-than-life expat writer personalities seem in tune with far-flung surroundings, able to produce their best work from foreign atmospheres.

These two predecessors were clearly troubled. Alcoholism. Venereal disease. Financial ruin. Divorce. Suicide. However, aspiring to their ultimate of travel feats — achieving a personal and professional high point — remains an urge for writers abroad like me.

I explore my own brush with the weight of expat image expectation at a colleague’s blog this week by delving into the photos that correspond with a highlight and a lowlight of my expat experience. Despite previous and future international depths, it only takes one flashbulb moment to remind us we too can outdo ourselves abroad. And that memory can empower us and our expat life for a long time. Take a peek at Unrecognizable vs. Iconic.

Which expat icons do you admire — and when have you found authority overseas?

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Numerous primitive and tribal cultures believe a person’s soul is stolen when they’re photographed. I wonder if a photograph shows a soul being drained.

I’m delving into mental and photographic snapshots of my 12 year expat experience for a colleague’s blog: one highlight, one lowlight. The lowlight will be hard to choose.

My five years in Asia in the ’90s would amount to great adventure for most people, yet the evidence clumps together in my least favorite albums.

Off-camera life losses — separation from family, friends, language, community, the death of my best friend, the theft of my puppy, you name I lost it during my first longterm stint abroad — are reflected on-camera. Stripped of my cosmopolitan composure. Confident clothing. Gleaming skin. Chocolate curls. Toothy smile. Layer by layer, country by country, year by year I deplete and erode.

There are some monstrous stunners here.

Sweaty and sun-damaged with unschooled fluffball haircut, captured in the gracious gardens of Raffles Hotel. I’d given up sunscreen, as well as hair products and all hope of finding a stylist who understood fine and curly.

On the Great Wall of China, scowling Westerner in unladylike Doc Martens and baggy seersucker shorts (the only ones in the shops, I swear!), surrounded by svelte Chinese girls in platform shoes cheerfully waving tour company flags.

Thankfully these days the likelihood of snapping a picturesque portrait has gone way up even if my background doesn’t always match me.

What do your bluest images depict and how do they reveal the soul’s resiliency?

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Last week I was honored to be included in a group of Cross-cultural and International Bloggers to Watch in 2010. This week as the guest curator in a review series at SheWrites, I’m pleased to note a few fellow expat bloggers. Members of the Ning network’s blogging group can read it here.

I’m drawn to the subject matter of these writers (and many others who I hope to highlight in the future). Posts seem compelled by the daily negotiation of expat/immigrant/exile identity. Shaped by unfamiliar environments. Inspired by moments when belief systems are challenged or uprooted.

You’ll recognize fiction-writer Catherine Yigit as a contributor to the Expat Harem anthology and the group blog expat+HAREM. In Skaian Gates, the Dublin native writes with a wry sensibility about “living between the lines” of culture and language on the Straits of the Dardanelles. She takes us through the gauntlet of getting a Turkish driving license. Although prepared for the exam, she discovers she’ll have no control over the vehicle since her examiner has a lead-foot on the dual-control pedals! Even if we learn the rules and practice the gears in our lives abroad, we often sense we’re not in the driver’s seat and we have to be okay with that.

Professionally-trained artist Rose Deniz lives in an industrial town near the Sea of Marmara, a body of water named for its marble-like surface. Her spare blog reflects deep ideas and personal geographies, like the trouble with being the kind of person who visualizes color, numbers and forms in the midst of a chaotic Turkish family setting; and finding the art in life outside the studio. Her real-time, online 2010 discussion series in which “art is dialogue and the studio is you” will be hosted at expat+HAREM.

Petya Kirilova-Grady, a Bulgarian who lives in Tennessee with her American husband, writes about bi-cultural misunderstandings and shares her embarrassment over a recent gender role snafu. The only way to explain why  the progressive young woman “couldn’t be bothered to do a ‘typically male’ task” in the domestic sphere is because Bulgarians are traditionalists at home. Petya writes of the realization “I can’t remember the last time I felt as Bulgarian.”

Expat bloggers flourish when we face a fresh appreciation for not only where we are but where we come from — and what we’re made of.

Who are your favorite expat bloggers and why?

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I asked that question during a week of live #litchat on Twitter when I guest hosted this spring. Here are highlights from three hours of conversation with 40 readers, writers, travelers, expats, Third Culture Kids and emigrees weighing in from around the globe. The unattributed comments are my own.

WHAT’S EXPAT LIT?

The interpretation of another culture by someone of our own. — M. Dominique Benoit

An expat writer draws on a collective cultural consciousness to talk about a different locale. An outsider’s view from the inside: when it’s good, it’s the best of both worlds.

A thoughtful expat will question and analyze his own cultural biases. The reader can do this vicariously. — Deborah Davidson

EXPAT LIT COMES OF AGE

So many globetrotters, so many identity issues when home keeps changing. — Jennifer Eaton Gokmen

EXPAT LIT VS. TRAVELOGUE

Travel may open your eyes but does not change your identity. Expatriation sure does! — Emmanuelle Archer

Expat lit is not travel literature since writing about life from outside a homeland does not mean writing from a state of travel. We’re coping with extended life in a foreign culture, navigating subtleties, adapting to find harmony. Personal assimilation/identity issues dominate expat writing, and filter their world. If travel writing is a chance to travel vicariously, expat lit is a chance to live abroad vicariously.

FEMALE VS. MALE WRITERS

Female expat writers do more with identity and assimilation, I find. — Nassim Assefi

EMIGREE/IMMIGRANT VS. EXPAT

If the subject is primarily your homeland and you live abroad as an emigree, that’s emigree lit. If you’re living outside your home culture writing about where you are, and even the rest of the world, that’s expat lit. 

THIRD CULTURE KID VS. EXPAT

Third Culture Kid lit has more multi-faceted identity issues versus the writer who becomes an expat as an adult. The adult expat writer already has an established identity that gets challenged as adult. TCK has been challenged with identity all his life. — J. Gokmen

TCK often means not knowing where home is. Citizenship or nationality become irrelevant. TCK lit can be the epitome of expat lit, a “twice-removed” look at the culture. — E. Archer

AUTHORS, TITLES MENTIONED (travel, expat, TCK, emigree literature, historical and contemporary)

Adam Gopnik – Paris to the Moon//Anthony Burgess – Malay Trilogy//Bill Bryson//Carla Grissman – Dinner of Herbs//Chris Stewart – Driving Over Lemons//Christopher Isherwood//David Sedaris – Nuit of the Living Dead//Ernest Hemingway – Death in the Afternoon//Firoozeh Dumas – Funny in Farsi//Freya Stark//Gertrude Stein and the Lost Generation//Henry Miller//Isabella Bird//Jamie Zeppa – Beyond the Sky and Earth: A Journey into Bhutan//Karen Blixen//Lawrence Durrell – Alexandria Quartet//A. J. Leibling – Between Meals: An Appetite For Paris//Malcolm Lowry//Marlena De Blasi – A Thousand Days in Tuscany//Mary Blume – A French Affair//Mary Lee Settle – Turkish Reflections//Milan Kundera//Peter Mayles – French Lessons//Pico Iyer//Sarah McDonald – Holy Cow//Sarah Turnbull – Almost French//Somerset Maugham – Far Eastern Tales//Stanley Karnow – Paris in the Fifties//Tahir Shah – The Caliph’s House//Tales from the Expat Harem//Three Cups of Tea//Vladimir Nabokov//William Dalrymple

Does expat lit deserve its own genre? Which writers and titles do you consider expat lit, or why not?

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Expat Harem has a new global niche.

The Expat Harem — a concept I coined in 2004 with Jennifer Eaton Gokmen and brought to life in 2005 and 2006 in the foreign women in Turkey anthology Tales from the Expat Harem — has always been about a modern and virtual community of cultural peers.

windows into the expat harem by Leslie Dann

Now the (softly) relaunched ExpatHarem.com is expat+HAREM, the global niche and aims to bring its community to life online as a neoculture hub for global citizens and identity adventurers as well as travelers and culturati, fans of the anthology, and Turkophiles.

Re-imagining the role Expat Harem plays in the cultural conversation, this new venture acknowledges the permanent liminality of today’s multicultural, global existence. Like the nation of Turkey itself — its struggles are both personal and universal, self-perception East yet also West, looking toward Europe or Asia, ancient empire persisting under the surface of new republic. In some small or large way, all of us are coming or going, crossing threshold after threshold but never arriving.

I’m looking forward to engaging with you about the crossroads and dichotomies of our hybrid lives….

  • modern existences in historic places
  • deep-rooted traditions translated in mobile times
  • limiting stereotypes revisited for wider meaning
  • the expat mindset as it evolves from nationalism to globalism

COLLABORATION WELCOME: Guest contributors are invited to make this global niche their own. Peruse the (very basic) guidelines.

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Expatriatism is often a life apart. So how does a writer abroad get up to speed and compete in her home market?

Here’s my answer in a guest post — about the fortuitous intersection of expatriatism, epublishing and digital citizenship — at former Writers Digest editor Maria Schneider’s Editor Unleashed blog.

Are you culturally or geographically challenged? How do you level the playing field?

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“Can you share a travel secret?” asked an online travel site for women prepping its annual feature of tips from women writers worldwide.

“Read the women who went before us,” I replied. “Or, read about them.”

For this expat/archaeologist/writer/traveler, cultural wisdom pools at the intersection of women and travel.  The romance and grit of historical travelogue connects me to the land — and reminds me of travel’s transformative force in the lives of women. Reputation-risking. Life-threatening. Culturally redeeming. Personally empowering.  (My post about a related controversial history.)

on set of "Anna and the King"

on set of "Anna and The King"

Adventurous Women in Southeast Asia (Oxford-in-Asia), a selection of traveler sketches by historian John Gullick, gave my own struggling expatriate experience new meaning when I was sweating it out for 5 years in the Malaysian jungle. Playing an attitudinal extra aristocrat on the 1860s filmset of “Anna and The King” with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat in 1999 (next to a pig farm during a swine flu outbreak, but that’s another post!), I appreciated learning about the dark side of the iconic governess to the Siamese court. Foster may have played Anna Leonowens prim, proper and principled but actually the lady was a scrappy mixed-blood mistress of reinvention. There was hope for me!

If you plan a trip to Turkey maybe Cultures in Dialogue holds similar promise for you. The print-on-demand series resurrects antique writings by American and British women about their travels in Turkey (1880s to 1940s), along with surprisingly political writing by women of the Ottoman empire. Contempo analysis by spunky scholars Reina Lewis and Teresa Heffernan refreshes the context of a region in transition.

Next post, more titles which add new dimension to travel. Any favorite antique travel reads? What draws you to by-gone reports?

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