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On Migration, Identity and Colorful Earthlings

If you have moved abroad 1, the following scenario might sound familiar: you are at a social gathering, sipping your drink and having a pleasant time. You meet a bunch of new people and engage in small talk. You talk about the weather, food or common interests. They seem friendly. Everything is going well.

But the locals notice that something is off. Maybe you look different, maybe they sense an accent, maybe your body language deviates from the norm. Then the inevitable question arises.

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They are genuinely curious to know more about your background, but you realize that the question is somewhat flawed. They ask “where are you from”, and I wonder if this is what they picture in their minds:Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, expat comics, home country, living abroad

But you are not a tourist from country X in country Y. You are not even a long-term guest. In fact, you’ve been away for so long, that right now you are much closer to Y than X. You are at a loss for words.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, TKC, cultural baggage, background, assimilation, acculturation

In addition, your birthplace, the cultural background of your parents or the country where you grew up might be totally separate variables. For the sake of simplification, let’s say those three elements can be stacked up in one pile. It still feels wrong to say I’m X. Instead, I picture something like this:

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You are in that green area, fluctuating between two worlds, really belonging to neither. Too foreign here, too alien for home.

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The conversational partner seems to be getting impatient. Maybe I could say that I’m both X and Y, and call it a day. It wouldn’t be a lie either, for I am a dual citizen.

I slightly lean back and take a look around. I spot my husband, who happens to be Z, talking to a middle-aged man, fighting the language barrier in order to explain what he does for a living. I know the struggle. We have all been Z at some point. He also puts his cultural luggage on the table, making our household an XYZ home.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, third culture, cultural background, foreign couple

However, there’s more to this equation than X, Y, Z. There’s also A, B, C, D and E. All those places where I have lived, all those people that I have met, all those different world views that I have collected over the years.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, expat comic, comic strip, international relationships, life abroad

The mental diagram keeps growing 2. With every new added circle, the “me” intersection becomes tinier and darker. So tiny that it feels restrictive. You want to break free, yet don’t know how to sew all the pieces together and stitch up a unified self. You are a patchwork of traits without defined identity. A shattered mirror where every fragment reveals one particular reality, and one runs the risk of getting lost between its cracks. You are part of everywhere and nowhere at the same time.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, foreigner, vivir en el extranjero, im Ausland leben, AusländerThen the sudden realization strikes. It’s the question that was wrong all along.

You may be from somewhere, yet feel part of something else. Your identity is a fluid construct, a colorful coalescence. You are all the pieces of the puzzle, and those that are yet to come. You don’t have to settle for X when you can be the whole damn alphabet 3.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, TCK, patchwork, global awareness, world citizen

So, next time someone asks where you are from, think big.

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Dedicated to everyone who has ever felt out of place.

#challengeforchange

A few days ago I stumbled upon the #challengeforchange. The instructions were simple: “take a photo of an area that needs some cleaning or maintenance, then take a photo after you have done something about it, and post it”. The more pictures I saw, the more inspired I became. Thousands of people around the globe have been doing an amazing job cleaning up their coastal regions. So I though: “Hey, I can do this too!” 4

Given that I’m currently visiting my family, I decided to go with the Nature Park Los Toruños. I picked this gorgeous location because the plastic litter that accumulates around the marshes is dragged by the River San Pedro into the Bay of Cádiz before making it into the Atlantic Ocean.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, #challengeforchange, #wedontdeservethisplanet, environment, parque natural Los Toruños

[Source of the map]

I don’t have one particular “before” picture because I walked around 5 km of marshes, but here’s the “after” image. I know that three garbage bags it’s not going to solve the massive pollution problem, but at least I got a full body workout, enjoyed the gorgeous weather and spent the day with my childhood sea.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, #challengeforchange, #wedontdeservethisplanet, environment, parque natural Los Toruños

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, #challengeforchange, #wedontdeservethisplanet, environment, parque natural Los Toruños

Every little step goes a long way.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, #challengeforchange, #wedontdeservethisplanet, environment, parque natural Los Toruños

Shall we walk this journey together?

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, #challengeforchange, #wedontdeservethisplanet, environment, parque natural Los Toruños

#challengeforchange
#TrashTag
#wedontdeservethisplanet

Time Zone Math

If you happen to have friends or relatives living in a different time zone, you are most likely acquainted with the time zone math. Whether you’d like to video conference your family, or arrange a phone call with someone who lives on the other side of the planet, you might be used to the phrase “Your time or mine?”. Either way, it’s time for the time zone math! 2Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Time Zone Math, Time Difference, GTM, living abroad comics

Alright, the calculation is actually much easier than it looks in that blue vortex of numeric madness. Besides, it’s fun to weird yourself out thinking about time zones. One person is born in LA at 7 pm, and another one in Beijing at 11 am. They’ll have two different birth dates, although the were born at the exact same time. *Mind-blown*

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You are doing that math in your head right now, aren’t you?

Expats in the Making

Here are some things that I learnt in school: trigonometry, analyzing meter and rhyme in Greek poetry, and every single event leading to the fall of the Tokugawa dynasty. Here are some things that I wish I had learnt in school: dealing with taxes and investments, nailing job interviews, and becoming more aware of cultural diversity. Whether you want to be a pilot, a cook or photographer, the goal of school should be preparing future adults for real-life situations.

We did a bunch of cool things back in school, but in retrospect, I wish we had had a more well-rounded, globally-oriented education. Obviously, school can only provide some foundations, and you have to tackle life on your own and get hands-on experience. In my case however, taking a preparation class before moving abroad would have certainly helped big time. How would that hypothetical course go?

Expats in the Making: the elective high school subject for ecdemomaniacs and prospective expats. Because one can never be too prepared to deal with this wonderful yet confusing world of ours.

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Foreign, not deaf

Human interactions are fascinating, especially when the people involved in the linguistic exchange don’t share a common language. Picture the following scenario: a native speaker attempts to communicate with a foreigner. The native says something and the non-native looks puzzled. Then the native repeats the exact same thing in the exact same order and speed, just 30 decibels louder. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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My hearing works perfectly, thank you very much. I’m foreign, not deaf. Shouting is not going to magically make me speak your language or understand words that I haven’t previously learnt. Rephrase, use simpler structures, find more basic vocabulary… anything but yelling.

Two people don’t need a common language to communicate. They just need to be willing to understand each other.