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How the Journey Began

How did the journey begin? When high-school graduation rolled in, the spell had been cast: the boys got together with their female classmates. The first went off to work for their family business, and the later embraced their traditional housewife roles. I had neither a prospective job nor romantic affairs, but the growing notion that I had been sitting in the proverbial cave, watching shadows come and go. I didn’t know what was out there, but staying was not an option.

Something kept pushing forward, something that demanded to be lived out.

Linguist Gone Foreign, Language and foreign culture comics, journey, unraveling foreignness, cupid, into the unknown, after high school

15 Years Living Abroad

Today 15 years ago I boarded a plane to Berlin with a one-way ticket. What started as an expat fling turned into a long-term journey starring the glory and the horrors of life abroad. It’s been 15 years unravelling foreignness across twenty countries, and I can truly say that I’m home abroad. It’s been a wild ride and, despite the hardship, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

So, in order to celebrate this milestone, I’d like to share with you some corny words from the illustrated book that I intend to publish someday:

“Moving abroad means moving past everything you deemed as normalcy. It means leaving one world behind and stepping into a disorienting universe of novelty, a challenging puzzle of strangeness waiting to be understood, and that’s precisely the beauty of it. It is then, on your own, amidst the unfamiliar and the uncertain, that you get the one in a million chance to reinvent yourself. You can start anew, unfold your powers, and be whoever you would like to be.”

Cheers!

Linguist Gone Foreign, Berlin, moving abroad, relocation, expat life, migrant stories, cartoons

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.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, cultural identity, colorful, worldly, displaced, dépaysement, adaptation

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:

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, expat cartoons, comics, living abroad, foreign country

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

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, migration, inmigración, emigración, inmigrante, existential migrant

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.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, life abroad comics, global awareness, world citizen, ciudadana del mundo

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Dedicated to everyone who has ever felt out of place.