Menu Close

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

***

Dedicated to everyone who has ever felt out of place.

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! 4Expat 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*

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Time Zone Math, Time Difference, living abroad comics, mind-blown

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.

Expat Gone Foreign, Expat lessons, school, education, life abroad, getting a head start, Expats in the Making

 

Poronkusema & the Finnish Linguistic Landscape

It’s been said that the best way to get to know a society is through language, for it reflects  the idiosyncrasy, values and worldview of its speakers. Take Finland, the land of a thousand lakes and the midnight sun. Its dense forests, fertile mires and pristine lakes, as well as its harsh weather conditions and traditional lifestyles, have shaped the linguistic landscape of the Finnish language throughout the years, from surname conventions to everyday expressions.

One instance of this ever-present connection with nature is the obsolete unit of measurement poronkusema, used by the Sami people to describe the distance a reindeer can travel without having to stop to urinate – roughly 7 to 7.5 km. The compound is made of the elements poron (reindeer’s) and kusema (from the verb kusta, to pee; and the suffix -ma: the amount peed in one visit to the bathroom).

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Poronkusema and the Finnish Linguistic Landscape

 

Another example of nature’s presence in the Finnish language is the expression peninkulma, which refers to the distance a barking dog can be heard in still air (approximately 10 km after the 17th century conversion of Swedish versts to kilometers). Another interesting etymological fact: the compound is made of the words peni (archaic for dog, again penin being the genitive case; dog’s) and kuuluma (to be heard).

Moving on from travel distances to farming soil, back in the day the Finns used the units tynnyrinala, panninala and kapanala to refer to the area that could be sown, respectively, with one barrel, half a barrel and one thirtieth of a barrel of grain. But Finns weren’t the only ones having their linguistic baggage shaped by agricultural practices: “a barrel of land” was a widespread unit throughout Scandinavia (Danish tønde land; Swedish tunnland); Norwegian tønneland).

And since we are putting all the units on the table, here’s another voluminous fact: foods such as strawberries, cherries, mushrooms, peas and even potatoes are sold by liters in Finland. Why is that, you ask? Imagine the old John Doe farmer – or in this case, the old Matti Meikäläinen, since we are in Finland – collecting strawberries from the field and throwing them in a basket as he harvests. Back in the day, scales were not as reliable or affordable as they are now, so our Meikäläinen guy would go to the marketplace and use his strawberry basket as measurement of his goods, selling his produce by volume instead of weight. What started as a thrifty method of commerce stretched out to the current times. So, whenever you happen to be in Finland and the vendor asks how many liters of cherries you’d like, panic not, he’s not offering you smushed-cherry goop. But whether you end up with a carton of cherries or a glass of cherry milkshake, hyvää ruokahalua!

Ps. This article was written under the musical influence of Sibelius’s Finlandia, Op. 26.

: )