how delighted i was when an old friend from oklahoma wrote to tell me how much she enjoyed jaunt. it has been so much fun for me to write, and sometimes i just assume i’m the only one reading. kelly embodies the true spirit of jaunt, finding adventure wherever life takes her. she offered to write about living in a foreign land, as this is something about which she knows quite a bit. i was completely unprepared, though, for the beautiful post she returned to me last week. so perfectly worded and honest, please join me in convincing her to start her own blog. i want to read more.
“Having now lived, worked and volunteered in the US, Czech Republic, UK, India and Canada and travelled to 35 countries here is what I know. Not much. The more you learn the more you know how very little you can really know. I may have a Master’s but I’ve learned much more from experience and people I’ve really connected with the world round. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and sometimes I think back to the girl I was (our entire body – cells and skin – is replaced every 7 years so am I even really the same person? Just a thought… I would have been thrilled and delighted to hear that I would travel to and volunteer in India on my own, study at the University of London, marry my own Mr. Darcey and travel to 35 countries. How did I do that, it’s magic really. How did I get myself here? I often think… what else might be possible?
When you live in a different culture you are changed. You can never un-know the precise detail with which the English use our shared language. I never used the word pedantic before moving there. You start to see your own culture as outsiders do. This can be enlightening and uncomfortable. You could always pick out the Americans on the tube as they speak in a tone 8 octaves above every other sane person on the train. Was I ever that loud? Did I sound that brash? Yes. After 7 years in the UK trying to assimilate, taking tea, donning my vintage frocks and developing the usual pint after every imaginable activity (Film and a pint, jog and a pint, cycle ride and a pint , shopping and a pint… etc.) the foreign became the norm as did the aspects I adored about British culture. The humour interjected at every single possible opportunity, the non- PC flirting that on a good day boosts your self-esteem (it’s not doing any harm is it eh?) on a bad day it re-invigorated my feminism! When you fall into a pattern of life, the seasonal norms that are comforting, eating cream teas in pub gardens in summer, heavy pies and roast dinners in Autumn and Winter, picking up local venison from the country estate nearby, the noise of pheasant hunting in the distance on country walks and knowing that Christmas starts Dec 1st with heaps of minced pies, chocolates and brandy butter. It is expected and very well accepted to gain 5 pounds in December. Normal. You’ll need the fat to keep warm in poorly insulated old housing! I LOVE this mind set, much healthier than our skinny = successful, good, worthy, pretty, intelligent culture in the US. There were aspects of British life I could never quite adjust to and ultimately I knew I wasn’t happy to stay there forever even though I did get my British citizenship.
The daily bureaucracy is very trying. You think getting a correct electric meter reading is something fairly simple. Think again. Setting up bank accounts, converting your driver’s license, parking could all be quite stressful. Hence the frequent pub visits and tea times, but therein lays my revelation. In order to enjoy the lovely, (magical even) parts of living in England you just had to put up with and to really hit the nail on the head, joke about the utter pain of existing and operating in the UK. Sweet and sour if you will. The British have made an art of making fun of their own national short comings ( and everyone else’s) Something the US could really learn from. They could learn from our DVLA offices though, it’s really not that hard to process a driving license.
I now feel not quite American, not quite British, although there was quite a lot of proving, taking the citizenship exam. So I figured why not try being Canadian next? I am only 11 months in to living and working in Canada and I am reserving final judgements and anthropological assessments…
My shorter time in the Czech Republic was also trying (sobbing trying to speak broken Czech) and enriching (preforming with a folk dancing troupe in a 90 year old dress in the National Ball) in hind sight.
I lived in Prague 7 in an old villa, previously occupied by communist party officials. The family was welcoming in a Czech sort of way, which looks very different than an American welcome. I knew I was welcome because the house parents were often in their underwear on Saturday mornings! I knew I was welcome because I was invited to go drag car racing on an ex-communist air base along with the whole family. Cultural acceptance and immersion means getting out of your comfort zone and into a racing car with a full face helmet on. The area had become a nature reserve with high radiation levels in all the wildlife due to the poor management of military land. What a poignant way to learn this with deer racing across the drag strip.
I found myself on trams out to the suburbs getting lost, trying to find niche folk dancing clubs and getting the oddest reception upon my arrival. Why do you want to do this? There was always genuine surprise at anyone’s interest in 1.the Czech Republic 2. Traditional dance. Cultural Anthropology was my (very useful) undergraduate major. I developed a close knit group of Czech friends through this dance and learned people’s personal stories and histories of the Velvet Revolution. There is so much more to Prague and the Czech nation than the normal 3 day tour can show you.
I suppose the only real lessons from these diverse, amazing, uncomfortable, confusing, heart wrenching and soul connecting, dancing in circles with strangers until they are your genuine friends moments and collections of moments that make up our utterly messy and beautiful lives is that everywhere you go there is something exotic. Everyone you meet may be on your wave length, even the hardened nuns I worked with in India- I softened them up in the end! Every place can be sacred, every field golden, every mountain a triumph. If you want to go, go. If you want to be a new person, you might already be. You can be a tourist in your own town; you can discover a new dish or shop or park in Rome or in the next county and it’s all part of being truly alive.”
Kelly Schaecher – Vancouver, Canada