At Home Abroad: Stories of the Expat Life
At Home Abroad: About the Book
This book, published by Word Metro Press, explores the reasons behind the now well-known constant relocation of millions that leave everything behind to begin again in another country where they’ll likely have to learn new cultures, languages and start from scratch.
The book is edited by Mark and Betsy Blondin, an expat couple themselves, whose travels have been featured on HuffPost and have been documenting their trips since the mid-90s.
There are over thirty essays in the compilation, touching on moving to all sorts of places: Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, Cambodia, Argentina… I could go on. Though the details of every single essay vary, each place with its own scenery, language, peculiar behaviors of its inhabitants; the experience of feeling out of place is very much the essence of these stories.
“SUDDENLY HOME IS NOT JUST THE PLACE YOU LIVE. HOME IS THE PIECE OF YOUR SOUL THAT FINDS ITS COUNTERPOINT IN THE INTOXICATION OF CULTURAL RECIPROCITY.” –JESSICA BEDER
The Highs and Lows of Expat Living
The book explores, through each author’s experience, how like most ideas, moving abroad is something that sounds so much more blissful and simple than it really is. Belonging after moving abroad is something you can forget about, for anyone “too comfortable,” expat life is the solution to your problems: you will never be entirely sure again.
Every single one of these essays will guide you through the struggles and successes of life abroad: confusion, technicalities, practicality, budgeting, being a family from afar, building a family where you least expected, falling in love when overseas, everything is there.
I was especially drawn to three specific pieces: Barbara Galewska’s “A Polish Girl Who Had a Dream” really inspired me and made me feel empowered as a woman. Galewska describes her story of longing, perseverance and finally of success, every bit of which I loved; Nía Evans’ piece “Growing up in Barcelona” called to me because contrasts the parent-to-child relationship of the expat life and how expat children can see themselves in comparison to their family as they grow up. Nia’s relationship to her mother reminded me a great deal of my own, seeing my parents’ behavior and habits have roots in one land, and mine in another, thousands of miles away.
Finally, I was entranced by Taylor Bell’s “The Thousand-Year Crawl,” so perfectly written that I felt a sting of jealousy reading it. With a mention of Neruda on the second page, a less-than-luxurious life in Spain described, and some Spanish thrown in, Bell had me at page 1. However, these are just a few, all the stories were great coffee companions at least, and truly interesting.
Making a Home: “So What Changed? We did.”
One specific thought called out to me while reading these essays. Most expats that I know have expressed things they don’t understand. With confused expressions, and admittedly a little judgment, they’ve asked me about certain Colombian behaviors. “Why do Colombians always say this?” or “Why does this always happen when I do that?” and I tend to laugh, noticing these scenarios as “different” for the first time.
A lot of the authors included in this book acknowledge these thoughts of confusion, the moments of thinking things could be so much better if only…. blank. However, after some time, most realize that they grow into their environment, into the changes and the beauty of the discomfort.
Frank and Gabrielle, authors of “Expats in Cambodia” express this. At some point, these things that were confusing or different, are just…life: “So what changed? We did.”
Medellín in “At Home Abroad”
I was pleased to find our City of Eternal Spring in two of these essays, both written by authors that have been published on Medellín Living! Lisa Eldridge, from England, contributed her “Moving to Medellín” piece for the book, explaining how she didn’t ever expect to live in Colombia, retelling her journey to the city and expressing why she loves it to this day.
Ryan Hiraki, or as I like to call him Ryan the Hawaiian, former managing editor of Medellín Living wrote “Medellín” for “At Home Abroad,” a beautifully written piece that depicts the day to day life in the city, highlighting the changes it has gone through, as well as the twists that led Ryan to live here in the first place.
Seeing Medellín in these essays and identifying with all these travelers who, like myself, reside in a limbo was extremely comforting. I do recommend the book seeing as, considering the nature of Medellín Living’s content, its readers will see a lot of themselves in it. The varied nature of the authors’ style and experiences is entertaining and will possibly- I warn you- leave you wanting to write your own.
At Home Abroad Reviewed By Wally Wood of Bookpleasures.com
- By Wally Wood
Editors: Betsy and Mark Blondin
Publisher: Word Metro Press
The subtitle of At Home Abroad tells the story: “Today’s Expats Tell Their Stories.” Compiled and edited by Betsy and Mark Blondin, the 31 essays discuss the reasons for leaving home and the challenges and rewards of living in an unfamiliar culture. The authors range in age from 17 years to 75, and are American, Canadian, British, Spanish, Hungarian, and more.
They talk about life in Istanbul, Tokyo, Guatemala, Cambodia, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Belfast, Shanghai, Medellin, Thailand, Panama, Madrid, Brussels, Greece, Ecuador, Portugal, Morocco, Mexico, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Taiwan. Because the essays are relatively short—five to ten pages apiece—they are necessarily superficial, but virtually every one is followed with a link to the author’s blog or book that provides more information.
The editors write in their introduction that “the US Department of State estimates that one million US citizens live in Mexico, and that eight million live and work around the globe. According to the Association of American Residents Overseas (AARO). those eight million (excluding military) live in 160-plus countries.”
And while there are probably eight million reasons to leave one’s home country, certain themes seem common: a desire to see the world, to expand one’s horizons, to retire where the cost of living is less than at home. Young people look for adventure; older expats look for inexpensive housing.
Certain challenges are common to expat living: “Making it through the day in a country where you live and don’t speak the language brings out the need to be creative in simply living life day to day.” Best to pick up as much of the language as you can. It will help in renting an apartment, finding a job (the young expats tend to work), shopping, dealing with the local bureaucracy, doctors, neighbors, and more.
Being an expat also “does strange things to you. It’s a real eye-opener and makes you look at your home country with totally different eyes. It teaches you a lot about yourself too.” Another expat writes, “. . . there are moments and experiences that change us forever and inspire who we really are. These adventures do not occur at home. A life that is fully lived implies moving from your comfort zone and pushing the limits, exploring new places.”
“Comfort zone” appears in a number of these essays. A couple in their 50s who “jumped at the chance to house-sit at several locations in Central America” write: “Two things that will help are preparation and a willingness to let go of your comfort zone. There’s a mental as well as physical process to this ‘letting go’—whether it’s your possessions you’re concerned about or not having control of the environment around you. . . .”
At Home Abroad is a well-edited introduction to the pitfalls and promises of pulling up stakes and living in another country. For readers who cannot imagine living any place but where they’ve always been, the book is a travelogue. For readers who have toyed with the idea of expat living, the book is filled with tips and suggestions. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I’ve got to start packing.
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