Tag Archives: expatriate

BLOG: Things I Miss About Home

I find living abroad to be immensely pleasurable. I love being an outsider in a culture that is very foreign to me, as being in this position gives me innumerable opportunities to discover and see new things. Living in a foreign place also allows me endless material for observing and writing. There are, of course, some things I miss about home, which is Portland, Oregon, but could more generally just be the United States. There are the obvious things, like friends, family and home cooked meals, but there are also some other things I’ve been thinking about lately that I do not get in Kathmandu.

Here are a list of things I miss about home:

1) Being able to walk in a straight line

Must dodge sacred cows.

I miss being able to walk in a straight line, on a straight path, without having to constantly be on the lookout for obstacles to dodge. Whenever I walk in Kathmandu, I feel like I am in some sort of bizarre, real-life video game where I must dodge things ever 10 seconds including dogs, people, food carts, motorcycles, taxis, rickshaws, feces and 6-foot deep sewer holes in the sidewalk. While it can be entertaining and stimulating sometimes, I often long for the peaceful, straight and uninterrupted paths and walkways of home.

2) Walking on a flat surface
This one is sort of an extension of number one. I miss walking on flat surfaces, like flat sidewalks and roads. In Kathmandu, the sidewalks are in such poor conditions that I often feel that I am “urban trekking,” constantly going up and down uneven pieces of sidewalk, hopping over piles of bricks, spanning lakes of stagnant water and traversing heaps of sand. I miss the flat, wide sidewalks of Portland where there is more than enough room for people to walk.

3) Being anonymous
I know I said in the beginning that I like being an outsider and that’s true. But, there is something to be said for being anonymous in a crowd. In Portland, or most places in the U.S., I can just disappear in the crowd. If I’m walking in Portland’s busy Saturday Market or through a street fair, no one gives me a second look. I’m just another person. Here in Kathmandu, people stare at me EVERYWHERE I go. I often travel unaccompanied and I know many Nepalis may think this is strange, especially in the countryside, but I get stared at intensely even in the city. I miss the ability to be anonymous and disappear into a crowd.

4) Not being stared at
This is an extension of number three. Never being anonymous means always standing out in the crowd. It may be because I have light hair and it may be because I am young-looking and travel alone most of the time. Whatever it is, people, especially men, stare at me all the time. It is a rather disconcerting and uncomfortable sort of stare, a kind of stare that feels like it pierces your skin. The staring by men is a part of this culture that makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and annoyed sometimes. When I am walking, I often try not to notice it, but other times it is simply impossible to ignore. I’ve developed a rather bad habit of very conspicuously staring back at people whose eyes are fixed on me, even to the point where I turn my head so as not to break eye contact as I walk by. I sometimes wonder if this habit will someday have reprecussions, but I sort of want to make intense starers feel the same way they are making me feel. I know I may be an oddity here, but I miss never being stared at in Portland.

5) Being safe alone at night

I know I am not safe everywhere in Portland alone at night, but in most places I feel fine walking by myself. In Kathmandu, I absolutely do not feel comfortable EVER when alone at night. My level of discomfort at night has increased since three years ago. I don’t know if this stems from what is probably my increased level of rationality from when I was 20 years old, or if it is from the constant warnings I get from locals. Everyone says: “No matter what you do, do NOT walk alone at night in Kathmandu.” I’m not the type of person who gets easily scared about travel warnings, but this is one that I will follow. Kathmandu has received a deluge of people migrating from rural parts of the country and perhaps because of this, now has had increased crime rates and problems with drug addicts. Rather than take my chances, I prefer to be home when the sun goes down. So, I miss being able to walk around at night with no problems or fears like I can in Portland.

6) Clean air

Clean Air... Yum

Portland has crisp, fresh and clean air. Kathmandu does not. I miss the clean air of Portland and not blowing my nose to find it black from pollution, dust and smog.

How to Become an Expatriate and Maintain Your Sanity While Doing It

Relocating can be difficult, even when it’s in a familiar place. When the relocation is from one country to another, the difficulty factor can be exponentially higher. There’s the language barrier to deal with, different customs and practices, learning the geography and transportation of a new city and figuring out the local food ingredients and how to prepare them. Adjusting to life as an expatriate can be incredibly frustrating.

My first few weeks as an expatriate in Kathmandu were precisely that: incredibly frustrating. I felt that the city was chewing me up and spitting me out, taking no mercy on me. I felt that I was struggling with everything and was precariously teetering on a plank, about to fall into a terrible abyss of insanity. Every time I tried to take a taxi, the taxi driver tried to cheat me. Whenever I went in search of furniture, the shop owner quoted me an exorbitant price. I would walk around my neighborhood, which seemed like an indecipherable labyrinth, for hours in search of my house, only to realize that I had, in fact, been passing my home over and over but didn’t recognize it. When visiting the vegetable market, I had no idea what each item was and absolutely no idea how to prepare it. There were medium sized cockroaches in my room and even larger ones in my bathroom. In short, those were some of the most frustrating weeks I’ve had in a long time.

Finally, four weeks after coming to Nepal, I feel like I’m adjusting to life as a longer-term expatriate. I’ve solved most of the aforementioned problems: I now can identify my house, I’ve figured out how to cook some of the local vegetables, I found furniture and I’ve learned to love (okay, accept) the cockroaches.

My home town, Portland, Oregon, is very different than Kathmandu, Nepal, which made the move even more difficult. I assume that, while there would have been challenges, moving from Portland to somewhere like Sydney, Australia, or London, England, would have been a bit smoother and simpler. But, here I am in Kathmandu, feeling decently well-adjusted to the city and my surroundings.

When making a big move and when becoming an expatriate, there are some things I’ve identified as helpful to assimilation and adjustment. The following things are helpful when easing into a new and foreign life. They’ve helped me feel more at home in Kathmandu, and have reduced my frustrations and insanity levels markedly.

Simple Steps to Adjust to Expatriate Life and Maintain Sanity

When becoming an expatriate, perhaps one of the most frustrating things is that you are moving to a new city, country or continent where you most likely don’t have the same safety net as at home. By safety net, I mean friends, family, co-workers, pets and comforts. When something goes wrong in your new expatriate life, you’ll have no one to fall back upon but yourself.

When I first got to Kathmandu and things weren’t exactly going my way, my frustration levels skyrocketed. At home, when something goes wrong, I can call friend or family to talk it out. Here, there is no one. That’s where Skype comes in. Skype is a very reasonable (and sometimes free) way to keep in contact with people from home. When adjusting to expat life, Skyping someone from home once a day, or every few days is a great way to not feel as isolated.

2) Exercise

Exercise: A good way to maintain sanity. (Photo by mikebaird-flickr)

This might not work for everyone, but it works for me. Exercise was a major part of my life at home and I was initially frustrated in Kathmandu because I couldn’t figure out how to sweat it out. Challenges and hurdles were coming every day that built up my stress levels. Finally, I figured out a way to run in the mornings and my stress levels went down drastically. When becoming an expatriate, a daily walk, run or bicycle ride is a great way to calm down during the hectic assimilation period.

3) Peanut Butter, etc…

Comfort food: always a good choice when adjusting to a new place.

Peanut butter makes everything better. Okay, peanut butter specifically doesn’t make becoming an expat easier per se, but familiar foods can be a comfort in a time of change. Finding some sort of food from home whether it be peanut butter, chocolate, coffee or pizza, can be helpful when thrown into a new world of new foods and tastes. Of course, don’t steer clear of local foods all together, for that is one of the greatest pleasures of being in a new country. But, when you need a little taste of home, go get some comfort food and don’t feel bad about it.

4) Find a Social Group

Social drinking: a good way to forget your problems when trying to become a successfully adjusted expatriate. (Photo by gemma.amor-flickr)

Finding some sort of social group of locals or expatriates can be helpful when forming a network in your new home. This could be anything from a volunteer group, a trekking group, a book club or a running club. One great option I’ve found in Kathmandu are the Himalayan Hash House Harriers. They are a “drinking group with a running problem.” For runners, walkers or anyone who is in need of a good time, seek out the Hashers in your location (they are all over the world).