Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Initial thoughts on Becoming an Expat

Day 6 of our American Holiday together
Soon I will become an expatriate--a person that lives outside their native country. When I hear the term expat, I think of Americans in Paris and Hemingway in Cuba and retired Americans moving to Costa Rica or Mexico for a slower pace of life. I don't know that these are truthful associations...but they are my free associations nonetheless. 

When I first started to imagine a future with Zorig and determined that the optimal path was for me to move to Mongolia, I began to do research online. This is what any self-respecting librarian would do first. Where does one begin, you might ask? Well, I started with, "moving abroad for love." Pretty direct and basic. I immediately discovered this was not an unusual thing to Google. As you type, "moving abroad for...," right under "for a year" (first option) is "for love" (second). 

The first article I found was helpful. Written by an Australian expat living in Italy, Elisa didn't pull any punches. While I was at the start of my movie-like romance (and yet find myself fully immersed in it), this article was about real life. 

What I was setting out to do was not going to be easy. And her move didn't seem as drastic as mine is going to be--from America to Asia. The article explains what to consider and plan for BEFORE you move, what to do once you arrive, and what to expect in the weeks and months that follow. What stood out for me most in this article was that it won't serve me to be brave or strong or to keep my fears and feelings inside. I will need to tell Zorig when I am sad, when I miss my family, when I am frustrated. He will need to know so that he can support me as I cycle through those emotions and thoughts. There is really nothing I can do to prepare for them or to avoid them...they are simply part of the process.

Heather with Marina, our guide/interpreter in Siberia.

Side story: Meet Marina (left). She was Dad and I's guide and interpreter for our time in Siberia. She too is on the path to expatriation. This fall she moves to Australia to make a new life with a man she met when he was touring her country in 2012. 


Other advice is to take language lessons (which I will do) and to find a job (Check!). She recommends making friends with both fellow expats and with locals. During my initial research I also discovered Internations.org, an online community for expats around the world, and promptly joined. I'm not yet active, but was able to ask a few initial questions of some expats currently in UB. Thankfully, I will also have a built-in community of expats from working at ASU. And of course, I am most anxious to meet Zorig's local friends. He's an affable guy and has a diverse group of fascinating friends, as well as an extended family that lives in the city. Elisa recommends making a plan to get involved in extracurriculars. In this vein, I will need to tour the various gyms that are within walking distance of our apartment so that I can be active and stay healthy.

Finally, the author says to be sure and have a plan for when you will see your family next. Luckily my father will be coming to visit this summer, either right as I arrive or shortly thereafter. Then I will make an initial long haul to Christmas of 2016 when I will return to the U.S. for the first time. This will be for our Christmas-in-Michigan event (occurs every 5 years and is a pilgrimage for the whole family). I look forward to sharing Michigan, my family, and Christmas with Zorig and Enji. While Zorig has met all in my immediate family except one sister, this will be Enji's first opportunity to meet his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins from my family. I will certainly hope for a white Christmas! 

Beyond that initial article, I found one that discusses the five stages of expatriation: Excitement, Homesickness, Anger, Depression, and Decision Time. Why are there always five stages? Curious. 

But wait....now that I know there are stages of expatriation, I did a new search and found a slightly different take on what is called the "Five Stage Cycle of Crosscultural Adjustment." The stages in this article are: Honeymoon, Culture Shock, Initial Adjustment, Mental Isolation, and finally Acceptance & Integration. What stood out to me in this second explanation of cycles was the description of how the American woman felt the need to always be doing something, to be USING her time. 

First pic that has Z & I both in it...from summer


This is one of the aspects of moving to Mongolia that excites me the most....while I am also keenly aware that it will be a huge adjustment for me. My friends and family  know that I am what we call a Type A person. I'm a planner and scheduler. I like to have routine and structure. In fact, I don't even like writing on paper if it doesn't have lines to hold my words. BUT, I am excited to move to a place where people eat when they are hungry and not just at predetermined feeding times. I'm excited to sleep when I feel tired and NOT feel guilty or bad about it. I am excited to listen to my body more and my head less. To go with the flow. To be free. 

So at this time....if you are still with me.....I would like to say that you will probably hear me complain or grumble about life in Mongolia at some point. NOT because I don't want to be there or because I made a bad decision, but because I am working through one of the tougher stages of this process. Please listen and support me so that I may get through it and on to the next and eventually final stage. Then....come and visit! :)

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