Friday, January 28, 2011

Strangers in a strange land together

My first official day as a student at Bath Spa University was an evening reception before classes started. I was absolutely terrified: Would people like me? Would I like them? Would the other students beat me up and steal my lunch money? Actually, it was a wonderful evening. I met my tutors, my fellow classmates, chatted about books and writing, and even made friends. I was shocked (and blogged about it all here).

Late in the evening, I was introduced to another student, and heard a familiar accent. She was Canadian, and so pleased to meet "another North American." We stuck together from then on and became good friends.

Actually, I think we sometimes drove our British classmates nuts. She would come up to me at the beginning of class and say, "You won't believe what happened in this restaurant last night," and I would tell her about a crazy incident on the bus. We were catty gossips. But it feels so good to talk to someone who understands all the weirdness of being a foreigner living in the UK.

I've never sought out foreigners while living here. I don't go to any secret American clubs (though I do regularly attend the Bristol Badgers baseball games in the summer!). Regardless, many of my closest friends in this country are foreigners. Dutch, Portuguese, Irish, Canadian, etc. Our accents stick out like a sore thumb, friends introduce us, somehow we always find each other.

I was reminded of this with my recent post on Explaining cultural differences. I was pleased so many of you joined in the conversation, British, Irish, American. And many of my online expat friends. Elisabeth (FictionForge) has lived various places in Europe, Mary Witzl, has lived all over, and blogs her fascinating stories about life abroad. I met author Heidi Ayarbe (an American living in Columbia) over Twitter. Author Keren David (a Brit who has lived in the Netherlands) blogs occasionally about her expat experiences. I didn't deliberately search you out, but I've been so happy to find you and share my experiences with you.

That's part of the reason I've given up with these doom and gloom articles about how Twitter or blogs or Facebook are destroying the fabric of our society. I've made so many friends online, fellow writers, fellow expats, fellow readers, and I'm so grateful to you all for "getting it."

4 comments:

  1. Hear Hear! Wonderful post. Our experiences are very parallel... my closest friend here in the Land of Cheese and Chocolate is Dutch, but has lived all over the world because of her husband's work. They've moved back to our little village (where her husband grew up) for more educational stability for their kids. We've hit it off from the get-go!

    Living as an expatriate shapes your world-view. I cherish my friendships with my native LofC&C friends, but I am also so grateful for a fellow "transplant" who knows what it's like to try to adjust to new growing conditions.

    One of my other dear friends is in the UK, and we met online through a forum - all this connectivity can be a beautiful thing!

    Wonderful post Anne, and I'm honored to be included, and glad to have "met" you online :-). And if you ever make it over here, we definitely have to meet for coffee!

    Elisabeth

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  2. Thanks, Elisabeth! It's funny, I feel like the expat world is a whole different world. I never knew anyone who lived like this, but now I know so many people. How great that you've found such a close friend who really gets it.

    Thanks so much for your friendship, too. I need to convince my hubby that we have to venture to the LofC&C for a weekend.

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  3. Thank you for that plug, and I couldn't agree more! Through my blog and 'internetworking' I've made real flesh-and-blood friends who've come to my house and drunk coffee with me; I've found a group of people to swap critiques/beta reading with, and I've learned SO much. None of this would have been possible without the internet, so I am deeply grateful for it.

    When I lived in the Netherlands, my closest friends with Japanese, Indonesian, and German. In Wales, my Japanese friends made my life worth living, in Cyprus, my friends were Greek, Nigerian, and British, and here in Scotland, I am always thrilled to find other foreigners.

    I always enjoyed watching my EFL students form friendships: Chinese and Costa Rican, Vietnamese and Japanese, Mexican and Ukrainian. The fact that you're foreigners together makes for a real bonding experience.

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  4. So beautifully said, Mary. It's really such a lovely thing that people from such different backgrounds can come together and share the commonalities of their experience. And yay internet! =)

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