By MADELINE JHAWAR
A fellow Canadian pointed out recently that I’m an expat. Living in the US, I don’t feel how I did two years in Sweden or five years in Italy. If cultural acclimation happens in stages, each of my expat experiences roughly corresponded to different and consecutive phases.
Stage 2: Once I can operate the answering machine, the door locks and the elevator, I become a tourist with a vengeance.
Stage 3: I learned enough Swedish to get by, but never became fluent enough to form significant relationships in Swedish or understand the nuances of the culture. However, I moved to Italy fluent in Italian, able to talk about different types of flowers and use idiomatic expressions.
Nevertheless, in Italy I remained in this stage because there were huge gaps in my cultural understanding. So much just didn’t make sense: the medical system, the political system, or the layers of history that permeate everything from food to building regulations to relationships. Plus I couldn’t vote, and my corporate expat package meant I didn’t have to worry about healthcare or taxes, or buying a car or property.
Stage 4: I quickly delved into American community. Now only fundamentally different assumptions between Canada and the US trip me up. Something about the social welfare systems suddenly will make me scratch my head.
Through time my expat experiences also have less to do with my location than my stage in life.
I’m more unshakeable, able to define who I am, and am not. I’m also more flexible, understanding better where other people are coming from.
How has your expatriatism shifted through place — and over time?
Madeline Jhawar lives in Chicago with her British husband and their two children. She writes a blog about Italy, and designs Italian itineraries for independent travelers.