Expat Pro

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by Kerry Nappi

High: A neighborhood of friendly faces

It took eight months, a neighborhood of friendly faces, one good friend, and a purpose to help me find contentment in my home-away-from-home of Bahia, Brazil. The last days were filled with small outings with my best friend and her 3-year-old, group gatherings at a pizza buffet we loved, and windy beach days when we all got to try surfing and watched the kids sit on plastic chairs from the barraca and let themselves be knocked over time and again by the waves.

Picture3My second high for these two months was a family trip to Chapada Diamantina, The Diamond Highlands, six hours from our beach home. The vacation had everything we love: sweeping vistas, arduous hikes, lost-in-the-mountains and river adventure, and eating local foods from the street cafes while listening to the sounds of the music festival around us.

To be fair, I am condensing two months of Highs into one, so I couldn’t let pass this chance to celebrate a time with more highs than lows.

Low: Not being available when your child needs you

I’m sure I have said this before, but the hardest thing about being an expat is also the hardest thing about being a mom: Not being available when your child needs you.

Right in the middle of our somewhat major move from Brazil to China, my older child, a freshman in university in the US, started suffering from health issues. Sometimes, I missed middle of the night phone calls; other times, I was facetiming and texting right through the worst of it.

In one case, a new friend in university helped my son by getting him to the ER twice in a weekend. This was a friend I have never met, but who was using my son’s phone to send kind and caring texts to let me know how he was and that she woudn’t leave him alone.

Another time, the illness occurred while he was with family for Thanksgiving break; a loving aunt and uncle were the ones getting him to a doctor and caring for him until he was well enough to ride the train back to school.

But in all cases, I wasn’t there. I usually like being an expatriate, but I never like not being there for my son, as grown up as he tells me he is.

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Glitter: Yinhang. And it worked!

You know you’re a pro at this moving around the world thing when your Glitter in one country parallels a Glitter in another country just a year before. I must admit, starting yet another language, and a tonal one at that, makes me nervous. If you don’t grow up with tones, your ears aren’t attuned to them by the time you get to my age. That’s going to be the problem with Mandarin. However, you don’t get any better if you don’t try, so that’s been my sole intent.

The first week, I used a lot of sign language and our driver’s rudimentary English to communicate. Google Translate and other apps have made international living so much easier. But one time, I just could not communicate the word I needed: bank. So I gave it a shot and tried to pronounce the word as best I could. Yinhang. And it worked! Let’s hope that all my needs will be so easily met and all my language attempts become Glitters!


Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

Finding Our Places

Trying out a new noodle shop with our relocation specialist.

Trying out a new noodle shop with our relocation specialist.

by Kerry Nappi

High: We can make a home there.

After a long, 3-leg, 30-something-hour journey (it’s hard to know whether to count layovers and time changes, but suffice to say, we were in the air for 27 hours), my husband and 15-year-old daughter and I arrived in Nanjing, China from Bahia, Brazil for our pre-assignment trip with Ford. The first day there was so disappointing, both in the quality of housing we saw and the quality of the air we breathed, that I worried for my next three years!
Sarah's new school's canteen

Sarah’s new school’s canteen

Thankfully, the next two days were game-changers. Not only did we find a lovely home to rent for three years, but we visited the school my daughter will attend and, in all probability, graduate high school from in 2018. Nanjing International School was filled with enthusiastic teachers and administrators and boasts a beautiful campus and, more importantly, a great program. Sarah was able to shadow a 10th-grader the next day, discuss which classes she will sign up for before we move in November, and meet with the advisor of the school’s Model United Nations team ~ even procuring a spot (as Lithuania) in their upcoming MUN conference for her first month in school. We really can make a home there, and now the process has begun.
A cozy corner of our living room in our new house in China.

A cozy corner of our living room in our new house in China.

Low: Stranded in a foreign country

My daughter and I arrived at the Nanjing airport without my husband (who was staying behind for 3 more weeks), without cell phone service, and without any yuan. The driver dropped us off and wished us a good trip. Then we approached the Lufthansa check-in counter and were told: There is no flight. Lufthansa pilots are on strike.
That moment of panic when you are stranded in a foreign country with no safety net is as good a low as any! My first reaction was to cry out: “But I have no money and no cell phone coverage!” But things very quickly got resolved! The Lufthansa counter agent gave us his cell phone to use his personal “hotspot” to email and message my husband and my friend in Brazil on call to pick us up the next day. (Of course, my daughter had to teach me how to use “hotspot,” but that’s a tale for a different blog on technology lag in my generation!), and before I was done, the nice agent had rerouted us via Air France. Instead of a layover in Frankfurt, we had layovers in Hong Kong and Paris, and we finally got home to Brazil after 4 flights and 29 hours of air time. Good to know we do it all again in a month…

Glitter: Finding a place

I got the text at 3:20 am on a Monday morning.  It was unfortunate for me that I was even awake at that time, but I’m glad I was! It was from my son: I MADE IT! I AM A CADET! And by that, he meant he had gotten a spot on George Washington University’s MUN team. One of the reasons he wanted to attend school there was their reputation as a nationally ranked MUN team, and I was so pleased for him!  It’s a great moment for a freshman in university to find a place where he can do what he likes to do best with others who share his passion. His glitter was my glitter.


Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

HLG Brazil Edition: Transitions!

by Kerry Nappi

High: Weekend travels

IMG_0442We are leaving Brazil soon and counting down the potential weekends for travel, so we decided suddenly one week that we better go to Rio de Janeiro before it was too late. After all, who lives in Brazil without visiting the famous Cobacabana Beach and Christ the Redeemer statue? It wasn’t without difficulty – credit cards that wouldn’t work to book the trip and a day-of-travel missing ID card that was the only way onto the plane – but we did get there and have just a perfect weekend!

First of all, the weather was ideal for both walking around and taking pictures. Take a look at the statue: Brilliant blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. I am not a photographer, but each picture was like a postcard. We were only there for a weekend. On Friday night, we wondered along the avenue beside Cobacabana Beach and ate dinner overlooking the ocean; on Saturday we did an 8-hour Jeep Tour (jeeptour.com.br) that included every highlight in the city, then more dinner along the beach; and Sunday, because it is Brazil, we were warned off our plan to wander downtown to Santa Teresa neighborhood because it was going to be dangerous. As it turned out, there was a huge impeach-Dilma (President Dilma Rousseff) protest almost everywhere. So we walked for hours along Ipanema Beach, then joined the throngs to see what was going on. Without a word of political commentary, it’s hard to resist a demonstration in which Batman is a key speaker.

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Low: Lack of efficiency

We are still dealing with the lack of efficiency in this country. The most frustrating issue yet was spending the extra postage to “overnight” our tourist visa application to Rio’s Chinese consulate, and then having it take 7 days to get there. The visa coming back to Salvador was faster, but also not easy as the overnight service wouldn’t send to the company address and our own condominium is known to hold mail for weeks. We had to find a colleague to accept the package. Needless to say, we had to cancel the pretrip to Nanjing to find a house. No visa, no travel. And since the following week I was already scheduled to go back to the US to bring my son to university for the first time, the pretrip had to be delayed. Now we leave September 4th…three days after I return to Brazil from the States. This process is slow and frustrating under the best of circumstances, but this it is just ridiculous.

 

Glitter: “Can we meet in the city for dinner?”

Like so many of my peers, I had the first-child-to-college-drop-off this month. I had the pleasure of driving nine hours from Michigan to Washington D.C. to get my son to George Washington University, chatting and planning as we went. As luck would have it, one of my best friends lives 10 minutes from his dorm, so after a night’s stay at her house, we hopped over to the campus and began moving in and setting up his single dorm room.

Several hours later, we were done. Clothes were in drawers, toiletries stored below his sink, school supplies set up on the small wooden desk that will undoubtedly see many late nights. Then he had orientation activites to attend. So on the side of a busy street, we hugged briefly and I held back my tears so he could get away more easily. It’s scary enough to start in a new city with no one or nothing familiar, but it would be worse with a menopausal mom sobbing about how long it would be until we meet again at Christmas in our new home in China, where I could not yet even imagine myself. It was a pretty smooth getaway. I cried alone as I drove away.

But several hours later, he texted me. “I’m done and free this evening,” he said. “Can we meet in the city for dinner?” Yes, I had plans with two college friends, but yes, of course I wanted to meet again! After all, I’ll still take any moment I can to spend with my grown son, even if it means another goodbye on the streets of DC. Glittery and golden!


Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

Expat High: Precious Home Leave

Kerryandfamilyby Kerry Nappi

High: Time spent with family and friends

Without doubt, the high this month was the time spent with family and friends. In my nine plus years of living as an expat, this month in the States stands out as the most precious home leave I’ve taken.

Perhaps it was the difficulty of our first year in Brazil or the sight of my mom after her year of hospitalizations and pain that made me feel too far away; maybe it was seeing the joy in my 15-year-old’s eyes after hanging out with friends who have been there for her while she pined away for them from South America; without doubt it was enhanced by spending treasured time with my 19-year-old son.

He saw me between restaurant shifts and after long days; he surprised us by driving 14 hours from Michigan to New Hampshire to spend time with family for the 4th of July weekend. In one short month, I will return to drive him to Washington DC where he will start his freshman year at George Washington University, and then I won’t see him until Christmas, somewhere in the world, so seeing him those summer days was amazing!

Family and friends-who-become-family hosted us uncomplainingly for 4 weeks. That is, four states, seven house changes, and dozens of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and late night snacks as we caught up on lives lived in different places but with the same hearts as when we lived across the street or down the freeway.

Low: Strep throat!

Of all the family visits I anticipated this summer, the one I most looked forward to  was a 4th of July barbecue planned at my sister’s. My mom and all but two siblings would be there, including my brother Tommy from Tennessee and his two children. I have seen Tommy periodically since moving away, but it is harder to catch the kids – my schedule, their distance, a custody situation, and their chronic health issues usually prevent easy visiting. Unfortunately, they both have cystic fibrosis, and hospitalizations lasting an average of two weeks are a normal part of their childhood.

This summer, though, they came north for five days, and I was lucky enough to be able to be there for a couple of those days. They stopped en route to another cousin’s house from the airport and I got a picture and five minutes with them, with hugs and promises of more time on the 4th. Three days later, the barbecue heated and the fireworks ready, I ended up in Urgent Care with strep throat! Sadly, I was banned from the gathering to prevent the kids from
potentially threatening bacteria… and I lost my last chance to see them until who-knows-when. I have her spunky voice in my head declaring, “I don’t remember you at all!” and his sweet one thanking me for the Brazilian instruments we had brought him. Sigh.KerryandElena

Glitter: Elena Ricardo

Our New York portion of the great northeast trek was mostly reserved for family and friends. Of course, there was Sarah’s highlight: a Taylor Swift concert with her dad and six female cousins. I passed on that, but I was keen to see another Broadway show. We saw Mamma Mia because the movie makes me smile and sing every time I see it. And it was incredible! The acting and singing was strong and true; they even did a sing-along with the audience at the end.

When we left, we had to find an aunt who was taking us out to dinner, so our focus shifted to that. What I didn’t realize was that the crowd beside us was standing there because it was the stage entrance for the cast. I turned around and there was the actress who played Sophie, Elena Ricardo. She was tiny beside me, but friendly and signing playbill after playbill. My daughter rushed over to show me her signed playbill, but suddenly Elena was beside me. I felt like a child discovering Cinderella at Disneyworld, and you can see in the picture just how glittery that moment was.


Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

Glitter: Family & Friends, and Family with Friends

Iguaçu Falls

by Kerry Nappi

High: Travel!

This month’s high points in travel were highs for very different reasons: Our 3-day trip to Iguaçu Falls was on our must-do list, and it didn’t disappoint. Our first home leave since moving overseas (last July) started June 22nd, and we are still experiencing it!

Iguaçu Falls is partly in Brazil and partly in Argentina. We opted to see both sides, and we had a travel agent organize it all so we wouldn’t have to figure out the logistics; it was a good decision. The Argentinian side of the Falls provided better views overall, but the Brazilian side was better set up for fun hikes to the Falls. We were able to check off one bucket list item when we rode in a helicopter to view the Falls from above, but the ground level views were even more spectacular. The Falls are widespread, thunderously loud, and surrounded by plush greenery. We even had a chance to take a boat to the bottom of one of the smaller Falls ~ and now knowing how hard that water dumps on you, I can understand why we weren’t taken to the bigger Falls! Also, the Itaipu Dam is between Brazil and Paraguay, so while there, we were able to go to one extra country just by crossing a bridge. Who knew you can cross that Brazilian/Paraguaian border without a single checkpoint or document?

After 11 months and 2 weeks in Brazil, we arrived back in Michigan for the first of four weeks in the States. It was, and still is, such a pleasure to drive in calm orderly lanes, without fear of vehicles moving into us or carjackers surrounding us. It’s a simple but satisfying pleasure to flush toilet paper. And best of all, it is wonderful to see family and friends. I am sitting now in my mother’s house in Massachusetts, still anticipating 18 more days in the US, and happy to be here!

Iguaçu Falls

 

Low: Travel

The older I get, the harder the long trips become: flights that last for nine hours overnight, then long layovers and second, shorter flights, 12-hour drives from the midwest to the northeast, even the 2-4 hour drives to see more people than we can see in one single place.  Not only do I dread them beforehand, but I worry then about the longer ones to come when we move to China in the fall. This international living has its benefits, but it has its drawbacks, too.

Friends

Glitter: Friends & Family, and Family with Friends

Seeing my friends and family was definitely a high during this home leave, but the sweetest glitter was seeing my 15-year-old smile and laugh with her friends for the first time in a year. I would do anything to be able to transplant this group of girls and boys with us wherever we go, just so I could watch this joy more often. Thank goodness for social media; they have not missed a beat in their friendships.


Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

Back in the States

The latest High Low Glitter from Alex Nappi home from Brazil 6 months.

High: The million and one things I need to do.

Those of you who followed the blog while I was in Brazil probably had some idea of the fact that I was bored out of my mind. In a place where even some of the locals complained about having nothing to do, the language barrier erected an enormous wall of monotony in my life. Certainly the high since I’ve been back has been the million and one things I need to do. I’ve been working in a restaurant as a cook since my return, and anyone who has worked in a kitchen, especially a smaller kitchen, knows that it can be hard work. As I type this, I’m sitting at the bar of our (right now closed) restaurant because I had to register for classes, but I also needed to be here in order to do prep work in the place of someone who nearly lost a finger to an enormous slicer last night. Seventy five hours a week, I work nearly a full time job (sometimes as much as 36 hours!) over the course of just Friday and Saturday, and this is definitely a high. I’d never actually worked a “real” job before I started here, and the sense of gratification and accomplishment through work, no matter how admittedly menial the work can be, is a fantastic feeling. It’s the only thing that got me out of bed at five this morning to go to the gym and be back to work by seven- especially since I got home at around 2. Working as the Late Night Cook for the bar I’m sitting at right now is really putting the axe to my weekend sleep.

There are so many other highs! I met some great people, some at work, some where I live now in Ann Arbor. I took a solo trip to the northeast to visit. I got my first chance to live on my own – to run my own home (my roof, my rules? I can’t wait to use that on my parents when they get back in just a few days!), to clean things up, not because someone is telling me to do it but because I want to have a sense of pride in my own place.

Low: Everything has to come to an end soon enough

Just because I’ve had a great time since I’ve come back doesn’t mean that it has been smooth sailing. My hair, for example, has been a disaster. Wearing a hat for half of the week (really, half the week was almost literal) really just doesn’t do it any good. I’m also constantly reminded that everything has to come to an end soon enough, when I return to school. I don’t dread it, but I am certainly a fan of how my life is now. Some call me crazy for enjoying my low-wage, high-hours job, but what could be more fun that cutting zucchini for 15 minutes every morning?

Glitter: A giant cooking class that they pay me to attend.

Besides all of the (glittery!) recipes I plan on absconding with, I’ve learned a thousand little things at work! Prosciutto needs to be sliced so thin that you can see through it, and it always works well arugula. Flipping food in a sauté pan is all in the wrist. Never, ever use an electric range when you could use a gas one instead. Basically, the last few months have been a giant cooking class that they pay me to attend, and pretty much the whole thing has been one giant glitter, as far as I’m concerned.

alexAlex is an 18 year old who is taking a gap year before college to live in Salvador, Brazil. He’ll be returning to the United States in the fall of 2015 to attended school at George Washington University, where he plans to major in finance and international relations. He enjoys science fiction, soccer, and procrastinating, and, much to his chagrin, has learned that his archenemy, the snake, is a permanent resident here in Brazil. His solution was simple: if the snake is a permanent and visible resident, Alex is not. He left Brazil and is now living in Ann Arbor, working as a cook and waiting patiently for his summer of 75 hour weeks to end.

Low: Hit by a Bus, Literally

by Kerry Nappi

High: 3,973 words

The small language achievements continue to be my high this month, a month in which it was hard to find a high. According to Memrise, a user-made and free online language-learning program, I have learned 3,973 words in my long-term memory in the ten months since I’ve been in Brazil. I strongly recommend it for anyone who wants to use repetition, reading, writing, and listening as the path to a new language. Ironically, I am now studying two languages every day: Portuguese, because I am still here and enjoy communicating with people around me, and Mandarin, because it still seems the most likely of moves for us.

The big language test this month was when I took my daughter to the dentist for an emergency appointment. Although my Portuguese teacher came with us for translation purposes, he sat back and relaxed for the initial consultation when I began understanding and answering the dentist’s questions on my own. Later, not surprisingly, he had to help out; you just don’t want to be guessing meaning when your child’s health is at stake!

Low:  Hit by a bus

I jinxed myself. I take full responsibility for that. I didn’t do it aloud, but I did think it. I thought, we are almost leaving this place, and we are the only expatriates I know here who haven’t gotten one speeding ticket, one flat tire, one accident. None.

One day in May, though, as I drove my own child and two others to school, the lucky streak ended. We were driving in the left lane to avoid more frequent bus activity in the right. Beside us, a huge tourist bus loomed. Suddenly, a city bus in the right moved suddenly into the path of the tour bus, so it moved into us without notice or slowing. Sometimes, I can avoid a bus hitting us by speeding past it, but this was too fast and I was too far back; instead, I slowed quickly so he wouldn’t hit the whole right side. He careened past, smashing into the passenger mirror and side front panel and continuing on in front of us.

The adrenalin surged and I cried in relief that we were all okay and still moving in traffic. My daughter and I looked at each other and exclaimed over the close call. Then I pulled over to the right lanes behind him, thinking we would stop and exchange information. But as soon as we got over to the right lane, he took off again. The buses don’t stop. The drivers don’t care. They’re bigger and they take what space they need. By the time we got to school 25 minutes later, I wasn’t shaken so much as angry. My mirror looked like an amputated cyborg, but the kids were okay and the day continued. Such is the daily commute in Brazil.

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Glitter:  Star student

Brunilda was a young Albanian woman in my Beginner ESL class two years ago. She was sullen, uncommunicative, and superior. She worked full time at a McDonald’s after attending a 3-hour English class four days a week. I couldn’t figure out why she was there if she was so unhappy studying English, yet she continued to come.

The more I paid attention to her work and her efforts, the more potential I could see. I spoke to her as I walked through the class helping individuals, and asked to see her after class. I said nothing about her attitude, but I did tell her I thought her English was great and she was a very fast learner. It only took a few times of getting that message across before she began to believe it herself. She started coming into class happy and working diligently; she helped the older Albanian couple in front of her and the young Macedonian woman next to her. She became a star. She progressed so quickly that when it came time to administer the end-of-semester tests, I checked her answers in front of her and asked her to do not one but two levels higher in the time most of her classmates were completing one exam. In the end, I lost her to the Intermediate class, but that, of course, was the goal.

That spring, I invited the whole class to my house for a baby shower to welcome Brunilda’s first child. Surprised, she walked through the door and began crying. When her son was born, we smiled at the connection between her first son, Alex, and mine, Alex. We saw each other when school let out, and became friends on Facebook.

Last week, I got a message from Brunilda: “I became an American citizen, Teacher Kerry.”  What glittered for her that day in Michigan also glittered for me way down here in Brazil.

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

High: Rain. Yes Rain

Rainy season in Bahia. We finally have that infinity pool we wanted.

Rainy season in Bahia. We finally have that infinity pool we wanted.

by Kerry Nappi

High: The weather.

The highlight of our Brazilian life this month has been the weather. For those of you who live for lazy days at the beach, soaking up the sun and a few caipirinhas, disregard that sentence and come visit a different month than April. One day it rained so hard, we got a quarter of the month’s rainfall overnight. School commutes became a lesson in pothole and flood avoidance, and some students couldn’t make it all the way to school. Sadly, a mudslide in Salvador took fifteen lives, and we are currently trying to get food, water, and clothing to those who lost their homes.
On a more positive note, the higher-than-average rainfalls have eased some of Brazil’s severe drought conditions, which we all hope will lower the increased cases of dengue fever in the region. And on a personal note, the rain has brought with it some lower temperatures, such that I can sit in the house and study my Portuguese without sliding off my kitchen chair in a puddle of sweat.

Low:  No answers.

We packed our house, rented it out, put half our belongings in storage, and moved 7600 kilometers with our children. The contract was for three years, so it’s no small thing that it took nearly all of these nine months to become accustomed to life here, but we feel like we finally reached that settling-in point. Thus it was not the happy birthday surprise I was hoping for when my husband came home April 7th to tell me: They’re ending my position here.
I only wish it were that simple, but it never is. Give me news, and I can adjust. Give me half-baked news with hints, retractions, and wait-and-sees, and I don’t know what to do. My Type A personality necessitates that I start worrying in August about company for Thanksgiving dinner. An unanswered question of any kind can keep me awake nights, so my husband has learned to give me answers, even if they have to change the next morning.
Instead, we have had 23 days of no answers. Or sort of answers. The word is, we’re leaving. Soon. Maybe we’re going back to Michigan (okay, that’s okay, my daughter will be back in school with her friends and I’ll be a long drive away from my college freshman, yay!). Maybe we’re going to China (um, okay, not so close to home, a little smoggy and, yeah, the 4th time I’ll attempt to learn a language with an alphabet I don’t recognize and the 8th language overall, but at least my daughter likes the look of the schol there, and there’s always the expat bonus that will help pay for the college kid I won’t see until Christmas). Wait, maybe not? Maybe new bosses coming in soon are going to shake things up and my daughter, frustrated with poor schooling here and accepted into Youth for Understanding exchange study in Italy next year, will leave me for a whole year? What? Where? Why? And mostly, when – when did my life start feeling so out of control?

Glitter:  Birthday lunch.

Last year I turned 50. That was a marker, a number that meant I couldn’t deny I am middle-aged.  And that’s if I plan to reach 100, which I certainly do. But that was last year! This year, as a dear friend told me, I am “in my 50s”, a range which a bystander can take to mean any number in the long decade ahead. Sigh.
The week before my birthday, someone saw on Facebook that my birthday was coming up, and before I knew it, there was a small luncheon planned. We gathered for an “executivo” lunch and there were even gifts. The extra glitter at the end of the meal came from an unexpected donor: the restaurant owner. He had heard it was a birthday lunch, and he brought out an individually wrapped cake to bring home, slices of cake, and glasses of Prosecco to mark the occasion. Of course, I was heading out for the school commute, so I only took a sip, but the thought counted for so much, as did my new friends’ attention.

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

High: Expat Community Cooperation

by Kerry Nappi

High: Expat community cooperation.

It has not been a “high” month. In fact, I had a hard time dredging a high from my memory or “One line a day” diary. However, in recounting that low about the traffic and driving, I am reminded of one of the most amazing aspects of the expatriates in this community. We have a What’s App group for the school commute. It’s used every single day: Where there are back-ups, which lane is closed, which side the naked guy is walking down the highway so one can distract one’s 8-year-old from looking out that side’s window, who is driving whose child home from school.

On the day of the longest traffic delay, the What’s App sprang to life. In the course of those hours, messages flew back and forth. Who was where in the traffic? Who had space in their car? Which route might have fewer cars? Directions like, please send my child to the library until I get there. When half the moms and dads couldn’t retrieve their children, the other half brought them home, or to a place close enough to be reached. In fact, at that meeting point I described in my High, when I got my daughter from her teammate’s mom’s car, I also got two younger kids, unknown to me but who lived near us, whose parents weren’t able to make it through the roads, which were shut down by then, and whom I delivered home. It is a spirit of such cooperation when the challenges are high ~ as well as a perfect union of people and technology.

Low:  3-5 hour traffic back-ups.

Not to be a bore, but my low this month is again a traffic low. My average 3:48 driving time was dwarfed if you factor in the three days in which fatal accidents caused back-ups of between 3-5 hours on the commutes to school. On one of those days, I never even made it.

My car overheated while inching along the road, with temperatures in the low 90s, and while needing AC instead of windows open since you never want to be a sitting duck for street robbers. When I realized I wasn’t going to make it, I texted her to tell her to skip soccer practice, get to the front of school as quickly as possible, and catch a ride with another mom coming our way. No sooner had I heard she would have a ride than I lost power on my phone (never traveling again without a power cord) and couldn’t keep track of her OR use my phone GPS Waze to find my way through back roads. Luckily, we had decided upon a meeting point and I reached it, and her, a few hours later.

I am not, however, callous about the causes of those delays; it does concern me and scare me that so many are dying on the roads here. But in so many cases, these are motorcyclists who are driving between lanes (legal) and much too fast, and who end up on the road surrounded by grieving motorists.

Glitter:  When the ocean claimed yet another pair of glasses…

Another language-glitter month! When the ocean claimed yet another pair of glasses (when will we learn?!), my husband was forced to go through the painful process of an optical appointment and ordering new glasses. In Portuguese. I don’t know why he didn’t take someone with him to translate, nor do I understand why, when he saw the bill, he didn’t turn around and walk away and just use his old prescription until the summer, when we could shop at Target. Nevertheless, being in a new country and totally ignorant of the language puts you in a humbling and scary position and sometimes you learn your lessons the expensive way.

Once his new glasses had come in, and he had paid for them, we began the process of submitting for at least some bit of insurance coverage. Of course, the information we needed was not on the receipt he was given. I arranged to go with a friend to get a new receipt with all requisite information. I figured, she’s Argentinian and speaks passable Portuguese; she can help me through this.

When I got there, though, she wasn’t there. I could have waited, but I decided to try it on my own. I realized I sound like a 2-year-old, but armed with my list of information needed, I explained to the owner about the insurance and the receipt, and the fact that if he could do all this on letterhead I would be grateful. He finally understood my request, and he said he’d call me when it was done. Now, for anyone who has functioned in a foreign land, you know the telephone is the most frightful of all prospects ~ no body or facial clues, no pointing or writing for clarification, too fast and too much talking. Instead, I said, I’ll come back Monday to see if it’s done…

Come Monday, we had the aforementioned traffic jam from hell, so there was no way I could get into the street for the new receipt. It was Wednesday before I could get back. I practiced my questions on the way there in case he was in the back, only when I got there, he wasn’t there at all! The clerk told me, he’s at the other store. Other store?? No! Directions to other store, new practicing in head what to say once I arrived, and new arrival ~ and luckily, he was there and recognized me. In the course of a half hour, we muddled through my excuses for Monday (he remembered the traffic, of course), the receipt editing, and weather chit chat. I left with everything I needed in hand and have now sent it all in to the insurance company, translated for their reading pleasure. I hope they realize what a glittery task that was!

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

High: Cruising the Amazon

by Kerry Nappi

High: We had a great time cruising the banks of the Amazon River and exploring its major city of Manaus.

IMG_2107I just keep telling myself, we are lucky, we are lucky. How else to account for the fact that we have again taken a trip that we read about as children? Despite getting used to traveling as a family of three, our oldest being far away in Michigan, we had a great time cruising the banks of the Amazon River and exploring its major city of Manaus.

Anyone who watched the World Cup last year will recall stories of getting materials to the Amazon to build the stadium in Manaus. Imagine, then, the year is 1896 and the rubber boom is fully “booming” ~ and that’s when the Teatro Amazonas was inaugurated. This magnificent Opera House imported chandeliers (198 of them!), roofing tiles, and steel walls, and an Italian artist came to paint the decorated ceilings. The 36,000 tiles that cover its dome are painted in the colors of the Brazilian flag. And one can still watch performances of many types there, in the heart of the rainforest.

IMG_2010Another highlight was “swimming with pink dolphins”, though if truth be told, we actually didn’t swim so much as float with them as a man enticed them closer with fish food. Still, it was thrilling ~ their size and heft knocking into us, their sleek bodiesbrushing ours under the dark waters of the Rio Negro. I felt giddy, actually, wanting to hug them, even though I knew intellectually they were only there for the free food and not for my companionship. I’ll share the picture, and you’ll have to imagine that every one of the photos our guide took that morning show the same silly face of surprise.

Most of our time in the state of Amazonas, though, was spent on a small wooden vessel cruising down the Amazon River. By luck alone, and who’s to say good or bad, we booked too late to get the Premium Boat. We took a chance with the Traditional, despite the warning that it had only cold showers, no AC during the day, and bunk beds. We were game, and it paid off handsomely. The Traditional boat was smaller, and thus our group of random strangers was smaller. But more about that in Glitter!

For those 48 hours, we were a captive audience to the Amazon. Mornings, we were awakened at 5:30 for early canoe outings, afternoons were spent on short jungle treks or siestas, and then again canoes for the evenings. IMG_2139After all, rainforest animals will come out when it’s not so hot. The canoe was able to get close enough to the banks of the tributaries to not only see dozens of caimans, but for our guide to reach over and pick one up. After he explained about their bodies and lives, holding this young one inches from us, I took the dare and held it. We saw a sloth so high in the tree that if I hadn’t been told it was an animal, I would have guessed it a discoloration of the tree. The iguanas were plentiful and the birds were amazing. Dolphins often swam beside us. One afternoon, we entered the quiet covered waters near our boat and fished for piranhas.and caught several. This had been my fear and I almost passed on the opportunity to try it; I am so glad I didn’t!

When we arrived at the Meeting of the Waters, we marveled that for 6 kilometers, the Rio Negro and Amazon River (Solimōes) do not merge. The differences in temperature, speed, and density keep these rivers separate, and the demarcation is obvious.

In all, we experienced everything we dreamed of there, and still came home unblemished by the forces of nature.

IMG_2143 (1)

 

Low:  I finally calculated my average car time per Monday-Friday week: 3 hours and 48 minutes per day.

I am told that I must embrace the Bahian way. It is our Brazilian state, and it is marked by (among other cooler things like music and a combined culture of Portuguese and African and indigenous descendants and certain foods uncommon in the rest of Brazil) a laid-back demeanor and easy way of life. It is anathema to my admittedly Type A personality, but okay, I can live with everyone late all the time and things not fixed properly and dates and times of meetings being fluid and ever-changing. Maybe it’s the heat. What I can’t stand, though, is that I am supposed to be patient and laid back, yet when we face the inevitable traffic jam and I patiently wait in the lane of cars for 30 minutes moving less than an inch, all these local drivers are impatiently zipping around the law-abiders to get ahead and, sometimes, causing horrible and fatal accidents. Why can’t they be patient, too? Why can’t traffic laws apply to everyone instead of half the people deciding they are busier, more in a rush, more important, and thus more entitled to pass us all? I don’t know, is it possible for a Low to be facing horrible traffic every day and getting annoyed with every driver around me? I finally calculated my average car time per Monday-Friday week: 3 hours and 48 minutes per day. Seems extreme.

Glitter:  It would not surprise me one bit if we see each other some later date on some distant continent, and I love that!

As my new friend Tantra said, If you can’t imagine choosing to spend 3 days on a small wooden vessel with 10 strangers from 6 countries doing wild things, you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this trip. As I mentioned before, we had the cheaper boat. It was also smaller, with a capacity for 16 guests and a booking of 10. The seven others plus guide and staff included such a mix that every excursion, every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all social communication since then has been a delight.

There was a Japanese couple who had been living in Manaus for 4 years; we have lived in Japan twice and felt a kinship that was probed with a combination of English and Japanese. There was a couple from Thailand, where we also lived for four years. We immediately realized the guy was not Thai, though he’s lived there for 18 years, but he was born in Ann Arbor, not 20 minutes from our home in Michigan. We spoke of restaurants we all knew and the government and its problems.

IMG_2151

The even more glittery part of the getting-to-know-you was when we discovered that both Steve and T were Navy Nuke guys (engineers in nuclear subs) AND that they had gone to the same university a few years apart – and suddenly together in the Amazon rainforest.

And finally, the group of three German men, no relation to us or anything we knew, but immediately bonded over this common experience and since then in almost constant contact as they make their way through more of South America. It would not surprise me one bit if we see each other some later date on some distant continent, and I love that!

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.