Expat Comings and Goings

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Sunset over Bangkok

by Kerry Nappi

High: Arrival

After nearly four months, our sea shipment from Brazil has finally arrived. I like to think I am not a very materialistic person, and certainly we are not the floor-to-rafters packed-with-boxes kind of people, but it comforts me to be surrounded by those things which evoke memories. There are pieces of furniture and art from different host countries, photos of family, and books galore; even having my own bed is a welcome relief after four months of a hard Chinese bed. My husband thinks “it’s only temporary”, but when does an itinerant life become more than temporary? I say being gone nine of the last thirteen years is pretty darn permanent. The pleasure for me is not only in having these things arrive, but in setting them up and making our new house a home. My family was scattered to three countries and four cities the week of the shipment, so in a few days, I was able to get most of our transported life set in place. Ahhh.

Low: Departure

You may recall an earlier High for me was in finding a small but perfect part-time job in our new city of Nanjing. Well, after five months of medical problems, it appears my older child needs a tonsillectomy as soon as his semester in Washington D.C. ends. This is one of those expat compromises you make when you live abroad without your growing children: When they need you, your responsibility is elsewhere. We knew when we moved here that if I needed to go “home” to the U.S. to help one child, the younger one could be home with her dad largely self-sufficient Monday through Friday6:30am though 6:30 pm. After all, she wakes herself, walks to school, has classes and after school activities all on the same campus, and walks home alone. She does her own laundry and can cook a meal. Still, I like to be here for her. Now I must be in one place helping with one and not here helping with another. When I see that dilemma, I know the loss of the job is a small thing.

Glitter: Accomplishment

I really don’t like traveling alone. People who don’t know me well think I am a brave and pioneering woman, living overseas and learning new languages as often as most people change their iPhones. In actuality, I am pretty faint-hearted, and I suffer from anxiety like my father before me. But sometimes, I do travel alone and tolerate the angst for some reason.
In February, I flew from Nanjing to Bangkok to see a knee surgeon, hoping that at long last, he could do the operations that would right the sports wrongs of the past few decades. I left with trepidation, but I arrived without struggle. Once there, my friend texted me that the train system had been having trouble all day and that it had caused traffic jams throughout the city; I was left with two choices ~ brave the train system or hire a car or taxi to their house. I vacillated, but in the end, I decided to take my chances with the trains, preferring to be moving forward in a train than sitting in a taxi. It took longer than usual, but I was perfectly calm. I knew where I was going and that no matter how long it took, I had a friend and a safe place to sleep at the end. In fact, as I finally alighted at my stop and walked down their street with my suitcase, I felt the euphoria of having accomplished something completely on my own.

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.

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