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.

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