Expat Summer: Stateside HLG

by Susan Kellerman

High: Visits

As I’ve written before, living away from close friends and family is one of the hardest aspects of living abroad. One of the best parts about having a good chunk of time off in the summer is being able to reconnect with these loved ones. I have to pick and choose who I see and how much time I spend with them, but nonetheless, it is another time of the year when I get to refuel my mind, body and soul.

This summer was no different. I planned out a full month of short visits in various parts of the US to see family and friends, catching up after being pretty out-of-touch for the two years I was in Tanzania. I took my mom to New York for an evening for dinner and a show. I had a girl’s shopping day with two dear girlfriends in Pennsylvania. I spent a weekend with my two sisters and my two sister-in-laws in Chicago to see Sting and Peter Gabriel, two of my most favorite musicians whom my sisters introduced me to when I was younger and are inextricably connected to my youth. I met up with friends from undergrad and the years just after, some of whom I haven’t seen in nearly 20 years.

These trips, these visits, this time – it reinforced that, somehow, I have built a pretty incredible network of support in my life. My friends are amazing people and most of them are ones that I can just pick up with, from wherever we left off the last time we met, be it a month, a year, or 10 years. Yes, it takes time and money because many of them have families and don’t have the flexibility to just pick up and come visit me; I need to go to them, which takes planning and money. But it’s so worth it, knowing that if I ever needed anything, I could call any of them and they’d have my back.

As well, I’ve known all along that I have a pretty special family. Is it perfect? By all means, no. But man, we have it pretty darn good: we get along, we enjoy similar things, and we have fun spending time together. That is a lot more than many people have. Spending two days with my sisters and sister-in-laws was a testament to that. So much laughing, talking, rocking out to good music, and just hanging out watching Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

Call it blessed, call it lucky, call it whatever. It doesn’t matter. There are so many good and loving people in my life that it’s hard to not get a high from that.

Low: Being un-American

One of the reasons I haven’t transitioned back to the US just yet is because I’m pretty uncertain as to how I’d fit in. Personal change is inevitable when you live abroad, and the longer you are out of the country, the more extreme that change can be. Thus the not-fitting-in.

It became clear on this trip that certain things I value are just not what mainstream Americans value. What I believe is a good – and responsible – way to live goes against the general American consensus. Does that mean that I can never live here again? No, of course not. But, it does mean that a transition back to living in the States, with such political division and violence as there currently is, makes it less desirable. Do I really want to spend the time and energy that it will take to go through the reverse culture shock and settling in after so long in other parts of the world?

These questions and thoughts put a bit of a damper on my time here, as this decision comes up every two years, and so just always sits there in the back of my head. I can’t really fathom being so far away from my family and friends for the rest of my life. Yet, I have set up a pretty good deal overseas and have taken the time to cultivate a new family in Madrid to make up for what I’ve left behind.

I’m fully aware that there is no easy solution. That’s life. However, that doesn’t mean these thoughts don’t preoccupy me at times and weigh heavily on my mind.

Glitter:  Meeting People

Flying is pretty much a near-monthly activity for me now. Actually, I’ve always done a lot of flying, with siblings on both coasts, friends all over in between, and being a single and having the flexibility in the summer to take trips. For a while, it was a joke between my friends and I that always met guys on flights and at weddings. It became a joke, simply because it was kind of true. That joke came to a pretty quick death after a couple of years. However, it could be that it’s coming back to life…
A year ago, I went to a friend’s wedding and ended up meeting one of the few single men there. Didn’t amount to much, and I just thought I was lucky. However, here I am ready to fly to San Fransisco and down beside me sits a young, fairly good-looking man. We end up talking a fair amount and have a great time. We talk about my teaching life abroad, his father who is a Persian singer in Dubai, why Chicago is such a cool city, and how guys can be really stupid. Is it that I have my mojo back? Probably not-he drops the bomb in the midst of the conversation that he has a girlfriend. But you know what? Doesn’t matter. It made for a fun (and fast) flight and I have a bit more confidence for when the next available guy makes an appearance on a flight, at a wedding, or perhaps simply in a coffee shop.

Susan KellermanBorn, raised and educated in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Susan Kellerman decided to spend all her life savings during her senior year of high school and take a Spring Break trip to Spain with her Spanish teacher and fellow students. This was a watershed event, as it sparked her life-long interest in travel and a desire to one day live in Madrid. Fourteen years later, Susan was able to combine her career in music education with her desire to improve her Spanish speaking skills by accepting a job at the American School of Madrid. Even though wanderlust took her to Moshi, Tanzania for a two-year-stint with her old friend Mt. Kilimanjaro, Susan really enjoys life in the land of Don Quixote, red wine and Manchego cheese.