Recreating home

by La Sevillana /
La Sevillana's picture
Nov 05, 2009 / 1 comments

Growing up a citizen of a nation that prides itself on being a country of immigrants, my socialization included being taught that the U.S. was built by those who left their homeland and often risked all to come to America. As an  anthropologist, I've had an enduring fascination with immigrants and the multiple difficulties they  encounter, wherever in the world they may be.

Having always empathized with the fortitude it must take to create a new life in a foreign country amongst strangers, I've always thought that it was important for immigrants to maintain their language and traditions while integrating into a new culture. I never imagined that I would one day be trying to simultaneously find my own place and make my own way in a foreign country. Needless to say, it has given me an entirely new appreciation for how important maintaining the language and traditions of the "old country" is.

FlamencoWhen I first arrived in southern Spain, my primary goal was to complete fieldwork among immigrants from Morocco, and I chose not to make contact with the English-speaking community. For two years, I immersed myself in my research and Spain, deliberately denying myself the comfort of the English-speaking community, as I believed any good anthropologist should. However, when my study population proved too difficult to access in the time allotted for my  fieldwork, I was forced to refocus my project, and the time I spent in Spain extended far beyond what most anthropologists spend in the field. With my new project, the community I'd fervently avoided became a possible source of data, and after two years at the field site, an invaluable source of support. I found access to this population through a club of English-speaking expats and immigrants, the American Women's Club (AWC), and began building ties within the community.

Those of us who find ourselves, for whatever reason, attempting to make a home in a foreign land often see it as a sign of weakness to want the company of those like ourselves. We believe that we can magically integrate into a new society only by severing all ties to our past. However, immigrants have always formed tight-knit communities. Even the most intrepid explorer should have the wisdom to follow the lead of those who came before them. 

For starters, fellow explorers, wanderers, expats and immigrants will understand the frustrations you experience along the way better than any native can. They are also an invaluable source of information about your new home and how to survive in it from a unique perspective that is not always possible for someone who has never seen their country through a stranger's eyes. Of course, some things you'll want to discover and even struggle through on your own. Others, however, you will not - and probably should not.

HalloweenFinally, by not forming ties with those from the "old country", you deny yourself some special advantages that come with keeping one foot in 
the old country and one in the new. For example, I struggled through two Thanksgivings in Spain and, having come from a background in which this holiday always meant a big, raucous family gathering, I found it difficult to transition to having a quiet meal with my Andalulsian husband, who just doesn't quite "get" Thanksgiving. It was only after I made friends within the vast network of English-speakers here that I was able to once again enjoy holidays like Thanksgiving and Halloween. And having one foot in each world is twice the fun, as I (naturally) get to celebrate Spanish and American holidays. And trust me, when you live in Spain, that means plenty of merrymaking! (On the left, a mixed Spanish-American family celebrates Halloween in Seville, Spain.)

 

4th of JulyYou can remake old holidays to incorporate elements of the new place and culture and create new traditions. Rewrite the rules or just throw them out altogether. Either way, it's difficult to do these things without friends that "get it." What's more, your exotic ritual celebrations will prove an endless source of fascination and entertainment for those socialized in a different culture.

(The photo on the right is from this past 4th of July. The celebration included Americans, Germans and Spaniards. We combined an American barbeque type celebration with a Spanish pool-side summer fiesta.)

 

 

Wherever you may find yourself, it's likely that there will be others like you, carving their way in a strange land among strangers. My suggestion is that you find them - immediately. It won't, and shouldn’t, preclude making friends with "the natives", acquiring language skills or enjoying the local cuisine. After all, these are the reasons we left our first homes to begin with.

You should be prepared for the fact that, once you find that community of fellow travellers, you may have to remake it to suit your needs, especially if that community is focused around some formal organization, like a club. If you work during the day and all club activities are held during working hours, take the lead in suggesting evening and weekend activities. Not enough family-oriented events? Suggest a more inclusive venue that will attract singles, couples without children and families, such as a barbeque. If you find that your local club is a bit stuffy, shake things up by offering to host a wine tasting. If it's exclusively for women (or men) start your own affiliated club. For example, not only do husbands and boyfriends attend many AWC activities, but the club I belong to in Seville now has a semi-official AWC Men's Club. The AWC guys get together monthly to have important and necessary male bonding rituals, like drinking beer and belching (their words, not mine), playing paint ball and darts, and going bowling.
 

If you're reading this,it means that you have a valuable tool at your disposal - the internet. Use it to make a connection with that community of intrepid explorers. Here are a few links that may help you along the way.

The American Women's Club is an association of English-speaking women with sister organizations located all over the world, such as Thailand (http://awcthailand.org/index.php), Brussels (http://www.awcb.org/awcb/), and the Philippines (http://www.awcphilippines.org/home.php)

This link can help you locate different organizations in many different countries, and also offers helpful advise: http://www.expatexchange.com/

The U.S. Embassy where you are should also be able to help you locate organizations and clubs for English-speakers. Here's a website with a list of U.S. Embassies all over the world: http://www.usembassy.gov/

Comments (1)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    14 years 3 months ago

    la sevillana - this is one of the most powerful articles i've read in a long time. yes, finding home wherever you are is acknowledging all parts of yourself. thanks for sharing!

     

    Jessie Voigts, PhD

    Publisher, wanderingeducators.com

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