For many years I traveled in place with international students from all parts of the globe. The Brown University community and the International House of Rhode Island offered many opportunities. I helped newly arrived temporary international residents adjust to life in the US and brought them together with others who wanted to share their experiences. My professional online journey started 6 years ago when I was contacted by a man who spent his childhood in Africa, was educated as a physician in the UK, and then migrated to Canada for his residency. I was hooked on the international experience.
Consider the black experience in the US, superimpose that world view against an international backdrop. How might the expat experience impact when someone raised in Harlem relocates to Japan. A unique black heritage reshaped by a dominant culture, overlaid by prejudice in the host country. And on top of juggling yet another cultural identity, the adjustments of leaving family and friends, leaning a new language, and living in an insular expat community.
One young woman asked me to give her support so she could cope with the near crippling anxiety that threatened her planned marriage to a companion of many years. Over the three years we worked together, she relocated to Europe from Canada, got married, learned a new language, and purchased a home, all while starting a family and college. She made the changes because she believed they were possible, and in the process she left a dysfunctional enmeshed family behind.
Whether people follow the expat paradigm or emigrate, there is a period of transition, a time to work through the sense of dislocation that is almost universal to the experience. Though family responsibilities have kept me from following a similar path, I’m thankful to those who have shared their journeys with me, who have helped me to grow, to learn, to meet them in their new place.