Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Midweek expat reading – Cardiff

WP_20150325_003 (731x1300)I’m making an early trip to Cardiff, a couple of hours’ direct train ride across the Bristol Channel into Wales. The day’s meeting place borders on the Roath Basin, since 1874 a protected anchorage and transit point for coal mined in the north.  During the First World War, the city exported more coal than any other port in the world, but labor strikes during the Depression, bombing during the Second World War, and changing patterns of global commerce eliminated the trade by the ‘60s.  Major redevelopment in the 90’s led to redevelopment of the harbour: establishment of a permanent home for the new Welch National Assembly (Senedd) and of the Life Sciences Hub incubator.

aerial photograph by Senedd cardiff

Wales encourages inward development through a variety of EU and UK funds, and we’re exploring whether, where, how we might relocate the company within the country.  It’s sort of another expat-within-an-expat-within-an-expat opportunity.

And. in that  theme, I’d been catching up with recent expat lit on the train, so it’s a good time to curate some of the best articles.

DSC01989 (974x1300)The Wall Street Journal runs an Expat blog on the free side of their paywall that is well worth subscribing to.  Recent articles have discussed tax policies, estate planning, entrepreneurship, and making scouting visits before moving overseas.  There are also lots of good human interest stories that will resonate, from buying a car in Rome to weird restaurant foods I Asia.

The blog recently stirred controversy with an article asking In Hong Kong,  where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, just who is an expat, anyway?  The answer was that privilege defined the expat: Expats are free to roam between countries and cultures, privileges not afforded to those considered immigrants or migrant workers.

‘The Guardian ran a critical column asking whether the WSJ was saying that only white people can be ‘expats’, while everyone else was an ‘immigrant’.  Top African professionals don’t gain the term “expat”, they are highly qualified immigrants, to be politically correct.  The WSJ argued back that expat refers to global citizens based on shared experiences, rather than ‘rich-white-person-moving-abroad-with-no-desire-to-integrate.’

‘Really an interesting debate about identity, culture, and the economic class.

DSC01993 (1300x975)Medium can be a difficult site to use at first, but once you set up some good keywords and find some authors and curators to follow, it regularly delivers thoughtful essays.

Cody Delistraty’s essay, The Existential Conflict of the Modern Expatriate, is a small gem.  The tradeoff is between freedom and loneliness, isolation and integration. To understand what it means to be alive, go somewhere entirely new and foreign, a place where even the most basic actions — a trip to the grocery store or the pharmacy, ordering at a restaurant, or even negotiating the language — become deeply fascinating, trying, difficult.

It’s so true: I remember the days spent trying to figure our where to buy housewares (Blokker) or mousetraps (the pet store), the frustrations of idiom and visas, the doubts amidst the daily wonder of living in another culture.

DSC01991 (1300x962)Finally, an essay by Andrea Pisac, Travelling to Find Home. She focuses on the problem of liminality, being in transition between cultures without having a firm foot in either.  Che catalogues the  characteristic feelings:

  • you often feel a bit nostalgic for ‘home’: a place that is both here and there.
  • you understand and appreciate things about your own and other cultures even if sometimes they annoy you
  • you can do what the locals do and at the same time explain to foreigners what it is that you’re doing
  • you can decide not to do what the locals do and feel OK with that
  • you feel out of place and deeply connected at the same time
  • your experience of living between cultures is the source of your biggest anguish and your biggest joy

DSC01988 (1300x973)For me, these themes all converge along the historic bay in Cardiff.  I’m pitching to a government not my own for a very personal project that I am passionate and confident about.  I’m reading their local history of mining while angling to be part of their future vision of healthcare.  I’m wondering at the signs in Welch (Iechyd da i chwi yn awr ac yn oesoedd) while appreciating the sentiment (Good health to you now and forever).

Inside-outside: choosing when and where to belong.  As Pisac observes, that liminality, as confusing and challenging as it may feel, is the most creative time in a person’s life. When you’re a nobody, when you don’t belong to social hierarchy, you can become anybody.

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