Sunday, 3 April 2011

Expats and elephants

I was recently interviewed by ML Awanohara of Seen the Elephant, a blog aiming to explore the expat experience from an interesting perspective. When the Victorians embarked on their grand tours, they would return home claiming to have been there, done that and 'seen the elephant'. It's a grander claim than 'got the T-shirt', that's for sure. Having lived in both England and Japan, ML has seen her share of proverbial elephants, but found that on returning to her native US, there were many more of these mammals lurking: readjusting to life in your own country after being an expat is far from easy.

It's a subject I've touched upon both here and in This Reluctant Londoner: after spending so much time trying to accustom yourself to and integrate into another culture, rather than feeling like a return home or a relief, moving back to your country of birth can initially trigger feelings of unfamiliarity. Since I first moved to Spain in 2004, I've always felt like there was an extra element to my identity; something invisible but hopefully still apparent at times in my way of thinking, acting and speaking. A move abroad, no matter for how long, changes you. It may make you more confident or open-minded, or it may even make you feel more at home and relaxed in your adopted country than in your own. Spain's more relaxed rhythms and family-orientated culture agree with me, but so too do British politeness and formality.  My passport may say British, but my personality is divided.

My interview for Seen the Elephant focused not just on becoming an expat, but on repatriation too. This is a particularly tricky subject for me, because - as ML detected - I don't feel that I've finished my expat experience. Yes, the chapter marked 'Madrid' has closed, but I know that I want another one to open in the not-too-distant future. For now, England is enough, but who knows how I'll feel in a year's time.

You can read the full interview here.

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