Expat Alley

Right up your global alley.

The Joy of Random Sports Abroad

I made the switch from cartoons to sports fairly early in life. For the Americans out there, that meant moving from Nickelodeon to ESPN. My weekend mornings consisted of SportsCenter repeats instead of X-Men and Looney Toons. I saw drama and artistry in sports, culture clashes intertwined with high stakes and, above all, the tension of an unknown outcome. It’s finally time to admit a few things: I cried at the end of Cool Runnings. Thanks to A League of Their Own, I may have left the theater with a lump in my throat (but you can’t prove that, it was 4th grade). I was there clapping and cheering with the rest of the theater audience when John Moxon and the rest of the West Canaan Coyotes claimed their 23rd district championship (“good gosh almighty Joe Friday!”). Sports can be intensely boring. Just as the soccer haters of America who always bring up the dreaded 0:0 tie as the reason why association football will never take off in the United States. That’s why I think I like the underdogs, the ones that don’t win every game, every year. As a general rule, underdogs offer up plenty of uninspiring and boring performances. Then again, those are the kind of performances that pave the way for genuine moments of sporting surprise and joy. In this, I agree with Nick Hornby, who argued in Fever Pitch that for an onlooker to experience a truly memorable game, his/her team must suffer adversity, and preferably of multiple kinds. Adversity provides a solid emotional link to any sports memory. Our first child was born 12...

Tips on Dealing with Problems Abroad

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my 5+ years living abroad, it is that problems encountered away from home somehow feel doubly difficult to manage. Maybe it’s the language barrier, or some unknown local laws, or maybe someone just having a crappy day that turns what seemed like a simple 10-minute task into your own personal version of the Amazing Race spiced with a couple Survivor-style puzzles. In the place where you grew up, somehow you just know how to handle most problems. You know where the appropriate offices are located, whom to call, which stores offer the right services, you have money in the correct currency and, if you’re lucky, a relative or two around who can help. But when you’re abroad, problems have the potential to escalate into a different dimension. The worst of the worst occur when something exists (or is supposed to exist) in the abroad culture that doesn’t exist at home. Could you produce an official and notarized document that confirms you have, up until now, been single your entire life? If your university has no central office that maintains transcripts and credit hours completed, how would you show that you successfully completed all of your coursework? Would you comply with a local law requiring your hotel to hold onto your passport overnight? Could you prove that the official who signed your marriage license actually had the authority to do so? All of these situations have either happened to me or someone I know. Conquering them requires patience, emotional stability, imagination and a little bit of luck. Even if you happen to have...

The American Dream and the Dream of Europe

Maybe they’re visions instead. After my previous post, my father-in-law rightly noted that as an expat, my wife and I are less like changelings and more like dreamers. That got me wondering exactly where and how our dreams have guided us over the past ten years. Over that time, we have been lucky enough to experience both the American and European versions. Time plays a crucial role in the experience of dreams. There has to be enough of it to wade through the slings, arrows, pastries, documents, drinks and festivals in order to make a valid assessment. Anything shorter than three months in America or Europe is more like a nap. The ‘real’ American Dream and the Dream of Europe are supposed to offer a glimpse into what the future in each place ought to look like. They are more roadmap than trippy B-film, directing their believers toward some previously known and agreed upon goal. As you can see from the auto-search results in the picture above, more people tend to point out that their roadmap is deficient. Maybe the GPS gave a wrong turn or two. Maybe the system is missing whole highways. There may not have even been a road back there. This is why these are more like visions. Whether you’re living in What Cheer, Iowa or Bad Kissing, Bavaria, we can’t really wake up. The American Dream remains a hard and fast adage of American citizens, politicians, commentators. If I remember right—and I may not—the typical American Dream includes a house, yard, car or two (or five), satisfying work, a solid family and minimal interference from outsiders. It serves as a...

Expat bread crumbs

Expat. It stands for someone who was one thing and has become something else. An ex-patriot, one who no longer lives inside the borders of the patria, the homeland. It’s been 2.5 years since my family and I packed up in Indiana and moved to Germany. In that span of time, somewhere and somehow we seemed to have crossed an invisible personal border: a transition from Americans just living abroad to expats. We still live in the same place, the same apartment. Physically we’re no farther away from America than we ever were. But I have the growing sense that as the days and months tick by over here, the cultural ties to America become weaker in strength and smaller in number. College football seems farthest in the rearview mirror, followed by sweet corn, highway driving and supermarkets. It’s like Hansel and Gretel can’t find all of their bread crumbs anymore. Well, the bread is indeed different over here. As the ties to one culture fall away, what remains in its place? I’ve often thought that the departure’s tone (sad, determined, heroic, egoistic) determines what happens after that first step. Is the traveler heading toward something better? A new job, a romance perhaps, that pushes him onward, full of hope and energy. Or maybe some less affirmative reason drives him, like war or personal endangerment. These steps are hurried, full of loose ends and loss. The point is, it is hard for expats to determine their trajectory in relationship to home (or wherever home used to be). Maybe it’s all as it was in those first days, everything still heading away from home toward something greater, more adventurous and fulfilling. Or maybe the true adventure is over and the journey homeward has...