Last month I mentioned that I was catching up on reading in the broad genre of expat life stories.
At the time I was hopping between four distinctly different books: a memoir sharing insights and experience for those considering a mid-life move abroad, another about the journey back from the dark side of depression, still another filled with sweeping stories of an author enthralled with a certain Spanish city, and an Adult Third Culture Kid’s (TCK) saga of multigenerational expatriation (see Riveting Expat Reads: Expat Alien by Kathleen Gamble).
No sooner had I finished these four – and yes, I’ll be writing about the other three in the coming days – when five more promptly took their place.
I share this not to impress you with my reading prowess. It’s actually rather pitiful if truth be told, consisting mainly of stolen moments throughout the day: while morning coffee brews, a laundry cycle completes, dinner simmers or waiting in various parking lots for Daughter’s activities to finish.
I am nothing if not the Queen of the ten-minute interval.
I share this to highlight the good news of how varied this rapidly growing niche has become. There has been a slow but steadily growing upsurge in books written by and for expats/global nomads/TCKs which examine life lived cross-culturally.
Today I want to showcase a book published earlier this week which holds special meaning for me: Catherine Transler’s Turning International: How to Find Happiness and Feel at Home in a New Culture.
Why is this book important to me?
Earlier in the year I was doing research on my own book on emotional resilience in expat life when I came across Catherine’s website ExpatScience.com.
A PhD and researcher in developmental, cross-cultural psychology, Catherine had finished a manuscript on the psychological and neuroscientific underpinnings of many of the emotions and behaviors associated with the expatriate experience.
Not surprisingly, she, too, emphasizes the impact of differing cultures and building resilience.
However, editing had taken a back seat upon her dismaying diagnosis and subsequent treatment of cancer.
While differing in format, approach, style and some content, our books do share many issues and concepts, and I couldn’t wait to discuss these with Catherine and learn her views. She graciously shared her draft, eager for any feedback and suggestions I might have.
With Catherine living only 40 minutes away in Rotterdam, early spring saw us meeting at a cafe there for a lively discussion on an array of topics.
Over cups of verse munt thee we traded stories on moving abroad, expat life in the Netherlands, what went right and what didn’t, parenting. As authors we commiserated on the extended timeframe for non-fiction writing projects of this sort.
She mentioned feedback she’d received, I shared my perspective and together we tossed about ideas and possible ways to incorporate them in the ongoing editing.
In short, it was the quintessential expat experience. We didn’t let a little detail like not knowing each other stand in the way of beginning a conversation that I look forward to continuing in the months and years ahead.
Now that Turning International has been published (available in paperback at Lulu.com here and on Amazon here, and soon to be in ebook form), it’s time to celebrate this amazing milestone with Catherine.
When someone decides to pick up and move abroad, they tend to have a sense of the many opportunities that await them: enriching experiences, personal growth, the chance to travel and possibly learn a new language, broadened perspectives, enhanced cultural understanding.
But challenges exist as well, and Turning International outlines and explains them with great clarity: discomfort with transitions, questions of identity and belonging, feelings of loneliness, social isolation and alienation, missing the familiar, longing for people and places in one’s past, figuring out how to fit in.
The book is a thoughtful mix of key psychological concepts relevant to these challenges, comments and experiences shared by other expats, and French-born Catherine’s refreshingly candid insights into her own struggles to make a new life in a foreign country.
In her case, that came with a newborn baby, fewer options for maintaining her emotionally and financially rewarding career, lack of familiarity with the language and a marriage going down the tubes.
In succinct language that helps make complex concepts easy to understand, Catherine explains the ‘chemistry’ of loneliness, process of acculturation, physiological basis for anxiety and other negative feelings we might posses when living in a culture other than our own.
She also addresses how to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty, language struggles and perhaps above all, the need to reach out to others.
If there is an overarching theme to Turning International, to me it is the benefits of connectedness: by widening our support networks we are more likely to find emotional, social and physical wellbeing.
Catherine doesn’t neglect our own internal resilience, including an array of methods useful in dealing with stress and challenging situations such as meditation, mindfulness, visualization, exercise and relaxation techniques.
Her chapter ‘Cultural Differences in Values and Attitudes Across Societies’, based on the pioneering work of Dutchman Geert Hofstede, goes far in illuminating how great a role our previous cultural experience plays in our perceptions of subsequent cultures in which we may find ourselves.
Understanding where our base culture falls on the continuum for each of five pairs of cultural diversity factors as compared to the culture in which we currently reside is particularly insightful.
Finding Turning International a book with much to offer both the new and seasoned expat alike, I offered to write a short review for inclusion on the inside cover. It is a testament to Catherine’s generous spirit that she not only used a shortened version as a back cover blurb but also mentioned me in the Acknowledgements.
Small wonder that she is also donating half the profits from sales of Turning International to Kiva.org for ‘loans that change lives’ by creating opportunities and alleviating poverty.