Tag Archives: expat

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked

I have just seen another post about not believing what you see on social media. And (in the case of friends and family anyway) I disagree. Disregarding brands and influencers, I believe what you all are showing me. Just because we are only showing the good parts? So? I personally share what brings me joy. I know you all are sharing your joy too. And sometimes even your real, raw pain. But mostly joy. Okay look, we all know when filters have been applied, but who cares? If you are not comfy with your image at the moment but you want to share, what do I care?! We are all adults and we all know that being an adult is basically just constantly trying to dodge shitty landmines. So let people live, y’all!! Let them share their joy and hide their sorrow.

I really for the life of me can’t figure out why people care so much if it’s only joyful, filtered social media posts. You wouldn’t show up to a party without making yourself look nice and talking about the crappy aspects of life. You would be a social pariah! I honestly see no difference.

I probably never would have written about this but, I am an inconsistent (at best) listener of “Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations” and I happened to catch a recent one with Lupita Nyong’o. I am so glad that I did. In it Oprah reads a quote of Nyong’o, “Joy is not the absence of pain but happiness in spite of it.” Nyong’o credits Khalil Gibran which led me to track it down.

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep on your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you bare empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the reassure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your sorrow rise and fall.

Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

These inspired me to write because, well I suppose this resonates with me as I essentially started this blog journey due to the fact that I was worried I was misrepresenting my life. That it appeared to only be a travel adventure when in fact I had been suffering too. And I have been noticing several friends feeling as though they too need to let their feed know that they are also experiencing the crappy part of life on the other side of the lens. What I have come to realize, and I hope that my readers who quickly judge the “fakeness” of social media will realize, is that most are not masking it but rather basking in the joy. Because the sorrow will come again, soon enough, because they are inseparable. Because “joy is not the absence of pain but happiness in spite of it.” Let’s celebrate each others joyous moments, they are not fake. They are what keeps us balanced, healthy, and whole.

Cracked.


I was sitting here working on the interviews I did recently and suddenly felt inspired to share with you all the experience I had a couple weeks ago. As you know, this expat journey has been an interesting one for me. I have felt challenged in every single way and have been fairly open about it. It is authentically me to be open, and my dear friends and family can attest to that. Vulnerability is not for everyone though, I get it. I get the risks in being vulnerable, especially publicly. The word ‘vulnerable’ is literally about risk and is an inherently negative word. I often question if it’s the right thing to do. But sitting here, rewatching the interview videos and again listening to these intelligent business and political leaders talk about it, confirmed that it’s the right thing, for me. Because it is authentically me. I say all this about vulnerability because I am about to share this photo….

Yep, that’s me. Cracking on stage. In front of loads of people. And it was caught by the camera. Oh, lord. The thing is, I realize there have only been a handful of meaningful connections since I moved abroad. In this photographed moment I was asked what I valued most from the summit. And in that moment what I realized that I valued was more than just the topic. It was human connection, a community. The value of my people, for me, is beyond measure. But for two and a half years I have just been putting my head down and getting through it. Without many people. I get to travel a bit so I can’t be struggling that badly, right? It must just be ME not being able to find a job or a community that I fit into. What the hell is wrong with me?!

I have been hesitant to write it out loud because one, I do not want make broad, general statements about a culture and two, what if my future Dutch employer reads this? But a funny thing happened when I had that vulnerable and, truthfully, embarrassing moment. My internal hurt was exposed and I was horrified but, rather than judgement, there were many kind women that approached me with love and support. Turns out the struggle is common and oh so real here. Not just for me. It’s not just me. There is nothing wrong with me. And every day this struggle is confirmed by more and more expats I have been meeting, who all nod their head knowingly like “Yup, that’s the expat struggle in this land…” As for concern number two? Well I am convinced now that there will be no Dutch employer per se. And that is also quite common for an expat here, sadly.

I don’t know how I actually became “Chief Interviewer of Some Pretty Amazing Keynote Speakers” (not the official title) at the summit, but I did. Actually, that’s not true. This year has been unfolding right before my eyes and I can tell you exactly how I got to each milestone. What was meant to be blogging for the summit organically morphed into researching the speakers, watching their presentations, and then having the opportunity to sit down with them individually to interview them. And this wasn’t just any summit, it was a summit about empowering women for leadership and impact. This year has been unfolding in ways I couldn’t have imagined and, truth be told (because that’s what I do here), I am terrified. I realize now that my community is going to be different than what I had expected and I am pretty excited about my new people. The overall message that I really connected with at the summit was this: be thoughtful about what we want — first know our purpose, our why, then gather our facts, then come to the table with this package. And don’t stop showing up to the table. It was about understanding that we have a choice in the type of organization or community we work for or with. Or live.

I Didn’t Choose This Midlife Crisis, It Chose Me

I have been absent from the blog the last two months which, let’s be honest, is a bit inexcusable considering I have only published four posts. I wasn’t truly absent though. I have six unpublished posts that I was working on. They were essentially all about me trying to make friends in a new land. It’s sad, I know, and is why they were never published. More on that another time.

In the time since I last published a post, I went home. As in back to the US. Initially it was planned to be a typical visit- filling up my calendar with all the eating, shopping and friends & family I could. But I lost someone dear to me. So I went in a quiet way. It unintentionally became intentional. Everything I did and every person I saw had meaning (don’t get me wrong, I still practically overdosed on tacos) but while I was there I realized I was “elevator pitching” my life. And okay fine, when you are networking to find work or other opportunities you gotta do what you gotta do. But to the people who love me the most. I mean, if I feel I have to justify my existence with them! …but actually, what the fuck am I doing?!

So I got a little panicked about what I’m DOING over here. Or not doing to be more accurate. Regret, fear, confidence-killing thoughts have been in the back of my mind for a couple of years now. Is it cultural? Why am I unemployable? Why didn’t I finish that damn degree? Should I have stayed at home with the kids for a decade? They barely even remember my sacrifice for them! Ugh, my age… Also, I really should sign up for Dutch language lessons and stop using an app to learn because maybe that will fix everything.

And then recently I was asked what I do, to which I replied, “Nothing” and laughed. I said it without the usual feeling of embarrassment or fear of judgement. I surprised myself really but I just didn’t have the energy for the elevator pitch. Obviously it isn’t entirely true that I am doing nothing. Maybe the better answer would have been, “I am unemployed and just don’t know where I’m going from here.” What I do know is that I am not doing what society and my anxiety has decided I should be doing at this age and to be honest I am tired of feeling shame and guilt about it. I have so much respect for my dear friends that have their career shit figured out and many of them are doing such incredible things. This last trip, however, helped me realize that it was okay to not know. Again. Still. And to not know with confidence. I am so proud of the many women in my life who are rocking their careers. I am here for it. I will always have their backs. To be honest, I wish I was rocking one too. But I guess there was a reason my sorority (yes, I pledged a college sorority, guys )name was Waldo. As in, “Where’s Waldo?” I’m not necessarily lost but…

With the help of friends and self-help memes I have realized that, although I didn’t exactly choose this path, it is okay to be an expat, new and inconsistent blogger, who has been volunteering for an organization that educates and advocates for leadership advancement and financial inclusion of women in work and marketplace, who travels as much as possible (and should probably start blogging about that rather than my existential midlife crises), occasionally helps in the local lingerie shop, who is training for a 15K race, and is diligently networking for the job that’s right for me here, that will hopefully lead to a later-in-life career. I guess that’s the new elevator pitch. I’m curious how would you all elevator pitch yourself if you couldn’t use your work/job in the pitch?

Living in Wonderland

Every time I sit down to write, everything seems like a jumbled mess. In theory I am trying to break it up into separate experiences but how do I talk about x without talking about c, to get to y? Everything I do, see, hear, taste the whole experience is all interrelated so sometimes (all the time) it is difficult to organize it on paper. Also, I feel like everyone wants an American In Europe, Audrey Hepburn story and I’m afraid mine is all tears and anxiety and more like… Alice In Wonderland but she never wakes up. It’s interesting and colorful, but I’m often hella confused about what is going on around me.

For instance, I’m sitting on my garden balcony, staring at a functioning windmill, thinking “This is so beautiful. This is my real, every day life.” And I am listening to my neighbors, who are sitting in their gardens chatting, thinking to myself, “I wonder what they’re saying…I wonder what everyone is saying, actually.” And this is my real, every day life. It’s complex. There is so much beauty in this experience, swirled intricately with so much anxiety about the unfamiliar and not understood. Any minute a caterpillar might start talking to me, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t understand Dutch.

Not understanding what is going on around you is a blessing and a curse. I often feel a sense of relief that I have no idea what people are saying. They may or may not be talking about me and since I don’t know, it in no way affects my day. They also might be talking TO me (“Mevrouw! Mevrouw!” Oh me? I’m Mevrouw). Also taking three months to find Turmeric because it’s actually called Kurkuma here is somehow tear-inducingly frustrating. Because it’s not just the Kurkuma, it’s never JUST about the Kurkuma, is it?

When I made the decision to move here, I was adamant about NOT finding a tribe of Americans. I did not move to Europe to surround myself with Americans. I felt that wouldn’t be fully embracing the experience. Two years later I’m screaming, “WHERE MY AMERICANS AT?!” I’ll even take a Canadian, at this point. Because it is common knowledge here, apparently, that it is very difficult to fit into a Dutch tribe if you are not Dutch. I have spoken to Dutch people that agree and others that say it isn’t so. I have decided, after I attended a workshop, that there is validity in the argument that they’re just not that into us. Otherwise why would we need a workshop about it?

I did learn, however, that me craving American people is not just about Dutch versus expats relations but because my poor little brain is tired and just wants familiarity. A break from always having to think of the right words, translate, assimilate to customs and cultures. And if you know me you know that International Boyfriend and his offspring are Brits. In an episode of Parks & Recreation Tom Haverford says to a British man, “I speak English and THAT is not English.” And I FEEL that. We both speak English and we in no way speak the same language.

So basically, my brain never gets to come down and just be. Not in the Dutch world and not in the British home. Not in the market where nutrition labels are completely different (what is 100 grams anyway? This package isn’t even 100 grams so why is everything nutritionally per 100 grams?!). Or units of measurement (now eyeballs things and thinks, “That’s probably about 15 ounces, I guess. Whatever I’ll make it work.”) We have a lot of unused packages of things because I mistranslated. I can’t open a piece of mail without my Google Translate app open. Or wack frosting jobs on cupcakes because rather than translating I assumed it would be what appeared on the package photo (Fun fact: did you know that Brits say whack meaning “to throw it on”? I was not whacking frosting on cupcakes. The frosting job was wack as in ’90s term for not good. Look at me being all international now). Or leaving just about every town hall, bank, realtor thinking “We did not understand each other and I definitely did not get my questions answered.” I developed a complex because my entourage of Brits kept asking me, “Are you alright?” Do I not look alright? Is my resting bitch face becoming more serious? No, no. That’s just how they say “How are you?” Only took nearly two years to figure that one out. I tried an expat networking site but it didn’t take long for me to figure out that that is just where the international creepers go. Because who wouldn’t want to leave their local creepers for a more international variety?

In the Netherlands 90% of the population speaks at least two languages and 80% of them speak English. I often try to speak the bit of Dutch I have accumulated but the minute they hear you struggle, they switch to English. But then you can’t be their friend because you don’t speak Dutch. This is my experience. And when I have spoken to Dutch people about it they mostly agree that it’s true. In case you were thinking, “Well if so many of them speak English, how bad could it be?” Just because they speak English, it is not their native tongue so context, etc is missing a lot of times, and we are most definitely not saying the same things. I often leave just as confused as if they had just spoken Dutch to me slowly.

I am desperately trying to keep a small portion, in my brain’s judgement cortex, some hope that I will find my Dutch homegirl but I have also realized that declaring Americans dead to me here was probably a rookie move. Either way my overwhelming, everyday experiences of being an expat aren’t going to change. There will be many more grocery mistakes and frustrating language experiences. I have to accept the fact that my brain doesn’t get to turn off like other expat families who go home to familiarity in language and culture, that’s not me and it’s not going to be. So basically I’ll just be sitting here confused but admiring the windmills and farm animals with my high-quality but inexpensive wine and Gouda cheese while everyone around me carries on, painting the roses red or probably celebrating their unbirthdays but I don’t know, I don’t understand Dutch.


I would like to add a note: I am learning every day how to be a good expat in my host country. All of these experiences are just where I am at the moment. If you disagree with me or would love to point out a view that maybe I haven’t considered, PLEASE DO! Respectfully, of course.

Please Excuse My Absence

I did not publish a blog post last week because of the attacks on women’s rights in the United States. My blog is essentially about vulnerability and I struggled to focus, reign in, “control” my emotions, because there were a lot of them swirling around in my head and my heart. And I just didn’t want to be publicly vulnerable, about anything. In a sense I felt like I was letting myself down as I’m just getting started on this blog thing. But I am old enough now to know that if I don’t want to, I don’t have to.

In the end I emotionally fell at angry. Angry that women have to keep reliving their pain publicly just to have what respected global organizations, like the United Nations and World Health Organization call human rights. (Let me be clear, this is not just about abortion for me. This is about the autonomy of our bodies and the rights of women to determine their own family planning. I know women who have struggled in a variety of ways on this subject.) So I did not share last week. And to be honest, have struggled to finish any post this week. I have several unfinished drafts sharing my expat story but am struggling to find value in any of them at this particular moment. I may be an expat but the US is my roots, my culture, my people. I am still a voting US citizen. It will always be home. And what is happening there terrifies me.

A friend of mine had a great idea about sharing the cultural differences on the subject, and at some point I will write a more eloquent piece explaining how domestic and world politics affect ones decisions and life as an expat, but for now I am unable to put it into words.  For my American readers there is no need to explain the feeling. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum there is just… denseness in the air.

The purpose of this blog was really to show that no matter where you live, there you are. The things that affect you don’t change because you’ve changed location. But it is also to inspire a community where it is okay to share our stories, if we want to. And just by reading your comments and seeing what you are all doing, I believe I am already successful.

Suck It Up, Buttercup

I never considered a static life. I suppose many of my friends and family would not call their lives static but to me, never leaving where I grew up seemed fixed, not growing, not developing, static…(don’t @ me, I understand life differently now). I don’t know why I came to feel like this. Maybe it started because I was born on foreign soil, but was not there long enough to make memories, and that fact about myself always intrigued me? What I do know is that where I was, was not where I belonged.

The intention of this blog is to have open dialogue about vulnerability so I have to tell you that I have almost always been what I called a “nervous child.” I remember very clearly the day when my father and I were driving in the car and he said to me, “I think it’s important for you to be involved in a sport. What sport would you like to play?” And my answer was, “Well, what did YOU play? I want to do what you did.” And this is how I came to be a competitive distance runner at five-years-old. I was winning Women’s Divisions at a very young age. I was good, really good. I share this story because this is when I distinctly remember the “nervous child” kicking in. I always, and I mean always, worked myself up into a terrible stomach situation before a race or track meet. No matter how good my odds for success were. This carried on into anything I did that made me uncomfortable, and still does today.

Turns out that “nervous child” syndrome I diagnosed myself with is actually anxiety. Give me any amount of time and I will consider every outcome a brain could possibly imagine. But when I was younger I was never allowed to “quit.” By today’s standards it would probably seem cruel but I think my dad’s “suck it up buttercup” attitude helped me do things that my brain and stomach would have talked me out of (it is also why I have made some terrible decisions -the “just do it” attitude swings too far sometimes- but that’s another blog…). Basically, I can talk myself out of ANY opportunity in three seconds, flat.

We took a family trip outside of the country when I was 14. At 17 I traveled for the first time without my family. At 18 I moved across the US with the intention of never moving back, having a career that required me to travel all the time leaving no room in my life for kids, maybe not even a husband. What’s that poem about the best laid plans going awry?! At 23 I finally had my first chance to travel to Europe (sans that birth stint). After many years filled with more opportunities to travel, I sold nearly all of my things, gambled on a potential job opportunity (well I was gambling on the whole thing really), packed two suitcases, two waist-high boxes (this was mostly clothes and shoes that I had no business bringing to Northern Europe by the way) and became an expat.

I never really had to think about it prior to now, but I believe that my “suck it up” upbringing, exposure to travel, my intrigue with different cultures and lifestyles, and my “nervous child” syndrome is what has allowed me to do anything in my life that might look amazing. Some that know me would say that I am a “jump feet first” kind of person; That I don’t consider the “negatives” enough. But those that really know me know that I painstakingly consider all details, of everything, all the time, to the point that it can be debilitating and THAT is when I say, “Fuck it, Buttercup. We’re gonna do this.”

But, Why…?

In my brain I assume that three to five of my friends and/or family will read this and quietly criticize me, but cheer me on to my face (“You’re doing great, sweetie!”) because, well, that’s just what my brain does. But a few things have happened recently that brought me here. One, I saw Michelle Obama speak on her book tour. Two, I have been without a job, in a foreign country, for two years and have been on a journey (and I do not use that term lightly!) to find the “right opportunity.” Three, I posted something on social media recently and was taken aback by the comments. Not because they were negative but because people said things like: they admired me, that I was adventurous, that I was gutsy… and I felt like a fraud.

“You are connecting with my vulnerability, and that’s the opposite of what we’re taught. We are taught to hide ourselves. Particularly women and people of color. People who feel marginalized. People who aren’t wealthy, who don’t have status. People who are working hard everyday who feel unseen. Because the truth is […], we don’t all hear our stories told in a profound way and […] that creates a level of invisibility, so we hide ourselves. But I think that the opposite is true. That, if we can open up a little bit more to each other, and share our stories, our REAL stories. Our pain and our triumphs, our hopes and our joys. In the little journeys that we all take, that’s what breaks down barriers.” -Michelle Obama Ziggo Dome April 2019

“Dare to be Vulnerable”

Maybe my expat life looks like a gutsy adventure to someone else. When I asked friends and family what they would like me to write about it was unanimously my American in Europe experience. I imagine the social media lens has a lot to do with that, but the reality for me is that this is the most difficult time in my life. I try to be honest. I don’t go on social media to create an image or ideal, I truly just want to share what is bringing me joy. But I am also not posting photos of my therapist-prescribed Mindfulness Group. Or the two years worth of job rejection letters. Or writing manifestos about how I feel this move aged me faster in two years than the previous 40 and I’m just not okay with that yet. That I loved my experience at an elephant sanctuary soooo much but REALLY REALLY (like a lot) struggled to post photos of myself blissed out, because I was in a bathing suit (I prayed to Chrissy Teigen for the strength to do it). How many of us relate to THOSE stories? Most of us.

“You first have to believe that your story has value and we all don’t believe that. Most of us don’t.”

So that is why. Maybe only three to five of my friends and/or family will show up here and quietly judge me. Maybe there won’t be many people willing to ACTUALLY be vulnerable because, let’s be honest, that shit ain’t easy! But what Michelle Obama said really spoke to me; In order to break down barriers for women and people of color we need to tell our stories. Maybe I stop waiting for the “right opportunity” and create an online community of regular folks, who feel unseen, sharing their REAL stories. A place where our stories have value. A place where we say, “Wow. THAT PART. I have felt that too and felt really alone until I heard your story.” Tell our stories. Become less invisible. Break down barriers.