Often amusing, sometimes disconcerting reminiscences from 22 American women who uprooted themselves to live at least temporarily in a foreign country.
Many set off hoping to shake too-comfortable habits and the confining expectations of life at home, often jump-starting unexplored talents and inner resources as a result. From Belfast to Belize, with stops in South America, Australia, and Ukraine, these travelers report on the challenges of new language, new customs, new smells and tastes, new biases. Some of them tried to fit in. Medical worker Meg Wirth, tall and “white as a ghost” in Borneo, couldn’t hide her height in a land of small, dark people, but tried to disguise her pale skin under an umbrella. Some couldn’t fit. Small, dark Angeli Primlani, fleeing domestic violence in her small southern town, moved to Prague, where she was ostracized and spit on because she looked suspiciously like a gypsy. For Kate Baldus, a hard-to-find blanket was her talisman against both the chill and the strangeness of Bangladesh. Other adventurers describe fending off bouts of homesickness with food: a disastrous home-cooked Thanksgiving meal in France, a Jewish seder in Japan, an attempt to re-create Mom’s rosemary chicken with a live bird and a balky toaster oven in China. Funniest perhaps is Rhiannon Paine’s wry take on adapting American ways and language to life in Liverpool, England. Many of these wanderers subsidized their new lives as teachers of English. Some were exploring family connections; a few had romantic visions, like Marci Laughlin coming to Greece in search of Zorba. (Lonely and unable to adapt, she never did dance on the beach.) For most, what turned an often-daunting experiment into success was, as hackneyed as it sounds, a sense of humor and friends who accepted them at face value and tolerated their fumbling attempts at speaking the language.
Will resonate for former expats, and wannabes may pick up some useful tips.