Friday, April 30, 2010

The Sacrifices of Living Abroad


There comes a point in any expat experience when you just want to go home. The thrill of the unknown begins to fade and what was once foreign and curious becomes common and mundane. At this point, you question your life choices and the path you chose to take. You wonder if you really are one of those travelers that spends their lives running from something, the kind trying to find themselves,the kind trying to make meaningful connections anywhere, with anyone, at anyplace, or the kind seeking knowledge to better oneself and ones world. That same feeling of longing that lead you abroad wants to lead you back home.

And now, a little over 3 months since I arrived in Cairo, I've reached that point. Cairo has been a rollercoaster-when it's good, it's enchanting; and when it's bad, it's quite appalling. Yet for the past few weeks, my mind has been on home. When I first accepted the Boren Fellowship to study/research in Cairo, I was certain it was a good career choice. The current economy in the U.S. left me in no rush to finish my M.A. so I welcomed the opportunity to take some time off to learn Arabic, something I'd always wanted to do. However, the reality is that Cairo has made me begin to rethink making a career-long focus on the Middle East.  Since being here, I've become hyper-aware of my gender and race and the restrictions/expectations placed on me because of both.  Although many women have ventured into the Middle East and made careers of shattering boundaries and breaking stereotypes, I contemplate what cost this will have on my personal life and happiness. I'm realizing more and more that, although certain things may seem inconsequential-like wearing shorts in public or moving about freely- overtime they become vital to your sanity or sense of normalcy. I'd like to in a society where I can choose what I wear. I've come to enjoy freedoms like that of speech  and want to see others enjoy it as well. I do not want to make a life in an ivory tower or an expat bubble. I want a  loving husband and stable marriage, and well-rounded children.

Already my choice to come here has contributed to ending my 1+ year long relationship. As difficult as breaking up is in the same city, it is threefolds more difficult and impersonal via Skype. A part of me wishes that I'd stayed in D.C. and enjoyed the strength and vulnerability that only comes with a loving partnership. Amidst the media frenzy about the supposed black woman marriage crisis, I found myself saying goodbye to my first real shot at marriage and I've wondered how many more times I may have to make the choice between following my dreams and compromising between something seemingly greater.

As April comes to a close, home and what that word means is never to far from my thoughts. I miss my little sisters endless teenage chatter, my mothers home cooking, my teddy bear, the girly things my best friend does to make me smile, my younger brother that still follows me around at 20 years old, my god daughters toothless laugh, and yes, my now ex-boyfriends warmth at night. However, at 23 years old, I've already realized that- regardless of how much I plan- life will go in the direction it desires with little concerns for my whims and fancies. One of the benefits of being young, though, is that I still have the flexibilty to  stop walking down a path mid-step and turn around. I have no mortgage, no children, nothing to prevent me from making bad decisions or fulfilling my dreams. Thus,as much as I miss home, I know that I came here with the best of intentions. In this journey to learn a new language, I have learned what I need to make me happy and I've have a newfound appreciation for the people and things in life that I once took for granted. When I finally do return home, I am looking forward to spending time with family, falling in love all over again and taking that loved one on this life's journey with me.


ohradiogirl said...

I just want to give you a big hug. It's tough out here, but you aren't out here alone. I'll give you a call so that we can meet up for coffee. It's times like these when you find the strength; it's there.

Frenchie said...

Thanks, I appreciate it :)

programmer craig said...

Greetings Frenchie! I've been reading your blog ever since I saw you comment on Mona Eltahawy's a while back :)

Being away from home for a period of time can certainly test relationships. You've been there 3 months? I think that's about how long my engagement lasted the first time I was deployed overseas. I can certainly relate to how you are feeling on that one, and maybe on being in a hostile environment too although as far as I know I was never subjected to any type of harassment.

Anyway...try not to let it get you down too much! As you said, you are young! And not only that, if you're only 23 and already working on your masters you are ahead of the game :)

Frenchie said...

hi programmer,

I think it's just a bout of homesickness. Life is never as simple -or complicated- as we'd like it to be lol.

The relationship ending sucked but, on one hand, I'd rather find out sooner than later whether my relationship was strong enough to weather the storms. Thanks for your kind words and for reading my blog :)

AmanZman said...

Yo! Just found ur blog via fly brother's black expat listing. Just reaching the end of my 3rd month here in Mozambique as well...and I am going through the same things. I wish i could give u some strong advice from my vast 2 weeks of expat living experience I have on you...but one thing I can def say is that it made me realize how valuable my family and friends are to me...and learned to appreciate the lil time i have with them even more.

Frenchie said...

AmanZman, this isn't my first time abroad so I know from experience that the periods of homesickness dont get any easier or any fewer but you do learn to appreciate what you have at home more each time you leave and return. Keep your head up in Mozambique and thank you so much for the kind words :)

Anonymous said...

Ms. Frenchie,

So sorry to hear about the ending of your relationship. Distance was one of many reasons that me and my ex broke up (and we were in the same country). I can only imagine how hard it is internationally.

On that note my friend (my brothers ex) and I were talking about the possibility of us finding long term partners last week. I honestly find the possibility of me being in a long term relationship very slim. At this age and state of my life I don't see myself sacrificing any of my dreams or goals for anyone. I can't see myself not taking an awesome opportunity, because of the impact of a S.O. Romantic relationships aren’t the only thing we sacrifice for success, like you also mention its family as well. The balance between success and personal happiness is such a hard one to find. I trust you will that balance eventually. I on the other hand don't really desire that least not for the foreseeable future. Enjoy your time. Enjoy your journey. I am excited to see my wiser and worldlier that this experience is sure to produce.

Matt said...

So my friend, regarding all the life decision stuff... Hell, if you figure that out let me know please. However, regarding the home sickness thing, here is what has helped me before and you know I have spent plenty of time away from "home." Stay focused on the here and now even if the here and now sucks. When you start comparing things to the way they are back home then you really just start crashing like a rock. The worst time for me is when I start lining up my life back in the states. When I have lined up an apartment, figured out my class schedule, maybe lined up a job... when my entire life seems to be just waiting for me back home like a slick new car that is just waiting for me to hop in and take it for a spin. Thats when I get really homesick. When you just focus on your life right now where you are at and don't let yourself ponder over everything else that is waiting for you then you will get through it just fine.

Plus, you know the second you step back in DC you are just going to be all whining about the weather again... "its so hot" blah blah blah "its raining" whaaaaaaa "it's too cold!! I am from Miami" blah blah blah ;-) you are doing great friend, enjoy it cause you may never be there ever again, no regrets.

Frenchie said...

@Tab i appreciate your vote of confidence and i do hope that I can strike that balance between relationships and following my dreams. Ive acknowledge early on that it will be a challenge and that women are usually expected to make more sacrifices in partnerships than men, especially when distance and traveling is involved. However, I don't know yet how I will respond when that time comes and the right person comes along in order to "have it all". Hopefully, we can both be happy together and find fulfillment in our careers

@Matt I dont complain THAT MUCH...except when it rains, I have to walk in the heat, and when its cold lol. I am trying to focus on the here and now, like you said, and do what I can to improve my current situation- focusing on school, moving to a better neighborhood in Cairo, planning my birthday vacation, etc. The support of my friends here and back home like yourself has definitely been a Godsend as well. Thanks a million

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