Expectations


I studied Anthropology as part of my medical degree a few years ago and part of our course looked at narratives in medicine. We often use military metaphors in the context of the illnesses and diseases that affect us: we ‘fight’ disease; our body has ‘defences’; when someone dies, especially after long illness, they have ‘lost their battle’. I find this stuff absolutely fascinating, and many authors more eloquent than I have written about it.

As part of my own story-telling, in the last couple of weeks, I viewed homesickness as something I had snap out of. Not a big deal, just like a cold – sit it out, plenty of fluids, analgesia and it will go. Except it didn’t: and the symptoms were getting worse. I would wake up feeling sad and despondent and in the same day I’d bounce back, enthusiastic and ready to take on the world, and that in itself was leaving me exhausted and emotional.

Waikiki beach, Hawaii 2009. I took this photo the day a huge wave of homesickness overcame me

I opened up to some of the people in my life and a very wise friend told me to think of homesickness as a chronic illness – it’s not something I can merely purge from my system, but something I must learn to manage. And she’s quite right. Homesickness can be debilitating; its unpredictable nature means I may wake up and have a good day or a bad day, or both. I cannot ‘help’ feeling the way I feel and there are triggers that will set it off. I may go years feeling fine, then an event may take me back to the early stages feeling vulnerable and desperately scrambling for the tools to deal with it.

There’s no easy solution. I can feel the strings of home tugging at me and with the lack of job security, I have to constantly re-evaluate my plans. But the place I call home is constantly changing, even as I speak (my mother is having the bathroom done) trinkets move, books get sold, furniture moves around, so the place I remember is not the same place I’d return to. At this stage, I still have time on my hands and I aim to have something to focus on each day, be it taking photographs, running, cooking or meditating. If circumstances force me out, then I’d like to look back knowing I soaked up every available opportunity in the place I attempted to call home.

Advertisements

I really enjoy keeping a blog and taking inspiration from the words, ideas and values of others who take the time to write about their passions. I have gained so much (including inches on my waistline, thanks food bloggers!) and one of my favourite aspects of jumping online is to go through my bookmarked folder of an ever-expanding list of people and their blogs, whose paths I may not ordinarily cross.

That said, the narratives we create online are not reflective of our lives behind the screen – but why should they be? I enjoy posting photos of my surroundings, I doubt anyone wants to see an unmade bed, a baking disaster or tears of frustration. I chose to start this blog because I wanted to write about my life as an expat, and I would be doing a disservice to myself if I wasn’t being honest about the realities of my situation. I’ll include some pretty pictures along the way.

The truth is: I am struggling. There have been days where I have sat with my credit card ready to book the next available flight back to the UK. There have been days where as a non-smoker, I have raided my friend’s emergency cigarette stash. And on some days ending in ‘y’ I have taken a leaf out of Radiohead’s book and asked, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’

My decision to come to New Zealand was a very hasty one – and I don’t necessarily think of that as a negative thing, but I became infatuated with the idea of moving abroad that so much so, everything, including my career became overlooked because of the overwhelming need to change my narrative: girl goes to medical school and grows to hate it. After crying in the toilets for the nth time, she decides to take a risk and book a ticket. Girl graduates safe in the knowledge that her fate is not sealed in an NHS hospital, finds a home in one of the most beautiful places in the world and everything comes up roses.

How things actually turn out is often different – not necessarily better or worse, just different. I fell into a trap of assuming my medical degree was a golden ticket – I had forever been told by my seniors and anyone else that as a doctor, I could go anywhere and do anything. This is not strictly true; in London, perhaps. In New Zealand: not really, and getting a job isn’t as straight forward as simply applying for one.

This leaves me in an interesting situation. I may actually have to use my medical degree as intended, if the medical council will let me work here. It’s not really what I want, but as time goes on, I cannot afford to be choosy and let’s face it, there are far bigger problems in the world than a white, middle-class, well-educated woman in a developed country having a mini career crisis, oh the horror(!)

So… I am going to bite the bullet, and try to get a house officer job out here. If I can’t, I will simply return to the UK for 12 months and complete my first Foundation Year and consider my options after that. Until then, I’m stuck, but stuck in a wonderful place.

Busy

Thanks to a wave of homesickness, my enthusiasm for writing withered and died: in fact, all my creative juices evaporated! A crochet pile remained untouched, I didn’t take any photos and baking attempts resulted in disaster (although I blame the lack of an electric hand whisk for the latter). In the last few days, I have slowly got my mojo back thanks to people in my life cheering me on from the sidelines and I have decided to adopt the mindset of the ladybirds on the apple tree at my mother’s house: get on it.

Looking back in the run-up to the wave, I guess I developed an anxiety: I got the absurd idea that I had to perform as the ‘perfect’ expat. Doing myself no favours – having an anthropology degree and coming from a family of immigrants made me acutely aware of my place as a foreigner in a different country and culture. It seems silly now, but looking back on it but in recent weeks, I made decisions such as only buying books from New Zealand authors (a new friend howled with laughter when I told her this), not allowing myself any imported foodie treats from home, insisting I try to make friends with locals than relying on other expats and generally indulging my fears, which made me wonder whether I should have been quietly escorted into the nearest padded cell.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities; making an effort and getting to know a new place is good, but in any tense, nervous situation, you fall into autopilot and lose sight of what is important. As mentioned, my friend – once she got over her hysterics – reassured me and said, ‘Us Kiwis are a fairly chilled out bunch. You really don’t need to worry.’

Crossing my fingers to come back as a ladybird in the next life.

A week has already passed, and in the emotional cycle of an expat, I’m in the ‘OMG everything is awesome!’ stage. I spent the first couple of days in Auckland, which I’m told is not strictly part of New Zealand, but for argument’s sake I’ll let it slide and tell you that having eggs Benedict and decent coffee for breakfast, followed by a visit to the bakers and walk along the beach does wonders for jet lag and the soul.

Having lived off a main road all my life, it was somewhat disconcerting coming to an area where birdsong is the main sound, and not police sirens. The pace has cranked right down compared with London, but it’s very easy to adjust to, if you let it. I’m a stone’s throw away from a lake which doesn’t get any tourists, which is nice (yes, I know I’m a foreigner complaining about foreigners) and while I can’t yet chop firewood, I do a good enough job of crunching up the newspaper, ready for lighting.

I’ve been asked if I want any creature comforts sent over, namely Marmite, but I couldn’t justify the carbon footprint, and I want to get to grips with New Zealand’s version of things. What is loooovely is walking through the fruit and veg section, and 99% of produce is local to the country. It’s winter so there are no red bags of water sold as strawberries. Deal with it and harden the f*** up.

Lake Tarawera

————————–

‘Harden the fuck up’ is actually the product of an Australian comedian, not the Kiwis. Please don’t hurt me

Bangkok, baby

“The more you travel… I think, the more you realise you’re a product of where you’re from” Elizabeth Gilbert

I grew up in England, raised by my Italian family. If culture is the lens through which we perceive the world, then, like many people, I had two of them. It took me a long time to accept the way both cultures defined me but they both flow well together without one contradicting the other too much… flailing hand gestures meets the ability to form an orderly line.

I lived in Bangkok for a very short while; 2 months exactly, but in a city as manic as Bangkok I think it counts. I worked in one of the big public hospitals and the other students kept me company. My status as a foreigner was pretty obvious; cultural differences were a given, and I found this oddly reassuring when it came to dealing with the contrasting social interactions, conversations and jokes. I managed not to commit any faux pas, and even kept my sense of decorum and politeness when I passed out on the labour ward (I asked the resident in a chirpy voice, ‘Please can you hold my glasses?’ before I hit the floor)

I’m a little apprehensive about the move to NZ in this context. I’m a caucasian person moving to an English-speaking country so on the surface, many people have told me I will have no trouble settling in, but I’m not convinced. There are differences, ever so subtle ones, and no doubt they’ll become clear as I get to grips with living there. I’m not sure if my anxieties about getting everything right as an ex-pat stem from my background in Anthropology, post-colonial paranoia or a mix of the two. From what I can remember from my interactions with people out there: they’re very friendly, eager to help you if you’re in a spot of bother (I couldn’t unlock the flap to fill up my car with fuel. A man named David spent 5 minutes sitting in my car to ‘get a feeling’ about it) and are anxious to know that you’re getting the most out of the country (David recommended a different route to my destination as it had nicer views and was keen to know if I was visiting the South Island)

I did visit the south island. It was awesome

Putting my experimenter glasses on, it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out. And if anyone holds those glasses while I drop to the floor, I’ll be on a roll

——————–

Post title quote: Ralph Waldo Emerson

Strawberries after a chemically induced growth spurt

Someone asked me what I will miss about London. It’s a difficult question to answer; it’s a city and my memories and attachments are involved in the people I have connected with along the way. Any answers are also dependent on the home-to-be and its environment; I’d miss the empty roads of central London if I moved back to Bangkok just as I would miss the honourable, noble politicians of the UK if I went to live in Italy.

Arbutus meets London Pride

The best way I can articulate my answer is that if you buy or grow seasonal produce, you’re so wrapped up in the sweet little strawberries, you stop missing bananas. So there will be times I will yearn for creature comforts but there will be something different to learn and get used to, and until I experience long-term separation, I won’t know what they are. I also think that one city cannot fully meet a persons needs, so I don’t feel a pang of conscience while weighing up what I can gain from relocating; geographical cheating!

If I have to give an answer and predict  I will miss, it’s the diversity and juxtaposition: a 5 minute bus ride can separate the wealthiest and most deprived areas. Talking to one patient about their career as a judge, and the next as a graffiti artist and full-time sadist. And sitting in my favourite restaurant, watching the semi-naked world go by.