Monthly Archives: November, 2012

Capturing tradition in a child

Emily & DilonIntroducing Emily Grace. My second born. Just turned three. Strong and determined, spirited and joyful. Already an accomplished goal setter, and the physical and emotional image of her beautiful Mama.

From the moment we found out Emily was coming along, I have been determined that she will always know her heritage (all be they multiple). On the Polish side, this comes with the inevitable rite of passage of involvement in some form of traditional dancing group.

Just a quick aside here to describe the group itself. A long existing “club” I guess you might say. It has had pass through it a multitude of Chicago children born to parents with mostly recent Polish ancestry, if not born there themselves. It is governed by an iron handed “den mother”, that possesses a complete lack of awareness that these parents may have anything at all to do outside of offering their beloved spawn up for sacrifice to the alter of her world. She controls it all. And must be obeyed. It is here I struggle to do what I advise in my cultural work, that is to suspend my expectations of how I would like to see things run. This past weeks photo session is a classic example of this. We summarily decked our little mites out in the traditional costumes, complete with full facial makeup… lippy and the whole nine yards. Ever tried that on a three year old? The Polish have a wonderful ability to operate in a setting of complete chaos, with no respect for time frames, including punctuality. Just when you think the everyone is on the same page, it just as quickly falls apart.

Emily & Ciocia at dancingYou can see some of this taking root in our little Emily’s urgency in having her skirt tied. There just can not be a delay, until you’re all ready of course! Happliy though, I must report a great swell of pride in seeing our beautiful little girl come to life in her dancing. Being a full year younger than most others in her class has forced her to “grow up” quick. The coordination required of this precious little brain to process dance moves along with singing in Polish is a source of amazement to me. Oh yes, and also have time for more than a little mischief!

Fun times ahead.

That moment of leaving…

I don’t know about anyone else, but if I have spent any time at all in a place while I am travelling, I get this strange, almost whimsical feeling just before I am about to leave. I find myself in a quiet mood and think about what I have just experienced and what if any effect it has had on me. Have I learned anything, what do I particularly want to remember, what do I want to repeat, or for that matter not repeat if I get to return? What if I never get to return?What then. Have I done enough to be content with the experience?

I guess as an expatriate, there was also the day I left Australia to live overseas. I certainly remember thinking of it then as just as an extended holiday. Would I have felt differently if I had known that 12 years later that I would still be “away”.

There is in every leaving some degree of something left behind, and for some I can see how that something, however intangible, can be hard to let go of. If it is your home you are leaving, then it may also be the longing to have it stay the same, so that when you return, it will be like a warm blanket of security you can always rely on. Rarely, however, is this the case. The knowledge of this fact may also produce anxiety.

So there then becomes a struggle between the feeling of leaving, and the anticipation of “arriving” at your new destination. I would argue that one side is not exclusive of the other. They both come with positive and negative emotions.

Poland!

The iconic and imposing Sukiennice (Draper’s Hall) in Krakow’s main square.

Of course, meeting and marrying a native of Poland was always going to bring me to this country. From my very first trip there it has captivated me through it’s architecture, culture, traditions and (at times troubled) history. From my Australian orientated lens, it has at times been mind boggling to wrap my brain around the long timeline of events that have shaped this land and its people. Early on I committed myself to learning to speak the language (OK even if my first motivations were to impress a girl!) I searched and found books on the country. From coffee table picture books through to novels such as “Poland” by James A. Michener. I sat inquisitively in the presence of my wife’s family and friends, eager to learn how they thought and acted in their daily lives. This was no more valuable when it was with her parents. Both old enough to remember the very darkest of days, when much of their time was devoted with simply trying to stay alive. But they always expressed joy and thankfulness for what they had.Many observe the people of Poland from the outside and consider them a little cold and unfriendly. In the world of cross cultural training, this is analogous to the coconut. The somewhat hard exterior, once cracked, exposes a warmth and generosity that is genuine and heartfelt.

So there will be more on this subject in the future, but for now, I can only say that you should if you are fortunate enough to travel, take time to at least add a short visit to some part of Poland and just see what I mean. I can recommend many places, some on the usual tourist trek, others not so mainstream, that will leave you with a lasting impression of this beautiful country.

Considering Expatria? Five Questions!

Tales From Expatria

A few weeks ago, a fellow Australian contacted me with a question; he’s thinking about retiring and fancies moving a bit closer to the rest of the world. How should he choose where to live?

I pondered. Budapest, Paris and Istanbul are the only places I really chose, without any particular push from study, work or life. And those were relatively spontaneous decisions. But sifting through what I’ve learnt from moving around so much, I realised I do have some general thoughts

There are a couple of things I won’t get into. The first is cost of living, it’s important, but it’s also utterly dependent on your fabulous wealth or lack thereof. If you want a comparison, just visit one of the many sites – I like Expatistan – and research the city of your dreams. And I won’t discuss hot vs. cold, ocean vs. mountains and other personal preferences. Pour over…

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Friday Global Giving: I Need a (Volunteer) Vacation

I reckon this is a great example of how you can engage in a cpouple of different passions. Travel, volunteering, international study and indeed serving those in need. What’s your thoughts?

Global From Home

I’ve always been told that when I give back, I have three resources I can share: time, talents, and treasure. While it’s great to support organizations and ministries through donations, there is nothing more influential than actually digging in with your own two hands and helping a worthy cause. If you search blogs, you’ll find a number of people who have given up time from work to serve in a community at home or abroad. Some of my favorites include:

  • Partners for Peace – a husband and wife duo serving with the Peace Corps in Ecuador
  • Soulshine Traveler – a woman who left her job to volunteer in Latin America and Russia for the past year
  • Clearing Customs – a recently returned missionary figuring out the transition back into American life

Unlike these great bloggers, unfortunately I am not in a place in life where I can go abroad for…

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Where to point the arrows…

There are many things I could make this blog about, and so I will. Got myself a head full of ideas, all born out of various experiences over my lifetime. However, I am not so naive to think that these experiences give me any licence to pass out advice. In fact, the idea is that I will only deepen my knowledge in my area of interests from what I know will be thoughtful and well informed feedback from anyone who wants to join the conversation. So….. here is my short list of topics to go on with:

  • Australia – My home country. Yep, born and bred in the suburbs of Sydney town. Passionate about my homeland and so very proud of its place in the world. Ask me anything, I can find the answer even if I don’t know it.
  • USA – My country of residence, and recently, citizenship (I do get to keep my Aussie passport too, more about that in the future.) Specifically Chicago area that I now call home. Love the different opportunities my life here has brought. Certainly the country has its challenges, but there is no denying you can make a go of anything here if you’re willing to put the hard yards in.
  • Poland – Birthplace of my wonderful wife. I have grown to know and love the history and traditions that surround this country. I love its people and though I have traveled there many times, there is still so much to learn.
  • Kids – I have a couple of my own. My first daughter Samantha, now a beautiful and woman in her own right. A devoted wife and proud mother of two small girls of her own. Her little sister Emily, now three going on thirty three. Possessed frequent flyer status before she was 1 year old, speaks two languages and devotes each day to the task of capturing my heart. I simply love and adore both my girls.
  • Marriage – I am basically married to the most wonderful woman in the world, so really what do I say. If I do start, I may not stop.
  • Kakadu Traders Australia – If we must work, why not do it with something you love. We will learn more about this great family company in the future. I get to work alongside the US crew as purveyors of some of the finest apparel you can buy.
  • Cultural Competence – What? you might ask. Well, there is every chance this could engage a pretty wide audience. Over the past 6 years, I have been involved in supporting programs as a country specialist in preparing individuals and families for expat assignments in Australia. In this I have found a passion for the field. I am now more more directly involved and have become certified to deliver more general programs for a wider array of expat destinations. So cultural competence, perhaps also cross-culture training basically means having the tools to navigate the challenges that come from doing business and engaging socially in a foreign culture.

I be thinking that this is enough to get the juices flowing. If you’re reading this, then you’re one of the first. Don’t be shy, I would love to hear what comes to your mind on any or all of the above topics of conversation. Feel free to share with your friends, let’s see where this goes. Think of it as much as your blog as mine, I certainly don’t want to be the only one writing. I am needing content for my soon to be podcast series, and the feedback and comments I get here will form the basis of conversations there as well.

Looking forward the journey!

Cheers!