Instagrams of a Recovering Expat

No one comes back to their hometown from extended amounts of time overseas and feels immediately at home, or even like they fit in. I’m in my third month of living in the USA and sometimes I still feel like a weird outsider intruding on someone else’s world. But I’ve had to cope somehow, or else abandon my sanity, which doesn’t sound like a great idea. So I’m coping. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be where I am and working the job I have and in this position. But drastic transitions can be rough, dude!)

How? By surrounding myself with all those things I missed while I was abroad and just love to do, in general.

Like drip coffee and sitting in coffee shops for hours.

Like at-home cooking (in a full kitchen!) and farmer’s market finds.

Like arts and crafts and knitting scarves while listening to Beyonce.

Like dogs. So many dogs. All the dogs.

Dog versus lizard over here, ya'll. #dog #pug #puppy #toy #usa #pittsburgh #domestic #cute #ugly #play #datface

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#westvirginia #dog #portrait #cabin #oglebay #usa #familyreunion #puppy #lookforthelight #indoor #pets

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The ugliest dog in the world. // #englishbulldog #bulldog #dog #winston #ugly #animals #pets #usa #pennsylvania #pittsburgh

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Like running everyday.

Like hanging with friends I’ve missed dearly (before they relocate to Guatemala like a jerk).

oh hi @hadleymeetsworld. #NewJersey #selfies #sneakattack

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Like bringing home real, physical books from the library.

Good things. // #recoveringexpat #bookworm #books #amreading #lookforthelight #happy #good

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Like roadtrips to awesome cities.

#newyorkcity #lookingup #skyline #sky #summer #urban #nyc #travel #usa #newyork #roadtrip #moma #architecture #lookup #bluesky

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And lastly, like enjoying the city I’m in. Because Pittsburgh is kind of awesome.

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Photoessay: New York, New York

Sorry for the radio silence on my end. I don’t have any good explanations for it, except to say that my heart’s not in it for some reason. And instead of writing something mediocre up, I’ve opted not to write. And it’s been some weeks now and that hasn’t changed.

So if my words aren’t going to work, then I’m going to let my photographs do the talking, instead. These were taken during a long weekend in “the city”, a place I’ve loved and love and maybe will always love. Maybe it’s the bagels. Who can say?

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July Reading Roundup

July was… quite a month. What else can I say? At the beginning of July I was with my parents and cousins exploring Berlin and by the end I had accepted a (great, amazing, awesome!) job offer and mentally preparing for life in Pittsburgh again. I’m still a little shell-shocked my all of the changes my life is still going through, which might account for some of the radio silence on the blog, and it seems like all I could do in July was just ride the wave of turmoil for a while until it settled down. Heck, it’s the middle of August and I’m still riding that wave.

But I did get a few books read in the between. Hopefully I’ll be able to say the same about August, which is not turning out to be much calmer. In due time, which I should hypothetically have a lot of, right? Right.

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende

Fiction / Recommended

I can’t say that this story really influenced me very much, but it was an enjoyable read and it… flowed. I loved that the story revolved largely around identity (or lack thereof) and that there was so much variety of lifestyles described; it made for a good read.

Thanks Colleen from Colleen Brynn Travels for recommending this to me!

A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Nonfiction / Recommended (with trigger warnings)

If you’re easily disturbed by descriptions of torture or rape, then I don’t recommend this book for you. Others who can stomach it, this is an honest and heartbreaking account of a woman kidnapped in Somalia for ransom. It broke my heart in the way hearts sometimes need to be broken, to remember what the rest of the world can be like.

Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

Nonfiction / Recommended

Me and German history get along really well, so no surprise that I recommend this. The accounts of Stasi men and the interrogated were not just intriguing but also disturbing, plus disturbingly timely. I’d advise anyone who lives in the USA to check out this book and keep an eye out for parallels with the current NSA and privacy situation.

I can tell you now that August’s reading roundup will very likely be sad. But I’m doing my best over here, and once my schedule is a bit more solid and consistent, then I’m sure my reading schedule will come back to life. Until then, read a book or two for me!

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If you’ve got book recommendations, I want to hear them, as always!

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

“Sally, What Are You Doing With Your Life?”

So the phrasing isn’t usually so direct, but the gist is about the same. When you return home and you’ve finished your undergraduate education, everyone wants to know about the big picture. You’re 24, what are you going to do now? Did you finish dealing with that pesky travel bug you’ve been plagued with for years? (Haha, funny joke!) Wow, you’re going to be here for at least a year? Is it time to settle down, now?

No.

No.

No.

But maybe for a little bit.

If you’ve been following my Instagram recently, you’ve probably noticed that my life consists of a lot of domestic things at the moment. There are dogs, scarves I’m in the middle of knitting, running shoes, neighborhood street lights… not so many foreign things. Unless you count that sushi I ate two weeks ago, which I definitely do. It’s almost the same as going to Japan, right?

Anyways, that’s what I’ll be telling myself for the next few months. Not that I’m unhappy to be back in Pittsburgh, because that’s not the case. Pittsburgh is awesome, especially in the summer. But I think it’s always a hard adjustment to start a routine when you’ve been living a country-to-country, city-to-city kind of life for any serious amount of time. And even harder if you spent a year and a half prior to that living in Asia and eating strange foods on the regular. It’s just tough to go back to your neighborhood grocery store or bar or mall and feel very excited about it; I’m experiencing that first-hand and certainly not for the first time.

What’s different about this time is that I have to learn how to work through it.

I’m going to be back in Pittsburgh for at least a year.

Why, you ask? Well, let’s start with the most obvious reason: I’m broke. Thanks for all the cash, South Korea, and you’re welcome, Europe, for spending all of it within your borders. Even if I was planning to move to another city in the USA, I’d still need to take some time and work in Pittsburgh until I could afford to do so. But that’s not the plan at the moment, because I’m waiting to hear back from an application to the Peace Corps that I sent in last month. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get in, but in the chance that I did, it would still be about a year (or more) until my departure date and it makes the most sense to stick it out where my friends and some of my family are, and where the flexible timing of it all wouldn’t strand me.

But, if I needed more reason to stay, it arrived last week when I accepted a writing and social media job in Pittsburgh. This job would have been tough to pass up no matter what my plans were; it’s what I love to do and do well, but with room to grow. So while some of my readers may be sad to hear that my next job isn’t overseas (I just couldn’t work with kids in a classroom again, I’m sorry!), the rest of my friends from Pittsburgh are pumped to see me stick around for more than just a few weeks here and there. And I’m pretty happy about the new gig, myself. A job I enjoy is a first, solid step in the right direction for a recovering expat like me.

Which leads me to my personal goal for this year or more (who knows?) in Pittsburgh: I want to make Pittsburgh work for me. I don’t want to feel like I’m just passing the time here. I want to put things into my life that I enjoy and which are fulfilling. Part of that process will be dissecting what exactly about expat life and travel abroad made me smile. Was it the new foods? The broken English and prevalence of foreign languages all around me? The chance to meet people with different cultural upbringings? Or just the sheer variety of cheese in Germany? Because if that’s the case, I’m pretty sure the USA has a few stores that won’t disappoint in the cheese arena, and all I need to do to feel better is visit them.

So my plan is to find activities and organizations in Pittsburgh that scratch my international itch. And see if I can’t recreate some of the things I love about life abroad, but do so while staying in one place for a bit.

This is going to be one heck of a challenge, folks. Wish me luck.

 

 [Begin shameless self promotion.]

Did I mention I’m poor?

And I’m selling blank notecards with my photography on them! If you’re interested in grabbing yourself a set of 4, head over to this page and order yourself a few. Contact me with any problems or questions or haikus you’ve written for me, anything!

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Are you also in a transitional move home? What have you done to scratch those itchy feet without jet-setting across the world again?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Photoessay: Albania Blooms

I have yet to write about Albania, but it was one of the countries that stuck with me most. While I loved the friendly people, little bits of chaos that infiltrated everyday life and the gorgeous Adriatic sea on my doorstep, the flowers are what immediately come to mind when I picture the country. It seemed like everywhere I looked, another new kind of flower peeked out between a fence or two buildings, brightening my day.

So I tried to make it a habit to stop and smell the roses. In other words, I photographed the shit out of those flowers.

Enjoy!

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Which flowers are your favorite? Have you ever seen any of these where you live or while traveling?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Photoessay: Ugly Beautiful Zagreb

I’m back home now and beginning the immense project of processing my photographs from a long five months of travel through Europe. I visited what felt like city after city, and while many were somewhat like the others, blending into the background of extended travel, Zagreb, Croatia is one city that really stood out to me. I liked the contrasts of Upper and Lower Zagreb; the lower area felt like the metropolis you’d expect from Croatia’s capital, while the upper town stretched over hills and held beautiful green space. In fifteen minutes you could walk from a busy downtown to what felt like a secluded residential street and just as easily make your way back to the buzzing hum below.

When asked to describe the architecture of Zagreb to a friend shortly after leaving, I said this: It’s the weirdest mix of ugly and beautiful I’d ever seen in one place. And I like it. While I didn’t walk away with many photographs (just enough!), I did pick up some lovely memories of a city I’d be delighted to revisit.

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Have you ever been to Zagreb, Croatia and what did you think? Would you like to go? How ’bout that retro passenger van? (I want one!)

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list for updates, if you’d so please.

Displaced, But at Home

It’s always an interesting feeling to come home when you’ve been gone for several months, and one I’m not all too unfamiliar with. I’ve come home from five months in Austria, five months in Argentina and eighteen months in South Korea and while each homecoming was not quite the same, they all had one factor in common: I had a place that was my own, no matter how much time had passed.

But this time, coming back from five months of travel in Europe, even I was caught off-guard by how un-homey it felt.

Times are hard.

It all started a few months ago when my parents moved to Germany. As part of that arrangement, they didn’t sell our home in Pittsburgh, but they cleaned out several rooms for rental. My (now former) room, being the fantastic, spacious and bright room that it is, was obviously prime real estate to someone wanting to move in. My belongings were packed up into several boxes and put into another room for storage. The house’s Internet was shut off and the kitchen cabinets were cleaned out. On one hand, I’m extremely impressed with my parents; that must have been a ton of work, because those cabinets were packed to the brim. On the other, I wish I could still rifle through there for some oatmeal every once in a while. None of these developments were unexpected, in fact I knew exactly what I would encounter walking through my old childhood home. But it’s still weird. Thank goodness my bookshelf is still largely intact and as it was, though moved, because I don’t know if I could handle missing books on top of missing oatmeal.

So each morning, now, I instead wake up in my Aunt’s spare bedroom in the house next door. The first few days, I used to wake up and look over to see a giant collage of my cousin’s face all over the wall. And the room isn’t completely empty, in fact there’s quite a few things held in storage in what’s now “my” room. But once I reorganized some drawers, claiming one as my own and unpacking my suitcase from the floor, and also moved my cousin’s (beautiful, lovely, marvelous!) face and senior pictures over to her bedroom, the space felt a little better. It feels slightly more like my own. (That’s probably also because I put some books on top of the drawers; I’m instantaneously at ease.)

How to make any room instantly become Sally's room: lots of books.
How to make any room instantly become Sally’s room: lots of books.

There’s one factor, though, that has me totally disoriented, but has been a complete non-issue for the past five months of travel: I don’t have a car. Or a motorcycle or a scooter. I have a bicycle and my feet. In Europe, I had no issues with this as the public transportation was fantastic. I would have been thrilled to have a bicycle in Spain or in Austria; I loved biking in Germany during my last week there. Walking aimlessly through new towns was one of my top five activities. But now that I’ve moved back home, into my neighborhood which is quite descriptively called “Mission Hills”, I’m finding that I’m not so enchanted with the idea of riding my bicycle around town. Even just walking the serious hills in my area has been an adjustment both for me and my poor calf muscles.

It was particularly hard during my first week back; I had a dentist appointment, bachelorette party and a wedding to go to, which were all completely inaccessible via public transportation in the area. Between asking for rides from my cousin, two friends, and my grandmother, I’ve never felt like such a useless, ride-begging invalid. Even visiting my friends in the city is complicated; the nearby streetcar only takes me into the downtown area, where my friends often have to pick me up to get to their neighborhood. As much as I’d like to see car-less life in the city suburbs as a cool challenge I should take on, it’s just not so. I’m becoming more disenchanted with Pittsburgh’s public transit system daily.

One of a million of Pittsburgh's beautiful overlooks... because it's full of giant hills. Womp womp.
One of a million of Pittsburgh’s beautiful overlooks… because it’s full of giant hills. Womp womp.

But it’s definitely not all bad.

I didn’t write that article, 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best, on a whim; I truly do love this city and am glad to be back. And among the dizzying spin of trying to become settled, there are bright and shining moments during which I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I love being back in my favorite coffee shop culture. Sitting with a coffee and a book, or laptop or just a notebook and pen are all perfectly accepted and encouraged behaviors, and if you sit for hours, no one will look twice. Refills on black coffee are half-priced. And heavy ceramic “For Here” cups feel at home in my hand. It’s great to be back in a place where I can really sit back and relax again, outside of my home.

Of course coffee sometimes comes with great reunions. Since I’ve been back, quite a few old friends have come out of the woodwork to meet me, and it’s been nothing but a pleasure. While I definitely don’t have a good answer for them when they ask, “What are you doing now?” (A post on that is coming soon!), it’s still great to catch up. I love seeing familiar faces again and spending time with some of the wonderful people I’ve been privileged enough to call my friends. Being away so long has really made those relationships that much more meaningful and I’m really excited to be seeing them not just once or twice, but regularly in the next months to come.

There’s also a cultural quirk of the United States that I’ve really learned to appreciate since the last time I lived here. People here live out loud. Maybe it’s the sheer time away or maybe I’ve grown older in the last few months and years, but where I once scorned other Stateys abroad when they were loud and obnoxious, I recently started looking at them with smiles. Those are my loud, obnoxious and overwhelmingly alive people. That’s my culture that will crack jokes in line, even though you’ve never met any of them. People from the USA are generally friendly to all kinds of strangers and aren’t afraid to laugh loudly anywhere they go. And for some reason, even when it’s obnoxious, I kind of love it.

So while I’m still settling in for the long haul, here, things are progressing. It may be the strangest transition I’ve ever had to go through, which is unexpected, considering that I’m at “home”. But I’m learning that even home can be another world, and maybe it’s one I’ve just begun to really discover.

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What’s the hardest or strangest transition you’ve ever gone through? Have your parents ever abandoned you for Germany and sold all their cars? Have any advice for me, if you’ve gone through a similar thing?

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page, or sign up for email updates, if you so fancy.

June Reading Roundup

Most of June was spent sunbathing in Albania, followed by swimming in Albania’s sea (the Adriatic), accompanied by work and cleaning at the hostel, and all of those lovely moments sprinkled with time to read some of those 130+ books on my Amazon Wishlist. A kind of heaven. During the last week of June, I spent a few days in Italy and finally ended the month in Germany, with my parents. So suffice it to say that June was a pretty fantastic month, and it would be nice if all of my life could be spent in the water, in books and in a sunny place like Saranda. But, alas, life. I soaked it up while I could. (PUN ALERT!)

In addition to these books, I also started a gradual swing back into poetry. I’ve dipped into Maya Angelou and back into some of the German poets, like Bertholt Brecht, which I’ve always liked. It’s been nice to get back into a little rhyme and verse.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Fiction / Meh

After reading the first book and being underwhelmed, I had higher hopes for the sequel. And while I did enjoy this book better and I could get into the story quite easily, I still feel underwhelmed overall. I’m sorry, fantasy genre, The Wheel of Time has ruined me, nothing will ever compare!

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Nonfiction / Recommended

In celebration of Maya Angelou’s inspirational life, I cracked open a book I hadn’t read since high school and wasn’t disappointed in the least. Absolutely recommended to all, not just for the fantastic writing, but for the reminder of what African Americans endured for far too long in the “land of the free”.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

Nonfiction / Recommended

I’ll admit that while I was reading this, I had trouble coming back to it. It didn’t pull me in. But as soon as I’d finished the book, I couldn’t shut up about it to everyone I knew. It inspired in me a lot more interest in art history and integrated extremely well into travel; it reads half like a history of inks/dies/paints and half like a travel diary through fascinating regions such as Iran and aboriginal Australia.

This month, July, I’m back in Pittsburgh (home) for some time. And I’m not gonna lie: one of the things I’ve most been looking forward to is access to my local library once again and reading a book or two the old-fashioned way. I actually went to my old bookshelf yesterday and started running my hand over some of my favorite books; I missed them that much. But let’s keep that embarrassing/nerdy fact to ourselves, shall we? Try not to tell anyone about my weird love-on-my-books moment. Unless you’re telling me that you totally do the same, sometimes. I can’t be the only one who hugs their books, right?

Right?

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Have you read any of these titles? Thoughts? I’m always on the lookout for new, good books, so send any recommendations my way.

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page, or subscribe to the email list for updates, if you fancy.

iPhone Photoessay: Giovanni’s Mother’s Cooking

Somehow, someway, I ended up on the fourth floor of an old European apartment, walls clad with twenty-year-old wallpaper and the living room desk covered in small, framed family photographs. An older Italian lady stood in the kitchen, preparing pasta for me and my Couchsurfing host. I was at Giovanni’s mother’s home, in Rome, Italy, and she was cooking us lunch.

I guess I’m the kind of girl you can bring home to your momma. Even if your momma doesn’t speak English and we’ve known each other for two days, and we’re just friends. Now that I think about it, this isn’t the first time I’ve been invited along with the parents.

I’m not complaining… certainly not on a full stomach.

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Om nom nom?

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