Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Letter from Jamie

Rio de Janeiro

Watching Kat as she's been packing up and moving home, has brought back a slew of memories for me.  When Kat asked if I would share a bit of my experience as an expat and then returning home, it was the perfect excuse to organize some of the thoughts buzzing around in my head.  

A little background: I spent 2 years living and working in Rio de Janeiro, followed by 2 years in New Delhi. I was then able to eased my way home with a 10 month stop in Kentucky before making it all the way home to Salt Lake City late last year - but my stop at home is temporary.  I know I'm headed abroad again - I just don't know when or where yet.  It's a very good thing I actually enjoy a bit of ambiguity in my life! 

My move home brought a wide range of emotions:  joy at being closer to my family and loved ones, a sense of relief that I didn’t have to worry about language or cultural differences, melancholy at leaving behind new friends, and sadness at missing out on the daily adventures of life abroad.  But more than anything my move home taught me just how much living abroad had changed me.

Some are little changes.  When I read the news instead of looking at US news first, I now look at global news.  Before I left I was living in Seattle where I tended to dress in dark monotone colors, after my time in Brazil and especially India I find myself gravitating to brightly colored clothing and I haven’t bought anything made of fleece in years.   My views on immigration have softened, having been the person who went into another country to take a job and who struggled (and failed) to learn a new language; I’m much more sympathetic to what immigrants go through.  I also now have a network of friends around the world – which means the odds of finding a couch to sleep on when I travel is much greater.

Some changes are bigger and truly life changing.  I’ve always been fiercely independent and hated asking for help.  I quickly learned that I needed help to survive in these countries, and I learned to ask for and receive help graciously. The biggest change is my self confidence.  If I can move to a foreign country, where I don’t speak the language, in a new job for a new company on my own, with two weeks’ notice and not only survive, but thrive, I know I can do anything.  The power of that life lesson will never leave me.

Taj Mahal Framed 3

My time back at home has also taught me a few things.  Life didn't stop for my friends and family while I was gone - they've grown and changed too - which means I've had to reset a few expectations.   The level of customer service in the US really can't be touched.  But most importantly, I've learned that my expanded capacity for daily challenges and growth opportunities must be fed.  I find that if I don't deliberately set goals to keep me moving forward I struggle emotionally.  

After time abroad, you adapt to living a life full of small daily challenges: picking something to eat off a menu you can't read, figuring out how to get hooked up to the internet, finding someone to cut your hair who speaks your language.  To suddenly have a life without those challenges left me feeling a bit lost.  The best solution I've found is to keep striving to learn new things and to find adventures that challenge me at home.

I'm sure Kat will love being home again, and she'll find many new adventures as she adapts back into life in Portland.  For those of you dreaming of life abroad - I say go for it.  Nothing in my life has been as challenging or rewarding as experiencing life in another culture.

[Today's letter is from Jamie, author of the blog Lyrical Journey. She now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. You can see all "Letters to Kat" posts here.]


  1. Beautiful letter! And so true. Nothing changes you and makes you stronger as a life in a foreign country does. Also, the experience you gain is priceless, there is nothing else that can substitute it. I am sorry I've missed you in Venice last weekend, I hope you had fun!

  2. "I've learned that my expanded capacity for daily challenges and growth opportunities must be fed. I find that if I don't deliberately set goals to keep me moving forward I struggle emotionally"
    thank you - those statements have given me 'an answer' i've been searching for.

  3. Lovely letter - this is a really interesting series and a great idea.

    I love the quote that Helen has pulled out. It's true we need challenges in order to grow, and even to be happy. I remember a holiday in my early twenties, when me and my husband (at that time) toured the length of France by motorbike. I was very shy in those days and my French was truly terrible but I had to do all the talking because my husband's was even worse. I also got food poisoning, severe wind burn on my face, our tent was invaded by ants, and our bike broke down. In many ways it was a relief to cross the channel home again, but for some reason it lives in my memory as one of the best holidays I've ever had - I guess some of it was knowing that we'd met these challenges and found ourselves able to deal with them.

    Reading these letters is making me feel that I've been playing it safe for too long now and need to introduce some adventure into my life.

  4. jamie, so well written and just beautiful. i love the part about your increase in self-confidence. i know this letter will help to guide kat in her transition back to the U.S.

  5. What a great letter to Kat! I totally agree with you that it makes you grow and change. Perhaps in ways you didn't know you could. I went to live in Germany as the young age of 19 as a military wife. It helped me grow in many ways. And I learned to drive a stick shift!

  6. Being an immigrant for Brazil this post touched me. It is very hard to be judge by your grammatical mistakes, by your accent...but it is good when you share some of your experiences in culture with people who care and make you feel welcome. Thanks for learning that.

  7. Jamie, such a lovely letter! I feel that my picture of who you are is clearer after reading this. You are amazing!

  8. i agree. my friends had changed too since i moved here and seeing them again. it was odd but no one to blame, people just move on with their lives, even without you. great advice!

  9. What a thoughtful post! I moved across the country in my 20's and found that challenging. Moving to another part of the world would bring additional challenges, but also as Jamie notes, a whole other adventure.

  10. Jamie, what a beautiful letter to Kat. I'm in awe of your bravery to put yourself out there in the world. I've traveled a bit, but never lived in another country and I can only imagine the challenges you've faced with ordinary daily living. I liked what you said about having developed a more global perspective and really enjoy reading about your adventures.

  11. a very special letter written from the heart ~

  12. I've always loved the idea of being able to live abroad, but never had the opportunity. I enjoy reading your posts from abroad as well as the last two years of Kat's in Italy. Living vicariously is probably going to have to do for me.

  13. Wow, such great advice Jamie!


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