I never explained how the U.S. government sent me to Old Blighty in the first place. My first duty assignment was in Homestead Air Force Base just outside of Miami back in 1992. For those living in Florida, you would remember a very significant event happening in 1992…Hurricane Andrew. The base, like everything else in the eye of the storm, was decimated. I was amongst the troops evacuated but was recalled to do disaster relief on base for the personnel and their families in the aftermath fairly quickly. So all mixed up within the shock, confusion, work, tears, and exhaustion that come with a natural disaster, the Air Force offered all of us any duty station we wanted.
And the clouds opened up for this romantic Anglophile airman who had her eye on all those bases in East Anglia. My wish was my command. At the time, I could not understand why my peers with no obligations to tie them to the States who had never been overseas did not leap at the opportunity to leave our borders. After all, chances like this were just so rare and precious. Now I take on a philosophy of “to each their own,” but I can make recommendations and respect people’s answers.
So let me put it this way. If Hurricane Andrew never happened, I never would have made it to England. If I never made it to England, I never would have connected to the Boffin the way I did because I would not have had the cultural understanding to relate to him. So you, my dear readers, would be deprived of our life’s adventures, if not for a natural disaster and the U.S. Government being magnanimous.
So if you ever do come across an offer to leave home for at least a year or more (a semester abroad just is not enough time), consider cashing your chips in and taking a chance. I know it is a scary prospect and not a decision to make lightly, but here are the reasons why:
You have a better idea what home feels like. Several things can happen. Sometimes you dream of a better place; you go to live in that place; and you find out that the place is not what is was in your dreams. Or you find what you were looking for in your new home country and make it permanent. Or maybe you live in the new country, glean what you like, and bring it back to your home country to make it work there. Option #3 turned out to work best for me, especially with my making sure one of the natives does not return. (Insert maniacal laughter.)
What the Boffin calls, “The Tea Cozy Syndrome”. You end up being attached to certain objects that you can’t live without after living abroad. For us, it is the tea cozy. We have become evangelical about it (Teavangelists?). We don’t care what religion you are, but if you have a tea pot, we will lecture you, if you don’t have a tea cozy. I refer to the Right Honourable People to the How to Make Tea post for the reasons. Because you are only punishing yourself by making tea at inadequate temperatures. I’ll stop here before I get even more obnoxious.
Making new friends. Apart from the obvious bonus of having wonderful people in your life, friends with different perspectives push you to think in different ways about yourself and the world around you. Which leads me to…
Seeing your country from an outside perspective. There is an old expression: Sometimes the spectator sees more of the game. It means keeping an open mind to what people are saying about your home country for good and bad. I can tell you firsthand that the Britons do not go around bashing the U.S. from top to bottom and are quite lovely people, but there are bigots everywhere just like in the U.S., and the negative stereotypes can hurt deeply. Fortunately, they are in the minority. Conversely, the spectators do not see what happens in the locker room, so you end up playing the role of the Designated Native to explain the broader picture of what is going on. Or Designated Ambassador may be a better term. So that is how I practiced doing what I do on this blog. It’s all about building bridges, and I love doing just that.
Foooooooooooooood! A chance to try new food is a glorious, is it not?
A new hub for traveling. Not only would you experience a new country, but depending where you are, you can use that as a point of travel to other places. If you are in Istanbul, you can hit all sorts of places in the Middle East for a weekend jaunt, and it would be absolutely normal and affordable. You can check off a lot of countries on your list and add more food to try too.
Most importantly, you would change for the better. You would learn what it is like to be the outsider, if you are not already in your native country. You start reading papers from multiple countries and look at the national and international reports with far more of a critical eye than what you did before. You will learn so much more about yourself because you will have a different culture and environment that will make you simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time, and you will develop new skills to navigate all of it. And don’t forget having to learn a new language as part of it (or a new form of English in my case). There will be people who will say that you changed too much, but you can deal with them. (I am thinking of some of my superior officers…ahem.) Living in a new country could be summarized as a positive or a negative experience, but you will grow, learn, and not live with the regret of not seizing the opportunity.