Waiting for Godot

Do you all remember that Samuel Beckett classic, you know, the one he originally wrote in French before translating into English? The premise of the story is that the main characters are waiting for someone named Godot… who never shows up.

Now, don’t read too far into the fact that I am comparing my life for the past six months to an absurdist play, but waiting for our K-1 fiancé visa kind of feels like waiting for a very hard to reach and eccentric older gentleman who only answers snail mail and writes three letters a year.

As you may have gathered, Hedi has not arrived yet. Although I did adopt two dogs. Not to say that Hedi can be replaced by two furry animals, but it does help combat the loneliness. And there has been much snowing in New England this winter season. Once November rolled around, it was non-stop action, a flurry of snow and ice, my ten-day trip home to St. Louis, and then five straight weeks of intermittent snow storms, with an occasional snow day, early dismissal, late start, and many times over scraping off the windshield of my as-yet-to-breakdown car (I’m crossing my fingers that it will survive the winter intact).  We had the Polar Vortex for a week, and then the Polar Vortex’s tween cousin a few weeks later, both of which made me regret the idea of adopting two animals who need to go outside at 6:00 a.m. to do their business (they are fabulous the rest of the time).

My traveling has been limited since the latter part of 2013, although I have taken several trips to New York City and one to Vermont at the peak of its glorious fall foliage. I have an upcoming weekend trip to Boston planned for March. Enjoy the medley of photos.

I’ve been giving some thought to this blog – although I myself am not currently an Expat and am unlikely to be one for possibly the next three years (Hedi needs to gain his citizenship), Hedi himself will be viewing America through the eyes of a foreigner.  His reactions, perceptions, and experiences in the new environment will certainly prove fascinating and I’d like to chronicle them in this blog… that is, if we ever hear back from Godot.

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Visa Vision

For all of you who have been following my adventures over the past few years, and those of you stumbling upon my blog at a later date, you might have thought that I disappeared into the abyss that is Danbury, CT. That is, I haven’t updated you on my trials and tribulations, my struggles and successes since arriving well over a month ago in the region known as New England.

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Eid al Fitr fun

I’m still alive. I even made friends. From my first few weeks of Spartan living to figuring out the new culture of the corporate world, I have thrived so far in Connecticut – I’ve managed to shape it into the kind of environment I crave wherever I choose to live : diverse, multicultural, full of language and culture and good food and great people. In the span of a few short weeks, I have learned more about Brazil – actually I have learned a ton about Brazil, from my Brazilian colleagues, the Brazilian language trainers I hunt for on the internet and interact with via telephone and email, and the Brazilian exchange student I will soon be big-sistering as a volunteer for my former high school exchange program – and Pakistan, Russia, Azerbaijan, small town upstate New York, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Spain, Italy, and Germany, from the lovely Germans with whom I interact (albeit virtually) on a daily basis.

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This whole time I have begun and finished the month of Ramadan, my third and the hardest yet physically. It’s a beautiful, beautiful month in which to meet people and to sample savory new dishes, to gorge yourself on rich pudding and basboussa. I feel so blessed to have met such wonderful people who invited me to break fast with them for a fabulous last week of Ramadan.

Time's Square... for all of 4 seconds (we're too cool for school)

Time’s Square… for all of 4 seconds (we’re too cool for school)

I visited a dear friend in New York, after seven months apart (despite our 10 minute conversation during my brief stop-over in New York City in June).  We walked everywhere – the High Line, through Central Park, along the Hudson (which I mistook for an ocean, silly me), back and forth throughout Manhattan.  We also witnessed this fun ensemble:

I had another friend drive all the way from New Jersey to come visit me… that’s the Midwesterner in me, thinking that passing through three states is far away – it was only a two-hour drive. We sampled Mediterranean food at a very strange kitsch restaurant. I have gone out with my coworkers, to a diner for delicious breakfast, numerous shopping excursions and trips to Whole Foods with L and M, farewell lunches for those leaving the company at a Chinese restaurant and a new Meatball place (Mima’s Meatballs, the vegetarian meatballs and frittes are fabulous!).

All of this new is somewhat filling in the hole where the old used to be. That is, somewhat. Come Monday, I will begin my first ever “school year” where I am not physically in a school building, listening to professors or grabbing a bite to eat with classmates. I’m still trudging through my MBA classes (economics this session, I’m actually really excited!), but online classes are a result of necessity and convenience, not because of preference or choice. For seventeen or more years, my life had been defined by the rhythm of the school year – summers, back to school, holidays, world travel, study abroad, exams. Now it is subdivided into quarterly earnings, sick leave, vacation time, and metrics.

The biggest aching hole, besides missing the culture, food, and people I left behind (you always leave someone behind somewhere), is what you could call my other half. What’s taking so long? When is Hedi going to arrive? What’s new with Hedi’s visa? Have you set a date for the wedding? The answer is no, no, I don’t know, I wish I did.  We are nearly 75 days into the visa process, with no news. For the K-1 visa, the agony is the waiting, the separation, the not knowing when or where or how. Five months waiting for the NOA-2, assuming we don’t get an RFE (request for evidence, the dreaded horror of all American+international couples trying to emigrate to the United States), probably a month to get our file sent to the National Visa Center and then sent onward to the American Consulate in Tunis, while trying to sort out paperwork, proof of financial sponsorship, medical visits, background checks, tax forms, all while waiting for THE interview that we have been dreading, which he has to do alone.  I’m hoping for a nice birthday surprise for Hedi in November, or an end of the year bonus in December, or a New Year’s blessing come January… the waiting has been driving me insane, and it’s only been three months since this whole journey began.

In the meantime, I’ve been keeping myself busy – two jobs, volunteering, learning Italian and eventually German, Arabic, and Portuguese, taking classes, meeting people, making friends, being an adult. Let’s hope the wait time is a period for growth and for savings, for deepened friendships and new beginnings. Insha’allah.

Categories: Bureacracy, Daily Life, Repatriation, Visa | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

I’m Not in Kansas Anymore

Ok, I was never really in Kansas, but you get the idea. I am now officially moved into my apartment in Connecticut, or as moved in as one can be without any furniture or a bed, and I survived the long solo trek from Missouri to New England. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio – three-day hiatus in Columbus to visit a friend from college – and then Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut. I narrowly avoided having my bike fall off the back of my car and found my way through fog, rain, and the summer construction season. I somehow managed to arrive at all my stops despite not having a GPS or a Smartphone (it’s called maps, folks!), but now I’m hit with the clincher – no internet for a week! I’ll have to make due at Starbucks this weekend (I have yet to find the public library, I should probably Mapquest that), pretending like I’m consuming their Tall Medium Roast Coffee (cheapest thing on the menu besides a kids’ drink) while I’m really fasting for Ramadan. $1.86 must be the going rate for Wifi.

I officially feel out of my element, more so than when I moved to France, even back in 2011 when I didn’t know anyone. I am for the first time (more or less) no longer a student, and I don’t have the typical student support network. I can’t go up to random strangers (or I suppose I could, but I won’t) and ask them to direct me to where to buy groceries, set up my internet, buy a shower curtain, or what to do when I am lost. Luckily, I’ve managed all those on my own, once I figured out how to get to AT&T. There’s a nice big shopping street through the center of Danbury (or is it Brookfield?) with everything you could want: a pharmacy, a furniture store (those purchases will be much further down the road), Bed Bath & Beyond, a Starbucks (thank you cheap internet), and a grocery store all on the same stretch. I am very far from having a “walkable” city experience, however, smack in the middle of Suburbia. Thank goodness for my new used car, which luckily survived the trip over with me.

And the grocery store I went to! I had one of those typical culture shock experiences. I’m used to my St. Louis grocery stores or even the Omaha Hyvee – straight, symmetrical aisles that are carefully labeled with plenty of elbow room for turning around. Stew Leonard’s was nothing like your Schnuck’s or your Dierberg’s. Touted as the world’s biggest dairy (I did pick up their store variety milk, orange juice, and peanut butter, just in case it is also cheaper to buy locally), it looks like one gigantic barn chock-full of people. You turn in a labyrinthine pattern following some apparently intuitive layout (I had to walk around the entire store four times in order to find sugar and flour, dodging traffic as I sidestepped between grocery carts). It was a full-blown experience, with noise and smells. I am happy to say that the selection of cheese and bread looks excellent. I immediately bought some New York sharp cheddar, which I have been craving for months. When I stop hemorrhaging money, I might even occasionally treat myself to gruyère and the five thousand other varieties of cheese I saw (it was the biggest selection in America that I have seen by far, they weren’t kidding when they said that they were the “world’s biggest dairy”).

There’s nothing scarier than being in a new place where you don’t know anyone and you feel like you are camping in your too-big-for-one-person apartment. And I don’t even have Game of Thrones to watch in the evening to help me get through this period on my own.

Good thing I’m having my first ever Italian lesson tomorrow and a Meetup indie movie night where I must be the youngest person by ten years.  That, and a refrigerator full of groceries. I think I’ll survive.

 

Categories: Repatriation | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trippin’

I read Jack Kerouac’s The Road when I was fifteen. I don’t remember much from that book, with the exception of the infamous trip to Mexico, but I remember the feeling I got of the beat generation: wanderers, jazz lovers, go with the flow, nonconformists. While I have almost nothing in common with beatniks, I have to admit that there is something seductive about the open road. I have a destination in mind and a new life to begin, but I can take my time getting there. I can see places and people. I’ve got sixteen or more hours of alone time along the way.

Capture d’écran 2013-07-09 à 8.25.18 AM

This is my first real road trip. I used to drive several hours home from school, but it was never so far or so long. I’m crossing through six states including the entire length of the state of Pennsylvania. I’m entering a foreign land… I’ve never driven through or visited most of the Northeast United States, except for New York City, which I hope I never have to drive through.

Here’s to a new beginning, and the open road.

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Readjusting

My eyes are super dilated right now. I look like a cat in a dark room and when I step outside, the light is blinding.

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No, I am not having a severe case of reverse culture shock but rather, I just came from the ophthalmologist. But it certainly is an apt metaphor for what life is like now readjusting – moving back from life abroad, moving to another city where I know no one, and entering the corporate world.

For instance, I am now taking an online MBA class. I just had my midterm last night, and I spent the three days preceding that studying terms like SWOT analysis, venture capitalists, and trade deficits. I had to write an essay on the steps of a PERT diagram. My teacher said it was one of the best responses he’s ever read. What is the world coming to? I’m becoming an expert on PERT diagrams!

Suffice it to say that my literary fantasy world of life in Europe is being replaced by a new reality of business, car payments, and health benefit plans.  Gone are the days of studying metaphysics, medieval philosophy, and the history of Western Europe. In short, I am going to need to find my own culture because I am no longer a full-time student.

Welcome to the real world.

For many people, reverse culture shock is extreme. I know people who have spent three years in Africa, who live in South America on a small stipend, who haven’t seen shopping malls for months. I won’t pretend that my transition from living in France to being back in my hometown of Saint Louis has been quite as traumatic. My culture shock is double, though – in one fell swoop, I am officially grown up, with a real world job, real world car payments, and real world problems.

I think I preferred living in France.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved spending the past three weeks with family and friends. I bought a beautiful new used car from my friend’s brother. I had a great conversation about life in South America with a friend over tapas at a Spanish bar while watching Brazil slaughter Spain in the Confederation Cup. I caught up with close friends in a more meaningful way than I had for many months (email can only do so much). And I ate in more restaurants in one weekend than I had for the entire time I was in France.

Readjusting is never easy. It’s taking a new status quo and making it your reality. If I weren’t moving in a week, my life would slowly take up a new normal. If I weren’t (impatiently) waiting for Hedi’s visa to arrive (we’re 26 days into the waiting process), I could be taking more advantage of my newly upgraded life.

Part of me is somewhat depressed: I want to live abroad, I want to learn languages in an immersion setting, and I want to be able to go out with my fiancé on a regular basis.

Part of me is exhilarated: I have new challenges in front of me, new goals, I’ll be living an hour away from New York City and from one of my closest friends, I’ll get to show Hedi my country, and we’ll finally have enough money to (eventually) travel.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

I’ll get over this transition period fairly soon. Right now, though, my eyes hurt.

 

Categories: Repatriation | Tags: | 2 Comments

The Journey

Colleen:

So here it is, my new language project. While I will continue to update my adventures, the repatriation process in the U.S. or as a future Expat, I’d like to invite you to follow me on my linguistic journey, or to simply have more frequent updates on my life, filtered through the lens of language.

Originally posted on The Potential Polyglot:

potential

|pəˈtenCHəl| adjective [ attrib. ] having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future

ORIGIN late Middle English: from late Latin potentialis, from potentia ‘power,’ from potent- ‘being able’

polyglot

|ˈpäliˌglät| [noun] a person who knows and is able to use several languages

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from French polyglotte, from Greek πολύγλωττος, from polu- ‘many’ + glōtta ‘tongue

View original 944 more words

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Back from Outerspace

My transatlantic journeys are always trying.  This one was no different.  As I am trying (and failing) to overcome jet lag, I thought I’d give you the latest update of my journey back to the States.

Yesterday involved Skype, a Yellow Cab, lunch with a close friend, and a five-hour delay.  And it looked a lot like this:

Got technology?

Got technology?

By the time my brother and father picked me up at the St. Louis airport, I was on the point of flaking out and hardly uttered a word at the back of the car.  Two days of travel plus two taxi rides plus two bags of almost 50 lbs each equals one very tired traveler.

And now it’s 7 a.m. in St. Louis and I am wide awake.  I might as well go for a run and enjoy the sunshine that had been absent from my life for the past ten months…

I’ve got a big blog project that I’m going to launch in a day or two, so keep your eyes peeled!

Categories: Daily Life, United States | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

When in New York…

I have a few hours to kill here in New York before making the next leg of my trip to Saint Louis, and while curing the aftereffects of a nuit blanche in a nicely ventilated New York apartment, I thought I would update you on my travels.

I slept on the plane, which resulted in a stiff neck that will take a few days to become fully functional again. And then I didn’t sleep until the equivalent of 7 a.m. Paris time, at which point I fell comatose onto a couch without bothering to remove or change a single article of clothing.  This persisted until around 9 a.m. New York time, 4 p.m. Paris time, because my close childhood friend who is kindly letting me squatter her apartment had to go to work at her big girl job in New York. Which reminds me… that’s why I’m here in the first place. I’m a grown-up now.

Transitions are hard, and I don’t necessarily recommend this one.  Gotta love an American apartment full of twenty-something-year-olds, including your best friend, but I went from a week spent with my belle mère - where everything was made from scratch, even the pasta, or came directly from Tunisia: mloukhiya, a deep green stew that takes four hours of preparation, coffee bubbling in a pot on the stove, cayenne pepper paste consumed a spoonful a day, spicy tomato-based sauces soaked up by crusty baguettes or round whole-grain bread or, even better, homemade flatbread and little cakes and Hedi’s semolina crêpes – to investigating a cupboard full of instant packaged food, “food in a box,” as I like to call it, in the hopes of finding something palatable.  I stumbled upon the remnants of Frosted Flakes at the bottom of a cereal box and a container of Folger’s Best.  Nothing like the intensely sweet “this can’t actually be food” flavor of the one cereal that I wasn’t allowed to eat as a child because it was so sugary, tempered with the industrially standardized flavor of Folgers Best.  Sugar and Caffeine, all you need to make it in the City.

Times Square 2011

Times Square 2011

For all my friends back in Europe who have never been to New York, you’re probably imagining episodes straight out of Gossip Girls, Sex and the City, How I Met Your Mother or Friends, but my experience last night was more along the lines of Seinfeld.  As I bought a last-minute ticket from an unknown French airline (XL airways, I wouldn’t highly recommend them), I had to suffer through a variety of experiences on par with my flight on Lot Airlines in 2012.  My very heavy second bag cost me €100, and I still had to stuff some of the books from my “carry on” book bag into a suitcase in order to avoid the over 5 kilo surcharge.  The flight attendants’ uniforms were very interesting, but their inability to read written English less so.  I mostly talked to them in French when having to accept my standard “hot meal” (they charge you for drinks! like $2 for an orange juice! and no peanuts :/).  Most of the trip, besides sleeping and reading a book a friend gave me for my birthday on the French language, was spent talking to the Russian man on my left and the French/Tunisian (albeit no longer identifying as Tunisian) woman on my right.  Both were U.S. residents, and the French woman was a U.S. citizen whose English was perfect.  Our conversation was interesting, to say the least, and most of it prompted by questions of who I was, what I was doing with myself, and why. (That’s as existential as I want to get on my blog without having gotten a full night’s sleep).

We waited a good thirty minutes in the plane before being allowed to get off, at around 10:30 p.m. New York time. Then, we waited to pass through Customs (no worries there on my part) and I had to declare that I hadn’t taken any plants or animal products (meat, etc.) with me into the country (just psisa, coffee, and crema, so that shouldn’t count).  Plus another 35 minutes waiting for my two bags, a good 25 minutes trying to figure out if my debit card still works, and another 30 minutes waiting in line for a yellow cab – altogether 2 and a half hours after landing before being able to sit comfortably in a taxi (don’t do the math, it probably doesn’t add up right).  Once I was in the taxi, it was smooth sailing, but the taxi line was ridiculous.  I spent most of it talking with a Frenchman about what he was doing in the States, where I learned to speak French, and how both Fresno, California, and Amiens are “des trous perdus” (don’t ask).  If nothing else, the experience convinced me of three things: 1) I love New York, despite how crazy it is; 2) I always want to live somewhere where I can interact with people of other cultures; and 3) I might want to move closer to New York in a year from now, if all goes well at my company in Connecticut.

Rule of thumb:

When in New York, try to find at least someone you know who lives there. It’ll make your life a lot easier.

Categories: Daily Life, Expats, United States | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Hello, Goodbye

What a whirlwind of a week! In less than three hours I will be leaving Amiens, and in a little over that I will be leaving France.  If it all hadn’t happened so quickly, I’d have thought I was still dreaming!  Done with the French Masters, done with the English language school, the private tutoring, les Tombés de la Charrette (although I’ll still be an “honorary” member), the speaking French to buy groceries, the headaches and bureaucratic nightmares, the laid back rhythm of life.  For a good bit of time, I’ll go without seeing good friends and loved ones, and in many ways, my life as an Expat will be temporarily on hold.

I’ll soon be going through the shock of repatriation, and moving halfway across the country in the span of a few weeks, beginning full-time employment in a city I have never seen… in some ways you could say I am expatriating to New England and to suburban Connecticut, a land I had only known from its obnoxious spelling.  I have to find a used car and face a good number of months alone in a furniture-less apartment.  But believe me, I’m ecstatic about the prospect of a new adventure!

Leaving Hedi behind for a few months, on the other hand, is not at all appealing.  Back to the reality of long distance phone calls, Skype dates, and marathon emails.  This time, we know (more or less) what the future will have in store for us, and the total duration should be much less than the last time.  For those of you who have ever had to go through the process of filing for a visa (K-1 Fiancé visa in our case), I sympathize with your ordeal!

It hasn’t all been good-byes this week, even with the four-something going away parties I had attended scattered throughout the week.  I also got to know my future belle mère (such a lovely French term), to pick up a few more Arabic words and sample some delectable cooking.  Every week is a learning experience, every day is a hello to something new.  When you are used to packing up and moving somewhere else, the important thing to keep in mind is not to be sad you are leaving… you are probably going somewhere new!

To all my wonderful friends and family in Europe and North Africa, I will do my best to stay in touch (I am very good at it after years of experience) and I will come back to see you, sooner or later! Now that I’ll be making a decent salary, I’ll finally be able to travel a bit more frequently.  Gros bisous, vous allez me manquer tous et merci pour tout. 

The heart has reasons that reason cannot know

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

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Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Expats, United States | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Big Changes

Leaving is not hard for me. I’ve done it six times already.  You’re a vagabond, you live in your suitcase, you pack up and go.  And you’ll always have too many books, more books than you can take with you, books you leave behind but try your hardest to get back.

Leaving people is terrible, however.  You want to take them with you but you can’t separate them from the place.  As you move and you leave them, they almost stay frozen in time, in that one reality where you met them.  2008 in Madame with the hyphenated last name’s French class.  I remember a girl called Georgia with a guitar.  I remember people from high school and mix them up with the people I knew from college.  I come back and they’re gone.  I grow up and move on.

But not always.  I draw together the threads of my life and make a multicolored quilt of my different experiences.  Each person holds a strand and is woven throughout my existence.  Like Hedi.  Meeting him and everything changed.  I can’t separate my idea of him from his identity in Amiens, but we are certainly going to try.

The big news, if you haven’t already guessed, is manifold.  More things have happened in the space of a few weeks than in the past year.

Hedi and I got engaged.  That’s to say, we are now finally announcing it to the world for all of you to share in our joy.  There are so many implications to that simple declaration, that simple promise, that of course my whole world is changing.  My work offered me these beautiful flowers to marquer le coup.

Lovely, aren't they

Lovely, aren’t they?

For many reasons, we also decided that it would be best if we begin our careers, make a real start, in the United States. Neither of us are French citizens.  Europe is having many economic problems, and France’s individual unemployment rate has risen for 24 straight months, whereas the United States’s has been steadily (but slowly) declining.  I’m a U.S. citizen, and Hedi could benefit from learning to speak English fluently.  It might not be for a long time, but it will certainly mean that my experience as an expat will be (temporarily) suspended.  That’s ok.  I’ll write another blog.  I’ll learn more languages.  We’ll have more adventures.  Returning to my home country will be an adventure in itself, because for the first time, I won’t be (primarily) a student.  I still want to take part-time MBA classes as I’m interested in economics and the corporate world.  But I’ll mostly be working, saving, living, and making a life for myself.

In Connecticut. That’s right.  In the space of two weeks, I discovered a wonderful company (see an earlier post about how small the world is), got offered a freelance job, applied for a full-time position, interviewed, and got offered the job.  It’ll use my language skills, my multicultural sensitivity, my experience abroad, and my experience teaching English as a second language.  And it begins on July 15, so I will be flying back to the United States in a short two and a half weeks.  Hardly enough time to say good-bye before leaving.

What will I bring with me? Two suitcases full of clothes that are my only possessions and a carful of books (once I arrive at my mother’s house, where I’ve been hoarding them).  Leaving behind a fiancé for seven months, as he plods through English grammar and patiently awaits the K-1 fiancé visa.  As I begin a new life in a new town in a new state with a new job, a new (used) car, in a new apartment.  To tell you the truth, I’m more terrified than when I hopped on a plane to move to France ten months ago.

Do I regret leaving France? Yes and no.  I’m one to seize an opportunity, to say “Let’s go,” and to begin anew.  I know this isn’t the end of my French/European/foreign adventure.  I’ll be helping others expatriate as a living! It can’t get any better than that!  And in the meantime, I’ll keep you updated.  I plan to travel to New York, to Boston, to Quebec and Montreal, to Washington D.C., and I’ll finally have the pay check that will allow me to realistically travel on a more frequent basis.  I’ll be within an hour’s distance of one of my best friends.  And within a few months, I’ll be getting married.  There’s a chance that you might even be invited to one of our three possible weddings.  So I expect you to stay in touch in the meantime.

Categories: Daily Life, Expats | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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