Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A re-pat back in Italy: when frustration starts kicking in

I am sure it must have happened to you too.
You are back in your own home country and after a first period that felt very much like being on a holiday, where you consider yourself still like a visitor and not a local, now it starts sinking in that this is it, you are not going anywhere, you are staying. You also are a local, a reluctant one maybe. You are part of the picture you have been observing from the outside, like the painter who suddenly realizes he is part of the painting he has been drawing all along. What looked fascinating and peculiar, it is now turning into something bothering and irritating.
It has been quite some time since I returned from my experience abroad but I haven't grown accustomed to life back at home. As a matter of fact, there are things that drive me nuts about being back at home, things I didn't miss abroad even when I was miserable. Being in Italy has its advantages -otherwise I wouldn't have come back :) - but it also has its flaws and these are the top four which make me drool like a dog with rabies:
1) Undisciplined drivers: they don't stop on the zebra crossing, which sign is interpreted more like a suggestion to speed up in order to avoid awaiting pedestrians rather than as an actual stop sign. So I find myself shouting and giving fingers to everyone who doesn't let me cross the road safely (probably something very Italian!). No wonder tourists are shocked to see Italians driving!
2) Queue jumpers: there is always the smart ass who thinks he can skip the line. Is it so difficult to respect the order of arrival?!? It happened once at the movie theater, shortly after coming back from the USA, where I didn't miss the chance to tell off the guy who skipped the line. 
3) State employees: you go into an office, three or four people are gathered around for their coffee break. You ask for something but they tell you it is someone else's job and the person is not there. Time is the most precious thing we have and I hate people who make me waste time with stupid excuses to hide their incompetence and inefficiency. 
4) Uncertainty and chaos about rules, which is an epidemic disease that affects the whole country and everyone seems subjugated by it. It is like playing a board game and the rules of the game keep on changing while the game is on. Let me give you some examples of what I have been going through. Taxes is one: an easy topic to target but not for the reason you might think ;). In Italy there is a chronic confusion about what to pay and how much, especially if you have your own business and even more so now with all these prime ministers changing at the speed of light. I am more than happy to pay my share and see my money wisely used by and for the community where I am living. It is my DUTY and responsibility but I have the RIGHT to know how much is expected from me. It is impossible to plan one's life from a financial perspective without knowing AHEAD how much is due to the State. 
Another aspect concerns notorious open competitions whose only purpose is to squeeze money out from people who don't have any. The demeaning aspect is when you pass the open competition but you don't make it to the first 3 positions let's say (the logic of arbitrary numbers is something obscure to the masses but clear to ones who established this regulatory principle); and you have to start all over again. So you are back to square one, to get a qualification through a course which is expensive and will take you exactly where you already were by passing the open competition fair and square. In fact, these courses organized by universities are real money machines with no basic organization. In this specific case, attendees got to know their schedule only after paying a heavy enrollment fee and guess what?! The first class was scheduled 48 h later! I forgot, attendance is mandatory but for some classes there is no calendar yet! As if people don't have a life to live and things to plan. 
 The list can be longer but these issues only show how insufferable I, as a re-pat, have become towards my own culture. I refuse to oblige and go along with these...how shall we call them??...cultural peculiarities; well, whatever label we might use, I feel I don't fit in this picture. If I could tolerate certain behaviors before going abroad, even though I never approved of them, now I find myself fighting them. With the only result to show my bad temper and having accomplished nothing. I painfully become aware that I am an outsider in my own country and I am struggling to come out of the picture I had been observing from the outside. That's when I am meditating a second chance abroad.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Find and practice your own therapy to help you out of boredom, loneliness and depression

Dear spouses on dependent visas,
you are going through your first or second winter in the USA; even though we are in March, this long and cold season is not over yet. You feel the length, coldness and solitude of this season more than anyone else.
Time passes very slowly when you have to stay home all day either because there is nowhere to go or simply because of the weather. In this desolate surrounding it is way too easy to become apathetic and slip into depression. The TV set becomes your best and only friend and you waste your days away. What can you do to get out of that miserable state? I wish I had a quick and painless solution but I can only share with you some things I tried and helped me somehow.

Organize your day:
you don't have to run on a military schedule but it is nice to have different things to do during the day and dedicate each activity no more than a couple of hours. I realize now how important it was for me to be linear with my schedule. I coped relatively well the first two years when I was doing several things. However, the moment we relocated somewhere else and I lost all my reference points I closed up and stay home all day. It was the beginning of the end. So, don't make the mistake to park yourself on the sofa and watch TV. You must fill in your days.

Do activities you enjoy doing or that are good for you:
In the morning I loved going to the gym or pool, I would alternate between group classes and doing laps. The sport club was within walking distance from where I lived and I made it a habit to go there almost every day. It was extremely beneficial to do physical exercises because I felt relaxed in my mind. Besides I was able to network with people who introduced me to other activities and groups I joined in. I spent also a great deal of time in the kitchen baking and cooking. I had the time for my hobby and I took the chance to experiment new and elaborated recipes. I regret saying that now, since I am back home, I don't do anything of that sort, which after all is really a shame.
Also doing house chores had its advantage...it forced me to get up and do some movements around the house. I have always preferred to be tired because of physical work rather than mental fatigue, therefore any chance I had to move around I welcomed it despite some initial resistance.
Then I spent time reading and watching movies. I'll have to admit I watched more TV than I meant but sometimes I needed to hear noises in the background. However, as I said before, we lived in an area that had its shares of weather related issues, so when we were out of power, I kept busy working on my jigsaw puzzles. And I have quite a collection now!

Music therapy:
Music is important to me from the moment I get up. I need to hear cheerful tunes, music and songs to set me off the right foot. I realized the moment the radio would play some slow cheek to cheek music I would feel awfully down. All that moaning, weeping and crying makes me run to the window and howl too!! Not a nice thing to hear!! I needed something that would give me energy, recharge me, open my mind and soul and above all make me think positive.
Of course it is a matter of personal taste, but for me what worked well was contemporary music played on the radio, some U2, disco music of the 70s and 80s, jazz and also some classic music. Avoid slow, romantic music! You will end up in a spiral of gloom and depression. Also every song with memories attached leads you to treacherous grounds so avoid it. You have got the picture now for your new compilation: Village People in, the Platters out!!

Movie therapy:
Romantic movies will only worsen your condition, you already cried enough watching Ghost when you were fine, now that you are lonely probably you don't need that level of empathy.
A good laugh is better than any medicine, release the muscles of your face and laugh, the louder the better. All the comedies you can think of are definitely in, the rest is sooo out!
Here are some comedies I loved watching: Meet the Parents (the first two are by far my favorite), Anger Management, Along came Polly, and the list can go on. I found out that I needed light hearted, brainless movies that kept me entertained and nothing else. I don't even mind watching old comedies like an oldie by Disney's The Parent Trap but I watched it so many times, I know it by heart. Sit-coms are also in, just avoid those programs where death and misery are the main subject.

People therapy:
socialize and meet people. Going out with them gives you a chance to learn more about the place where you live and spend time together with someone who is in your own shoes. That's empathy! Even your family and friends back home can't understand what you are going through. You need real people around you to share the good and the bad moments.
Most spouses spend a good deal of time on Skype with their own folks. This is all nice and wonderful however it won't make you feel any better, possibly even more homesick and people on the other side can't do too much for you. What I am trying to say is to avoid spending hours on Skype and relate more to the people who are around you. Sharing my experience with other women in the same situation helped me to put everything into perspective. I was not alone after all.

What else?
If you feel like sharing what has helped you just let me know! I am only a click away.
The list as you can see is very subjective but if it can help you, I am very happy.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Things to know before you leave on a dependent visa

In this post I am repeating some old concepts that I have already discussed earlier in other posts. But instead of talking about the conditions of women who are currently abroad or have returned to their country, I feel it is important to share some tips with others before undertaking this adventure..so here it goes!
There are a couple of things absolutely worthwhile taking into account before leaving on a dependent visa to the USA. If you are considering the possibility to leave your country to follow you significant other to the other side of the world, don't rush into a hasty decision, mull it over for a while...better be safe than sorry!
In the frenzy and excitement of starting a thrilling experience abroad, most spouses tend to forget or overshadow the purpose of their departure. What they haven't realized yet is that the experience abroad and the opportunities that can derive from it are NOT meant for them but exclusively for their partners. I always refer to legal ways, of course, and your visa status is quite adamant about it. If you are about to embrace this experience you must think of yourself as an accessory to your partner's life. Don't you ever forget the reason why you are leaving! The only reason for you to be there is because of your partner. You are following your spouse's dreams and aspirations, not yours. If your own culture teaches you to be a submissive wife, I guess you are used to be doing as told, so nothing really changes for you. But if you are independent, you must realize for your own sake that your life will take a sudden turn, downwards. When I applied for my dependent visa, the clerk at the Consulate looked at me and asked half smiling half inquiring "What will you be doing there?" I underestimated his question and all its implications; but I found out too late, when I was there. I wish I had known ahead the type of life I would have been living on a dependent visa. 
Another important aspect concerns you and your partner. All this visa issue will test your relationship even more than you could ever anticipate. Your husband, as the person taking you on a dependent visa, must be aware of the sacrifices and all the implications deriving from that visa status you will be sustaining. Your partner should be involved and informed about your life abroad. Concerned partners will take care of their spouses in the best way they can and they will listen attentively to their concerns. Together you will be able to assess priorities and best options for you as a couple and a family. Some people want to spend a couple of years abroad and that can be managed with some sacrifice. However, if the plan is to stay a few more years or forever, that can have an impact on your married life in the long run. My attitude was "let's wait and see how it goes", I tried to be flexible and not to preclude any possibility but the truth was that I would have been still waiting and seeing nothing happening.  
Another aspect which is not secondary is the State you are heading to. There are 50 States and each of them has its own set of rules and some are even stricter than others. Do your research before electing one State over another as your future residence and find out as much as you can. For instance, applying for a driving license can be a huge matter. Without it, you will be even more limited than ever. Check all these details before picking a State as your final destination.
As you can see, the decision to apply for a dependent visa is no business for a one-person only; it has to be seriously considered by both parties. Immigration law puts you on the same level as a carry-on that can travel along with its owner; the person who loves you won't. It requires an open and honest confrontation about all the pros and cons of a half-life abroad for one of you and both of you must be fully aware of it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dependent visas, the process of taking awareness: let's talk about it, shall we?

There are a lot of false myths and half truths about life abroad in general. But there is also a dark zone where real lives abroad don't get any attention at all. This is the case of a huge and yet invisible army of spouses on dependent visas, who are scattered throughout the USA and closed in their own solitude. There are several reasons why real life conditions of spouses on dependent visas don't get the attention they deserve. Besides, the lack of discussion around this topic leads us to wrongly believe that the issue doesn't exist. Nothing could be further away from the truth: behind these self-inflicted and imposed silences there are women (and also men) who are suffering and struggling every day.
The protagonists in the first place don't talk about it. They might find it hard to put into words what they are going through. It takes time to realize what you dealt with and put everything into perspective. Some women don't understand how the visa status has deprived them of everything. They might even blame themselves for not feeling exactly like the American dream wants them to feel. In fact, you are not free, you are not independent, you can not pursue your own happiness and dreams. The world around you goes on but you are sent back in time and you are reliving the worst page of history: legally -to use a mild verb- you depend on your husband, but to face reality as it is, you belong to your partner, just like a slave did to his master. Therefore, silence becomes a shield to protect us from hypocritical criticism, judgment and cynical comments. And you are left alone fighting your own battle for survival. What is worse is when you hear women in politics having a very shallow and dismissive attitude towards this issue claiming things like "after all they decided to come here..."or "they knew what they were doing". Once more, spouses are silenced but this time from the outside; and this attack deeply hurts because it aims at ignoring deliberately this voiceless crowd. Even though these women, invited as guest speakers on TV shows, display all their knowledge; in truth they haven't got a clue. Have you ever lived on a dependent visa? If not, please be kind enough to shut your mouth! You must walk in my shoes for some time before passing on comments.
But dear spouses, it is not all darkness and gloom. Once you take awareness of what is going on around you, don't fall in the spiral of isolation. Get in touch with other women who are living your same experience. Now there is an increasing number of blogs dedicated to this topic. Read, be informed and reach out to others in the same situation as yours. But most importantly, you must try to voice your experience, sharing your story will help you also break those silences we have unjustly suffered. Claiming your own story will help you reassess your identity and self-confidence. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nomadic lives in the 21st century

In the previous post I left you, back in your own country, struggling with contrasting feelings. You are finally back home and your life abroad now seems like a dream. You wake up in the morning believing you are still on the other side of the ocean. For a while you will be confused about the "heres" and "theres", constantly comparing the two realities. If you allow me the expression, like all re-pats you feel geographically confused. But the best has yet to come. 
It has been hard to leave a place we started considering home and it is even harder to get back to the old one we left in the first place. Depending on many variables, some will resume their life very smoothly and successfully. They have a place where they can return and a job awaiting them. An international classmate from Turkey spent the most two miserable years of her life studying for her Master. She was ill most of the time and felt homesick; however, she managed to finish the program and back in her country she just thrived. Without that piece of paper probably she wouldn't have got the job she was offered. But as far as I know she has been living...happily ever after. And that is the best ending, or better beginning, I wish for all the re-pats that still haven't found their own place.
For a good deal of re-pats it is difficult to adjust to life back at home. We are overloaded with experiences that estranged us in many ways. Getting in touch with some of our comfort zones will somehow ease our transition from the Promised Land we desperately believed in to our own place. Nonetheless, the familiar environment which has provided a safe haven where we could recover, now it might start shrinking on us. So what happens if you don't fall back in the old pattern and you start getting restless again? That's a sign you might be considering packing again, right when you thought you were done with it! There is nothing wrong with you; in fact, a quiet period at home allows you not only to elaborate on your previous experience, learning a great deal from it but also to start reassessing your goals. It simply means that after putting your life on pause, you are ready to take it back and most importantly, you haven't given up your dreams of personal and professional fulfillment.
Moreover, on a more scientific tone, I vaguely remember someone telling me that according to a recent survey a person takes on average up to 7 years and 2 or 3 relocations before settling down. If that were the case, you must feel relieved to know that your case could be part of this statistics. A dear friend of mine left her native country, Poland, to relocate abroad. She has moved to several countries within Europe and in one of those she experienced a very tough time. Hence, she decided to go back to Poland for a while, but she realized it didn't work out for her. She is still on the move, searching for a place of her own, with her qualifications but no job prospect yet. Modern emigrants share the same path in their own solitary quest for happiness abroad, bouncing from one country to the next in search of a dream all of their own. The world has become either too small or too crowded for the rolling stones of our time: not-so-young now qualified people, with a multitude of degrees, working experiences and language skills that are not fully acknowledged.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Coming home: stories of fame, stories of glories, stories of wannabes

How was life abroad? This is one very difficult question you have to expect. If you have just moved back to your own country, you are bound to see people that will inquire about your whereabouts and especially the reasons why you came back. Then of course, the dreaded question pops up: "how is it to be back home?" Understandably, you don't feel like giving away too much, it is still very personal, sometimes painful, and you still have to elaborate this process of loss, mourning and rebirth. You may feel like a rejected lover who must face the fact that it wasn’t mutual love and has to pick up the broken pieces. It is very complicated to explain all this turmoil to ourselves in the first place, let alone to others. 
Then we might feel displaced even though everything looks familiar, but we feel somehow estranged. In fact, we are living in-between worlds; our feet are not firmly on the ground yet. Our memories are still fresh and faces and places have the tendency to overlap. It takes some time to re-adjust our internal compass.
Therefore, caution is required when pouring out your experiences. Besides you don’t need judgment or labels for what you went through. Your experience, a tough one by all means, breaks a pattern of deep-rooted myths. There is a whole literature out there that pushes us to believe that a new life abroad is not only possible and desirable, it is much more, it is real. And yet, as you have just found out when you decided to come back to your country, your story doesn’t quite fit in with the rest. Breaking with a consolidated tradition that preaches abundance and happiness in utopian promised lands is the first and hardest task to tackle.
We left a world we might have even loved, desired to be part of, but the unhappiness experienced there, whatever the cause may be, made us come to terms with a reality made of crushed hopes and expectations.
It is like the disappointment when finding out that Santa doesn’t exist, a big collective lie that is encouraged and reinforced to keep children dreamy and naïf. Likewise, we have unquestionably taken for granted the American dream as true. We have never questioned the stories of successful expats we heard from family and friends. Actually, we always listened to them with great interest, some awe and a bit of envy. But as you hear more and more about happy ending stories you start wondering if and why you had to be the only black sheep of this flock who migrated abroad whose story doesn’t really have all these “wow” and “ohh” twists! How come everyone strikes it rich and you can barely make it? That is when you become very critical and less gullible. You know what it is like living abroad, so when you hear some aspects of fab lives abroad you know for a fact they don’t quite add up. Purely for entertainment purposes I am all in for storytelling. But when they want to impress us omitting some factual details or altering them, you get the idea of the game being played: no-one wants to look like a loser. In my country there is an expression that says something along the lines that it is better to be envied than pitied.
So, out of spite, I would suggest you start bragging, the more the better, only to wipe other’s people smirk off their faces when they start pitying and patronizing you about your sufferings. Ok I am overdoing it here, but both you and I know better and keeping a low profile is what you want. Keep details for yourself just now and confide only in those few friends who have been always there in shiny and rainy days, then give yourself the time to elaborate this internal earthquake, assess the damages and rebuild. 
So, when someone asks you how it was back there and how it is to be back, offer the quickest, hassle-free and most expected reply of all: "Great!" You are not lying, you are just expressing the deep attachment you still feel for the country you left and the one you came back.
It will get better, you have just been through the first phase of coming home. 
More to come about the next phases of being back home: stay tuned!!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Dear readers from wherever you are (there are lots of you in the USA, but also Canada, UK, Germany, Serbia, the Netherlands, Italy, China, Israel and Ukraine)
in a blink of an eye it is almost Christmas and in case I won't be able to write a new post, I want to make sure my best wishes of happy holidays reach each and every one of you!
Have a wonderful time with family and friends!

Will be back soon,