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!!