Thursday, 9 August 2012

Interview With an Expat #1: My Partner In Crime!

This is the first edition of a bi-weekly feature here on Our Dear Lady Expatriate.  I'll be bringing you interviews with a vast array of only the most interesting expats. They'll be delving into what's gotten them to where they are today, mishaps and adventures that have happened along the way, and how they feel about the whole darn expat experience. 

To kick things off, I'm so very excited to introduce an interview with one of my very favorite people in the world. He's my travel co-conspirator, my romantic interest, and around this site he goes by the name Partner In Crime. <3 

Couldn't get enough of the Hello Kitty Cafe in Seoul

 Sooo... Where ya been?

I started my travels living for two years in London, England, teaching high school and A level English, Media studies and Drama.  As a side note teaching drama when you've neither been trained,  nor in fact ever taken a drama course in your entire life, is not a super smart idea.
South Korea
When I was in London I met a really cool chick long distance style (again not ideal when you are living the high life in one of the craziest cities on the planet) and we decided to move to Korea together. I lived there on and off for almost three years, which was probably about a year and a half too long. In Korea I totally switched gears and went with teaching
really young students between the ages of 3 and 11.
In between stints in Korea, I spent one of the best years of my life living in Oz with the aforementioned girl (who just happens to be Our Dear Lady Expatriate) and a group of friends I had met and lived with in London. There, I taught at a university and a high school.
Of course now I find myself in Cambo, back with the little ones and three days into a new job. Massive shock to the system to be getting up at 6:00 A.M.

What initially drew you to pursuing a life abroad?

I finished my Masters in Anthropology at the age of 22 and quickly realized I was an anthro grad who hadn't traveled - which is to say, useless. At the same time I realized I enjoyed teaching more than research. All this led me to getting my education degree with the underlying goal of being able to travel and explore different educational systems.

Oh, and it seemed like a great way to get up to no good.

Don't look down! Blue Mountains, Australia

Best adventure?

Wow, hard question to answer.  I think there are three types of adventures that stand out for me. 
  1. There are those obvious moments when something you never dreamed you would see or do happens. For example, I was snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and out of nowhere a shark swam within 3 feet of me. No plan for that. It was completely random luck and it fulfilled a childhood dream as well as made me pee a little.
  2. Then there are the moments where you see ancient places of symbolic importance like the Parthenon, Stonehenge, or Angkor Wat. The anthropologist in me is so incredibly happy just to feel for a moment the beauty and spiritual power of those places. It's something that I've never felt in Canada, but have been lucky enough to experience while traveling.
  3. Finally, there are the more everyday planned adventures which can be equally if not more rewarding than the others. I can honestly say that seeing Neil Gaiman in Sydney (best birthday present ever) or some of the music festivals with friends have been some of the best adventures I've ever had. They might not be totally contingent on being an expat, but they wouldn't have happened if I hadn't originally decided to pick up a bag and hit the road.

Any close calls? Robbed at gunpoint, exploded spleen, any of that standard fare?

Alright, she's dragged it out of me. I owe my life to Our Dear Lady Expatriate, and I'm not being Captain Hyperbole in this case. I had a massive case of food poisoning when in Korea and almost died within the span of a few hours when my kidneys shut down. If she hadn't have gotten me to the hospital immediately, or if I had been at home alone, she'd be conducting her first expat interview with a different cat.

A few interesting facts about the case: I was comatose for a large part of it, but I do remember my female boss walking in as I was naked and screaming while a catheter was being placed. Fortunately, she mas more shocked by my tattoos than my twig and berries (or at least that's what she told me). The fact that at one point Our Dear Lady E. had to call my parent and tell them the doctors weren't sure if I was going to live or die still feels pretty crazy. Worst Christmas ever!

"They say failed kidneys, I say 'attention-seeking behavior'." - Our Dear Lady E.

When you think of capital-h Home, where do you think of? Or do you think the incredibly pessimistic Garden State bit?

Capital H home is where ever you and I are, Our Dear Lady Expatriate. I kinda feel like the globe is our Home and we are just taking our time checking out all the different rooms.

For that matter, where are you going to retire?

I'm thinking bookstore/coffee shop/bar/hostel owner with some friends at a tropical location is the way of the future. It's not work if you love what you're doing and who you're doing it with!

Making new friends on vacay in Thailand

For how much longer can you foresee yourself expat-ing it up?

I don't really see it as something that will stop. It's not as if I started out thinking this is a way to get some stories and then return home to buy the house and the car. I truly feel this life is what makes me happy. As long as that remains the case, I'll be traveling around until my feet fall off.

Stock question as, but what's your fave country/city to live in, and why?

My favourite city to party in was London. I've never had more fun just thrown in my lap. Any music or artistic scene you were into was there in spades. I remember going to see Rancid on a Tuesday and then Modest Mouse on the Thursday and just feeling beyond lucky. But the flip side was that work there was absolutely brutal. Teaching in London was seriously draining on the spirit, and after two years I was done like dinner.

Overall, Canberra (the worst city in Oz according to many) felt the most like home. The friends I made there, the jobs I had, and the lifestyle I lived were just perfect. If my visa hadn't expired, I reckon I'd still be there. It's One Great City, to quote the Weakerthans.

Making even more friends at a music festival in Korea

Do you have a 'Never Again' country? Care to tell us why?

Korea, Korea, Korea. It just really got old. The hip checks from old people, the staring and pointing by adults, and the general level of drama at the workplace really got to me after a while. Socially there were no low lows, but also no high highs. I also didn't really like that teaching was more of a business than an opportunity to inspire and encourage young people to become creative critically thinking adults.
That's not to say I didn't have some amazing times. I did. I think I just stayed one year too many, which unfortunately soured the experience for me.

What country that you've lived in reflects your personal values the best? And.... shocking follow-up question alert... why?

Oz was definitely the best fit for me as a person. That's not to say the whole country is roses, but the progressive changes I saw happening there suited me politically and the general carefree attitude of our friends there was magical. It's funny because it's also the closest socially to Canada, so maybe that makes me a poser expat.

In awe, Cambodia

How important do you think it is to learn the language of the country you're currently in?

I think it's really important at the start to learn enough to be polite to your hosts. If people are gracious enough to allow you to come work in their country, even if you are providing a valuable service, it's important to at the very least have good manners. After that, I guess it depends on how much you want to communicate with the people around you. In Cambodia I've found the people so cool and friendly that I want to learn more of the language so I can have more detailed conversations with them.

And how are you doing on that? in progress...language is like math to me, which is to say confusing and difficult for me to master. I'll keep plugging away though and with a little luck I hope to be communicating more freely within the next few months.

In your opinion, what's one of the most pervasive stereotypes about expats? And do you
reckon there's some truth in it?

The one that really gets my goat is that expats are just hiding out avoiding the real world. I guess there might be some truth to that for some individuals, but most of the expats I've met are living in the real world - just not in the countries they were born in. 
But I like the stereotype about expats being shifty low lives. That one's totally true.  [Editor's note: No it's not!]

Wombat hugging is the best way to spend a Wednesday

Final question: durian or kimchi?

As much as I hate to admit it, I still get cravings for kimchi. Never would have guessed that pickled cabbage made in bathtubs would be up there with peanut butter, banana and honey sandwiches as a cravings food. 
The world is full of surprises.

Cheers to my lovely Partner In Crime for playing the guinea pig! Do you have a question for an expat? Or would you like to be interviewed here? Drop me a line!

xx Lady Expatriate