Expat Summer 2: Home and Away

Kerry

by Kerry Nappi

High: Sitting with Mom

The time with my mom this summer was bittersweet. I had started knitting in April (after a lifetime of not following in Mom’s crafty ways) and my knitting projects had been going well. My mom and I sat chatting and doing our projects for hours this summer. One bad scarf, though, made my mom say, “You can crochet a border and that edge won’t be noticeable!” And thus we began – crocheting that border was the beginning of crocheting other things. Before the summer was out, I had made (since April) nine scarves and two baby blankets with my knitting and crocheting. It was my mom who, again, supported and cheered me on.

It was comforting, actually, to sit on the edge of my mom’s recliner and let her show me the steps I needed to take to chain a new blanket or double-crochet a border. Her arthritic hands are no longer able to knit, but with a flat-edge crochet hook, she can manage a few rows of crochet each time she sits to work. She has made 13 baby blankets now, almost all crocheted, and they will go to her thirteen grandchildren, a legacy of fine craftsmanship they can use with their own babies.

Part of the joy of learning from my mom again was that it allowed me to consider her as she has always been instead of what age is doing to her. In her mind, she is still strong and young and able. I am in the same in my mind, but my children also don’t see that. Mom is one of the smartest people I know, book smart and practical smart, but now she wrings her hands and bemoans her own stupidity when she can’t remember what to do with her technology. It’s usually her children, or more often, grandchildren, who have to help her now, but it was joyful to learn from her, sitting by her side.

Low: Away Time

China has its challenges: The air quality isn’t good, it’s hotter than the gates of Hades in the summer, I don’t speak Mandarin (yet!), and we can’t even flush toilet paper in our own house. However, I found myself longing to be back to it because for all it isn’t, it IS home now.

I was in the US for three long months this time, and six of those weeks were when my daughter and husband were still at home in China. I missed Sarah’s big end-of-year award and got pictures and texts from my new friends witnessing her achievement. Even once S and S joined me in the States, it was only two weeks of family bliss before Steve had to go back for work and we still had 5 weeks to go. As necessary as it was, and as much as I was able to do (help my son through a tonsillectomy, attend my brother’s wedding and my niece’s graduation, travel 4950 miles by car to see family and friends), I am glad to be home. Away time is low time, and I’d rather have it in smaller doses.

Glitter: Family

Family is an apt glitter this summer! I managed to see all members of my family except two nephews (damn med school and work), attend a wedding, a graduation, and a reunion, and reconnect with siblings in longer and more relaxed times than I have in years. I drove for 12 hours straight with each of my children once and brought them together in St. Louis for three days of touring a new city.

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Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.
As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.
Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, Bahia, Brazil, and now Nanjing, China. The kids, now 16 and 20, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a “trailing spouse”. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school. For the first time, they are not all together, as her son has started university and work in the U.S., further complicating things like holidays and dealing with emergencies.

 

Expat Summer: Stateside HLG

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by Susan Kellerman

High: Visits

As I’ve written before, living away from close friends and family is one of the hardest aspects of living abroad. One of the best parts about having a good chunk of time off in the summer is being able to reconnect with these loved ones. I have to pick and choose who I see and how much time I spend with them, but nonetheless, it is another time of the year when I get to refuel my mind, body and soul.

This summer was no different. I planned out a full month of short visits in various parts of the US to see family and friends, catching up after being pretty out-of-touch for the two years I was in Tanzania. I took my mom to New York for an evening for dinner and a show. I had a girl’s shopping day with two dear girlfriends in Pennsylvania. I spent a weekend with my two sisters and my two sister-in-laws in Chicago to see Sting and Peter Gabriel, two of my most favorite musicians whom my sisters introduced me to when I was younger and are inextricably connected to my youth. I met up with friends from undergrad and the years just after, some of whom I haven’t seen in nearly 20 years.

These trips, these visits, this time – it reinforced that, somehow, I have built a pretty incredible network of support in my life. My friends are amazing people and most of them are ones that I can just pick up with, from wherever we left off the last time we met, be it a month, a year, or 10 years. Yes, it takes time and money because many of them have families and don’t have the flexibility to just pick up and come visit me; I need to go to them, which takes planning and money. But it’s so worth it, knowing that if I ever needed anything, I could call any of them and they’d have my back.

As well, I’ve known all along that I have a pretty special family. Is it perfect? By all means, no. But man, we have it pretty darn good: we get along, we enjoy similar things, and we have fun spending time together. That is a lot more than many people have. Spending two days with my sisters and sister-in-laws was a testament to that. So much laughing, talking, rocking out to good music, and just hanging out watching Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

Call it blessed, call it lucky, call it whatever. It doesn’t matter. There are so many good and loving people in my life that it’s hard to not get a high from that.

Low: Being un-American

One of the reasons I haven’t transitioned back to the US just yet is because I’m pretty uncertain as to how I’d fit in. Personal change is inevitable when you live abroad, and the longer you are out of the country, the more extreme that change can be. Thus the not-fitting-in.

It became clear on this trip that certain things I value are just not what mainstream Americans value. What I believe is a good – and responsible – way to live goes against the general American consensus. Does that mean that I can never live here again? No, of course not. But, it does mean that a transition back to living in the States, with such political division and violence as there currently is, makes it less desirable. Do I really want to spend the time and energy that it will take to go through the reverse culture shock and settling in after so long in other parts of the world?

These questions and thoughts put a bit of a damper on my time here, as this decision comes up every two years, and so just always sits there in the back of my head. I can’t really fathom being so far away from my family and friends for the rest of my life. Yet, I have set up a pretty good deal overseas and have taken the time to cultivate a new family in Madrid to make up for what I’ve left behind.

I’m fully aware that there is no easy solution. That’s life. However, that doesn’t mean these thoughts don’t preoccupy me at times and weigh heavily on my mind.

Glitter:  Meeting People

Flying is pretty much a near-monthly activity for me now. Actually, I’ve always done a lot of flying, with siblings on both coasts, friends all over in between, and being a single and having the flexibility in the summer to take trips. For a while, it was a joke between my friends and I that always met guys on flights and at weddings. It became a joke, simply because it was kind of true. That joke came to a pretty quick death after a couple of years. However, it could be that it’s coming back to life…
A year ago, I went to a friend’s wedding and ended up meeting one of the few single men there. Didn’t amount to much, and I just thought I was lucky. However, here I am ready to fly to San Fransisco and down beside me sits a young, fairly good-looking man. We end up talking a fair amount and have a great time. We talk about my teaching life abroad, his father who is a Persian singer in Dubai, why Chicago is such a cool city, and how guys can be really stupid. Is it that I have my mojo back? Probably not-he drops the bomb in the midst of the conversation that he has a girlfriend. But you know what? Doesn’t matter. It made for a fun (and fast) flight and I have a bit more confidence for when the next available guy makes an appearance on a flight, at a wedding, or perhaps simply in a coffee shop.

Susan KellermanBorn, raised and educated in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Susan Kellerman decided to spend all her life savings during her senior year of high school and take a Spring Break trip to Spain with her Spanish teacher and fellow students. This was a watershed event, as it sparked her life-long interest in travel and a desire to one day live in Madrid. Fourteen years later, Susan was able to combine her career in music education with her desire to improve her Spanish speaking skills by accepting a job at the American School of Madrid. Even though wanderlust took her to Moshi, Tanzania for a two-year-stint with her old friend Mt. Kilimanjaro, Susan really enjoys life in the land of Don Quixote, red wine and Manchego cheese. 

Hello and Goodbye from Tanzania

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by Susan Kellerman

High: End of Year Activities

Graduation, Sports Day, Special Focus Days, Assemblies, End of year parties. While it makes for a busy and difficult-to-keep-track-of schedule, the end of a school year is a fun time to celebrate all the great things that have happened over the past 10 months. These celebrations and special days lift the spirit and keep us teachers positive through until the very last day of school.

Two moments that were special highs for me during this time were in the senior graduation and our M5 (sophomore) ceremony. In both cases, I had students who were performing. Even though it’s about the students and what they prepared, it still represents me and my teaching and inevitably pushes the “how is this going to go?” button. This year, in both cases, I was so proud of the performance the students gave, but especially my sophomores. I did not help them at all – it was totally their moment – and they were so mature and serious about it. They played well, listened to each other, balanced and adjusted well, and did not overpower our ears in a multi-purpose hall that has, possibly, Africa’s worst acoustics. I could tell that everyone enjoyed the song they wrote, so it was a proud teacher moment for me and definitely gave me a high for that afternoon.

 

Low: Packing Up

It’s not the sadness that makes this a low, but simply the stress and frustration that comes with all the bits that deal with ending a school year, leaving a job, and moving to another country.

In school, I am the only music teacher, so that means all of the music spaces and all of the equipment is my responsibility to clean up, inventory, pack up and lock up. That is a lot. Instruments, print resources, audio equipment, furniture…and it’s all d-u-s-t-y, DUSTY! It’s such an awful job, not only because it’s tedious, but this year, because I want to be sure everything is left in better shape than when I arrived. It won’t be hard, because it wasn’t in too great of shape when I arrive, but still…I take pride in what I do and want to be sure that I leave the program in a way that I would want to arrive to. On top of that, making sure all the documentation is left in the right place, backed up, complete transition notes left…it’s a lot.

As well, dealing with my personal belongings adds more stress. Deciding what to keep, what to sell, what to give away, what goes to Spain, what goes with me to the US for the summer…so many decisions and hardly enough brain power to make them. Having to pack plenty of (and the right) clothes for the next two months and all that I’m planning to do in those two months, is enough to send me over the edge. If my brain wasn’t fried enough from school stress, then this finished it off for sure. The silver lining to it all is that I did manage to find a shipping company that will pack my shipment for me for a reasonable cost. Needless to say, I took advantage of that.

Glitter: Student Notes

One of the best parts of being a teacher is, once in a while, getting heartfelt notes from students. They may not always be worded in the most tactful or diplomatic way, but nevertheless, it is always a good feeling when you receive a hand-written note that clearly had thought put into it. It brightens up my day and is a reminder as to why I do what I do. The kids really are learning and really do care.

This year, I received some good ones. Amid the sadness that inevitably comes when you leave a school that you have put so much energy into, getting these notes puts a smile on my face and helps me to remember the highlights of my time here, not the frustrations.

Top quotes from notes received so far:

“Thank you for Pizza Friday – it was so yummy!” [5th grader]

“You are the second best music teacher ever!” [5th grader]

“You don’t know how many times I almost called you Mom this year.” [freshman]

“Ms K, aka Mom: thank you for setting me on the right path.” [freshman]

“Thank you for not only being a great teacher, but more importantly, being a great friend.” [senior]

“Thank you for helping me face my fears.” [senior]

Heart is full. Heart has accepted the coming departure. Heart is ready to move forward.

 

Susan KellermanBorn, raised and educated in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Susan Kellerman decided to spend all her life savings during her senior year of high school and take a Spring Break trip to Spain with her Spanish teacher and fellow students. This was a watershed event, as it sparked her life-long interest in travel and a desire to one day live in Madrid. Fourteen years later, Susan was able to combine her career in music education with her desire to improve her Spanish speaking skills by accepting a job at the American School of Madrid. Currently, she is the music teacher and program coordinator at the International School of Moshi, in Tanzania and enjoying having Mt. Kilimanjaro as her backyard buddy.

Expat Adventures: Reflections on Roadtrip

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Our 4-person climb group and guide at the top of Mt. Meru.

by Susan Kellerman

High:  Literally High  – 15,000 Feet

I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro nearly three years ago, while on vacation in Tanzania from Madrid. It was the first real mountain summit I ever accomplished and it was an incredible experience. Actually, it was because of the time I spent in Tanzania on that trip that made me think more seriously about living here. More than that, the training and Kili climb changed my perspective on hiking from that of a means to an end (lots of spent calories = a monster hamburger for dinner, sens guilt) to a euphoric obsession, that I now realize needs to be a regular part of my life.

Many people don’t know about Mt. Meru, the “little sister” of Kili, just two hours to the west. It often is an overlooked mountain, which is quite ironic at 14,980ft tall (which you can’t see over at all), technically harder and much steeper of a hike than Kili. It is a volcano that imploded in on itself and then re-erupted, so the summit is a series of rocky points that lean in, towards the ash cone of the younger volcano, and then drop off straight down – on both sides. You have to skirt the outside of each of these, then over a mini-saddle to the next. And do it about 4 or 5 times, at 5 am, after already hiking up for 3 hours that day. However, the first two days of the hike are basically a bush walk, as there are buffalo, zebra, giraffe, monkeys, and other wildlife in the park, and you have amazing views of sunrises and sunsets on Kili on days 2 and 3. In short: the challenge is worth it.

So, despite my ridiculous fear of heights (only of places/things that present a bit of risk), I made the decision to climb it. My time here would not be complete if a Meru summit was not in the books.  I armed myself with three other friends, a trusted colleague who came as our cook and guide, and a crap-ton of mental toughness and set out for 3 days of walking and climbing straight up and 1 day of straight down. There were moments it sucked…bigtime. There were tears, mostly due to exhaustion and wanting my dad there to speak words of encouragement, as he was always my biggest cheerleader, but knew that wasn’t going to happen. There were times I had to suck it up ask my friend for help getting me through the scrambling parts I wasn’t comfortable with.

But, I did it. And it was awesome.

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View from summit into ash cone with Kilimanjaro in the background.

Standing at the top of Meru, imagining that I was on the cliff of what was once an active volcano, looking down into the ash cone, and looking across the miles to Kili, was…well, why I hike. There were more tears up there, but simply out of relief, joy, and the high that you get from accomplishing something you knew from the onset was going to be hard but choose to do it anyway.

A cool (and very rare) 3-horned chameleon we came across on our hike up Meru.

A cool (and very rare) 3-horned chameleon we came across on our hike up Meru.

Low:  Goodbyes

One of the friends with me on the climb was one visiting from the US. In (what will be) my two years here, this was the only person who has come to visit. I know how hard it is to get here – both in distance, finance, and scheduling – so that made it more meaningful that someone was willing to make the effort.

But actually, for me it was more that I had someone fun to spend time with. It’s been lonely down here, and until this past summer, I didn’t realize how much of a toll that loneliness was taking on me. I always prided myself on being able to be independent: traveling on my own, dealing with daily life on my own, appreciating the little things on my own. But, I’ve reached a point of exhaustion. And it finally hit me about eight months ago in a big way, affecting me so much emotionally that I started seeing physical side-effects. I chose to endure this for another 10 months and see out my two year contract here, despite knowing that it was going to be a struggle to not let myself get any deeper into that loneliness. So, having a friend come and accompany me on my final road trip through Tanzania was amazing.

And that made saying goodbye at the airport all the more difficult. Those ten days were like a little glimmer of healing light…that was quickly dimmed by an airplane, by work schedules, by life. I’ve always had trouble with saying goodbye to people who mean something to me, but this one was particularly hard given all that I’ve gone through and realized in the recent past. My house seemed that much more empty and quiet for a few days. Thankfully, there were some friends that stayed in Moshi over the long holiday, so I was able to spend time with them and get myself over that low. Just like I’ve done before and will continue to do so, as long as I have to.

Glitter: Wildlife

Foreword: this probably falls under “Firecracker” rather than “Glitter”.

In addition to Mt. Meru, we spent three days in Tarangire National Park; another of the lesser-known parks in Tanzania, due to overshadowing by the Serengeti, which is about three hours to the northwest. I love Tarangire, as it’s close to home, small enough to be able to navigate yourself yet with gorgeous landscapes and great wildlife viewing opportunities.

This time around, there was not a lot of wildlife as it was quite green and the animals can have food everywhere, so they hide in small corners of the park away from us on-lookers. We did see lots of elephants though, as Tarangire is known for them. And, we got quite a show on our second day, as we happened upon a small family who was happily grazing and crossing the road that we, and the truck in front of us, were on. We stopped and turned the engine off to watch, admiring their size, grace, and mannerisms, which for me are always fascinating.

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Early-morning scene from Tarangire of a much calmer elephant.

And these elephants made sure we got a show. The mother decided that we were too close or annoying or something, because she suddenly turned around, shook her head, yelled at, and then ran after the truck in front of us. It took off and we waited an instant to see what she would do. She turned around and yelled at us as well, taking a few steps forward, so we backed up a bit. She went back into the brush (which, being green and in full bloom made it that much harder to track her movements) and just as we thought everything was fine, a young teenager came out of nowhere – closer to us – and started what we thought was a charge. That’s bad news. I believe what came out of my mouth as my heart was literally in my throat was: “Back up the car. Now. I don’t want to die at the hands of an elephant.” Thankfully, it was just a testing-the-waters move and once it decided that we weren’t going to cause any harm, it went back into the brush and continued on its way. We quickly moved on as well, as I didn’t want to chance still being there if this one really didn’t want us around and chose to do something more about it.

Those five minutes of excitement more than made up for all that we didn’t see for those three days.

Susan KellermanBorn, raised and educated in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Susan Kellerman decided to spend all her life savings during her senior year of high school and take a Spring Break trip to Spain with her Spanish teacher and fellow students. This was a watershed event, as it sparked her life-long interest in travel and a desire to one day live in Madrid. Fourteen years later, Susan was able to combine her career in music education with her desire to improve her Spanish speaking skills by accepting a job at the American School of Madrid. Currently, she is the music teacher and program coordinator at the International School of Moshi, in Tanzania and enjoying having Mt. Kilimanjaro as her backyard buddy.

18 Flights, 10 Cities, 2 Bombs & Lots of Thin Mints

My friend and I climbing the Great Wall at the section known as Mutianyu.

My friend and I climbing the Great Wall at the section known as Mutianyu.

by Kerry Nappi

High: Travel Companions

Alex and I at the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders), built in the 7th century B.C. but burnt to the ground in 356 B.C. (on the very night Alexander the Great was born) by a man who wished to do something to make his name live on. It was rebuilt soon after that. Alexander wanted to rebuild it, but the Ephesians said it was wrong for one god to build a temple for another god, so the people themselves rebuilt it.

Alex and I at the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders), built in the 7th century B.C. but burnt to the ground in 356 B.C. (on the very night Alexander the Great was born) by a man who wished to do something to make his name live on. It was rebuilt soon after that. Alexander wanted to rebuild it, but the Ephesians said it was wrong for one god to build a temple for another god, so the people themselves rebuilt it.

Not to be cliché, but it occurs to me that travel companions are a lot like life companions: They entirely change your experience. My spring of too-much-travel has finally come to an end, and though I am relieved and content to be home now, I can look back at the past 6 1/2 weeks and 18 flights and 10 cities with appreciation.

Not all travel or life companions are chosen ones, but both the carefully selected and the accidental partners have influences on everything we do and our perspective on the experiences. Case in point: I have traveled with my son, a friend, and my daughter recently. I have also been on those travels with other vacationers whose stories made the tour sites that much more memorable to me.

My son was on spring break, and for the first time, we traveled together as a pair. He was delightful ~ and has turned into an adult I couldn’t have anticipated even three years ago. Like me, he likes good food, long walking days, and the history of a region. Unlike me, he has a fabulous memory for dates and civilizations, and he didn’t mind repeating the information every time I asked. We toured parts of Turkey and Greece, a combination of our individual choices, and the trip worked for us both.

My friend was a teaching friend. We were childless and then mothers together; we only taught for four years together before I started moving around, yet we have reconnected for one day every year for twenty-four years. This was the first time she came to see me in an overseas posting, and so we saw as much of China as we could in 8 days. Suddenly I was seeing my life through her eyes, and I hope she saw a bit of mine through hers.

My friend and I at the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi'an, China

My friend and I at the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an, China

My daughter had her own spring break wishes ~ to relax from the harried pace of a 10th grader and see another country in our region. So, off we went to Malaysia, staying in Kuala Lumpur for 4 days. Not counting on the heat, we took it pretty slowly, but in that slowed-down time, we were able to see KL together and relax before the end of term speeds up to finish off in June. I have to leave her early this year, to take care of business in the U.S., so I treasured the time we had for just the two of us.

In our formal tours, we ran across some interesting other travelers. A Finnish expat family who lives in Moscow reflects our own family’s experiences even though we are different nationalities who have lived in different countries. As we climbed the Great Wall together, we discovered that they live in the same compound as some friends of ours, Americans, with whom we lived in Japan. Small world.

Also in Beijing, we toured the Forbidden City with a father-and-son Russian American family. The mom had died recently, of breast cancer at age 41, but they were in China to support the sister, competing for the American national acrobatic team in Worlds.

Alex and I in Ephesus at the Library of Celsus, built in A.D. 117

Alex and I in Ephesus at the Library of Celsus, built in A.D. 117

In Ephesus, walking among the 1st century Roman ruins, we chatted with a guide who was more than impressed with Alex’s knowledge of history. Days later, when a bomb went off in Istanbul where we were staying, her boss and she emailed to ask if we were okay and gave us their private numbers in case we needed anything.

These private connections among strangers always surprise me, but I suppose it’s where friendships start. A few German guys we met on the Amazon River last year are now people we keep in touch with through notes and pictures; who knows, maybe if we’re in Munich some day, or if they come to China, we will meet again. Until then, they are all travel and life companions who suggest that we are not alone in the journey if only we allow ourselves to be connected.

Low: Bombings

I really had to think twice before I took off for Turkey in March on a planned and paid-for trip. After all, the bombing in Ankara was just one month before, and anyone evil enough to set off bombs in the busy capital city of Ankara would not hesitate to do the same in the even busier city of Istanbul. And yet, it wasn’t that long ago that I might have chosen the safer European destinations for such a trip, and look what happened in Paris. It seemed there was no getting around the risks; even staying home and going to work has gotten people killed by terrorists.

I also knew that hindsight would tell different stories, depending on outcomes I couldn’t foresee. Would we be the idiots who went too close to a war zone and got what we deserved? Or would we cancel and think later, Geez, nothing would have happened to us and we lost our chance to see an amazing country, not to mention all the money we spent.

In the end, we were both lucky not to get hurt AND unlucky to have been close enough to TWO bombs in one week to really set fear into our hearts. In the first instance, we flew over Ankara hours after a bomb went off, killing 37. We weren’t going to Ankara and would not have affected us, but it was scary nonetheless. We felt such relief to not be heading there at the same time as we were pained for the people who died and all of their loved ones.

And then, we made it to our last day. I hate the separation that comes with no cell coverage, but I had to leave for the airport three hours before my son. Just as the taxi pulled up to the airport drop off, the driver told me what was on the radio news: Another bombing; this time in Istanbul. I had no way of reaching my son, and I knew that with his remaining hours, he might have chosen to go to Taksim Square, the only largely tourist area we hadn’t made it to. Making it worse, I couldn’t even reach him when I reached Germany for my layover. It wasn’t until I got back to China that I got his assurances that he was safe, made it to the airport on time for the heightened security, and that he would contact me from Germany.

That’s also when I got an abundance of other messages checking on our safety. The irony of the dangers we are all in hit me a few days later: A friend who texted me for both Turkey bombings, checking on my safety, was the recipient of her own frantic checks a week later…She lives in Brussels and used the train station that was bombed just 20 minutes before it was hit. How can it be that in our world, friends are checking on each other’s safety from bombs on a regular basis? It angers some people, but it bewilders and frightens me. I don’t know how it ends. I don’t know if it can end. And I don’t know if all of my loved ones will survive it. Many loved ones of other regular people have not, and how long can I be lucky enough not to be counted among them?

Glitter: Thin Mints (Duh)

I try to eat healthily, I really do. In most cases, I will choose to eat green things over fried things. Particularly since I reached the age of lower metabolism, I understand what’s at stake. And if you can’t tell by now, this is a Glitter with a big “but”! When my friend arrived in China with treats, some were expected: baking powder I haven’t been able to find, Nutella that’s too expensive here to splurge on. But when she pulled out those Girl Scout Thin Mints, boy, all bets for healthy eating were out! I ate that first sleeve before we got past her jet lag. And the second Glittery sleeve is in a drawer waiting for me to finish it off!

IMG_2107Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

Birthing Babies, Bugs and Books Abroad

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Book Door

by Susan Kellerman

High:  Baby

One of my closest friends here came back to school last August with the surprise news that she was pregnant. There have been several pregnancies here at school over the past year, but this was different as it was someone who I was close to and would have an ‘inside scoop’ on the pregnancy, birth, and early life of her new little one. And right away I knew that it would be a learning experience for me, going through the miracle of life in an area of the world where many women still give birth at home in the village.

The day of the birth was incredible and one that I will never forget, as it was one of those moments that clarified just how distinct each human culture is. Rather than have the baby in Nairobi (an 8 hour drive away) where hospitals are cleaner, more western, and staff is arguably more knowledgeable, she decided to give birth at the local hospital right across the street from where we live. It is was close to home, a short drive with no chance of having the baby in the car on the way, and where the mother of some of our students is a doctor (albeit a neurologist, but down here, a doctor is a doctor – you know something about everything because it’s a necessity).

Aside from some of the understandable differences one could imagine knowing that you’re giving birth in a third world country (not having your own birthing room, having to bring your own supplies to the hospital with you, no NICU), what struck me most was the accepted practice with visiting the new mom and baby. I was at the hospital within an hour after the birth, but that’s just because I had the extra key to her house and knew where to find the much-needed ice packs for some soothing relief (yup – you even have to provide your own ice packs). I was surprised, though, when a group of three co-workers were right behind me in visiting her, and ones that she really isn’t that close to. I mean, she wasn’t even out of the delivery room and all of these women were going to visit her. It seemed odd, as I was used to just family and close friends being the ones who are welcomed into the hospital straight away.

This visit came up in conversation the next day with one of those colleagues, as I has sent out a Google Doc for people to sign up to take meals over for her (again, another typical American custom) and she was asking me about it. This woman, who is Kenyan, said that in their culture, they visit at the hospital, straight away, when they are in the safe care of doctors, with clean sheets to keep them modest, etc. (What I saw in the delivery room would SO not be considered modest by western standards, but it likely was for Tanzanian standards.) When the mother goes home, that is the time when they leave her be, to recover in her own way, get settled into her home and have time to bond with her baby. I found it fascinating that we as westerners think, in a way, opposite of this; let the mom heal up and recover in the hospital, then when life gets back to normal at home and she’s left to do it on her own, help out, visit, bring meals, check in. I was glad we had that conversation, as I was a bit taken aback by their behavior and I didn’t like feeling that way. Knowing that it was cultural made all the more sense. And, in the end, it didn’t matter as it was just so great to be a part of the day and welcoming a new little one into the world.

Low:  Bugs

When I took the teaching position down here, I knew that there were a lot of things I would have to withstand that normally I would choose not to: regular power outages, warm weather for the entire year, no fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil (although now I can get fresh basil. SCORE!) The one thing that I was most concerned about, and it turns out rightfully so, was the bugs. From a young age I’ve hated bugs and the idea of bugs. Period. I don’t like things crawling on my skin, even if they are harmless. It’s just a feeling I prefer not to experience. But, I have matured a bit since my younger years of weeding the flower gardens at my parents’ house, and so I thought that I could handle it for just these two years. How bad could it be, right?

I was wrong.

I am at my wits end with bugs. If it’s not the *&$£#* mosquitos that are out at all times of the day and looooove my skin, then it’s the tiny ants that have taken over my kitchen, or the termites that are burrowing through my windowsill, or the giant furry spiders that somehow make their way into my living room, or the crickets that make their way into my bedroom and start chirping at the top of their lungs just when I’m going to sleep. I have tried to be at peace with it all and realize that I am in their territory, not the other way around (similar to how I’ve tried to deal with the monkeys), but it’s just not happening. My lovely little gecko housemates aren’t doing their job well enough and there are still uninvited guests all over my house and it drives me bonkers. Daily.

I have taken to being attached at the hip to my can of Doom (yes, that’s the name of the bug spray here), but then I have this guilt hanging over me when I see the big fat ants wriggling around on the floor. I shouldn’t be killing another living creature. I shouldn’t be playing God.

It doesn’t last long, though. I get over pretty darn quick as soon as a small speed-racer spider runs right in front of me. Out comes the Doom again.

Glitter:  Book door

We celebrated International Book Week here at school at the end of February. One of the ways we do that is by getting each homeroom to choose a book and re-create its cover on the door to a room. Last year, it was a complete disaster with my homeroom (then freshman, now sophomores). They just couldn’t get it together and all that came out of Harry Potter was a black background…and perhaps a yellow lightning bolt? I choose to not remember, as it was so embarrassing. A minimalist would have called that finished, but there are no minimalists at our school.

So this year, I was so pleasantly surprised when we actually made a group decision on a book, then one person volunteered to create a design within a day and agreed to be the master artist. The kids were making progress, but started slowing down and there was a point where I didn’t believe they would finish it by the deadline. However, randomly one day, their Life Skills teacher gave them a free period so about seven students came in to work together and finish the door. I had a free period, so had no trouble having them around while I was getting work done. We put on some music, they cut, colored, pasted…I did some planning…it really was a lovely thirty minutes. And, I must say, that I’m so proud of the work they did and the fact that they made it a priority to finish. We didn’t win the competition, but we didn’t care. This is the first door that anyone sees when they walk on campus, and I think it’s a great one.

Susan KellermanBorn, raised and educated in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Susan Kellerman decided to spend all her life savings during her senior year of high school and take a Spring Break trip to Spain with her Spanish teacher and fellow students. This was a watershed event, as it sparked her life-long interest in travel and a desire to one day live in Madrid. Fourteen years later, Susan was able to combine her career in music education with her desire to improve her Spanish speaking skills by accepting a job at the American School of Madrid. Currently, she is the music teacher and program coordinator at the International School of Moshi, in Tanzania and enjoying having Mt. Kilimanjaro as her backyard buddy.

Expat Comings and Goings

IMG_1276

Sunset over Bangkok

by Kerry Nappi

High: Arrival

After nearly four months, our sea shipment from Brazil has finally arrived. I like to think I am not a very materialistic person, and certainly we are not the floor-to-rafters packed-with-boxes kind of people, but it comforts me to be surrounded by those things which evoke memories. There are pieces of furniture and art from different host countries, photos of family, and books galore; even having my own bed is a welcome relief after four months of a hard Chinese bed. My husband thinks “it’s only temporary”, but when does an itinerant life become more than temporary? I say being gone nine of the last thirteen years is pretty darn permanent. The pleasure for me is not only in having these things arrive, but in setting them up and making our new house a home. My family was scattered to three countries and four cities the week of the shipment, so in a few days, I was able to get most of our transported life set in place. Ahhh.

Low: Departure

You may recall an earlier High for me was in finding a small but perfect part-time job in our new city of Nanjing. Well, after five months of medical problems, it appears my older child needs a tonsillectomy as soon as his semester in Washington D.C. ends. This is one of those expat compromises you make when you live abroad without your growing children: When they need you, your responsibility is elsewhere. We knew when we moved here that if I needed to go “home” to the U.S. to help one child, the younger one could be home with her dad largely self-sufficient Monday through Friday6:30am though 6:30 pm. After all, she wakes herself, walks to school, has classes and after school activities all on the same campus, and walks home alone. She does her own laundry and can cook a meal. Still, I like to be here for her. Now I must be in one place helping with one and not here helping with another. When I see that dilemma, I know the loss of the job is a small thing.

Glitter: Accomplishment

I really don’t like traveling alone. People who don’t know me well think I am a brave and pioneering woman, living overseas and learning new languages as often as most people change their iPhones. In actuality, I am pretty faint-hearted, and I suffer from anxiety like my father before me. But sometimes, I do travel alone and tolerate the angst for some reason.
In February, I flew from Nanjing to Bangkok to see a knee surgeon, hoping that at long last, he could do the operations that would right the sports wrongs of the past few decades. I left with trepidation, but I arrived without struggle. Once there, my friend texted me that the train system had been having trouble all day and that it had caused traffic jams throughout the city; I was left with two choices ~ brave the train system or hire a car or taxi to their house. I vacillated, but in the end, I decided to take my chances with the trains, preferring to be moving forward in a train than sitting in a taxi. It took longer than usual, but I was perfectly calm. I knew where I was going and that no matter how long it took, I had a friend and a safe place to sleep at the end. In fact, as I finally alighted at my stop and walked down their street with my suitcase, I felt the euphoria of having accomplished something completely on my own.

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

Glitter: Swim Gala in Tanzania

by Susan Kellerman

High:   Back to Madrid!

I’ve known for over a year that Tanzania was not a place where I could settle down. Not only is it just a bit too much ‘in the bush’ for me, the job I have here is a really difficult one, and one that I choose to not continue for any longer than I have to. I started searching for a job back in early October, and just recently did I make a final decision. While many people suggested that it wouldn’t be a good idea to go back to someplace you’ve already lived/worked, I’ve made the choice to return to Madrid, going back to the school that I taught at prior to moving to Tanzania.

It’s funny how in just a few short years, your priorities can change quite radically. I didn’t think I was ready to settle down when I left Madrid in June of 2014, so I sought other professional opportunities in an exciting place on earth. After having to live through that “excitement”, I’ve decided that settling down a bit is, indeed, what my soul needs. So, thankfully my school was in need of a music teacher again and I made a lasting enough impression that they were very eager to hire me back. It has been fun to begin the moving process, one that will be so much easier than others, simply because I already know the city and school so well. My excitement is, however, mitigated just a bit with the knowledge that I need to be prepared for life to be different than it was before and that I need to work on creating my “new Madrid” to be just as great as the “old Madrid” was.

Low:  More loss

The hits just keep on coming, it seems. A few months ago, I wrote of the passing of my uncle. Within a week or so of that, I found out that the dad of one of my four senior music students passed away suddenly…and as is the custom with many families here in Tanzania, they didn’t tell my student anything until he was home. I was in shock that news like that would be kept from a teenager about to embark on university and having to deal with being an adult, for all the positives and negatives that brings. After a while of trying to understand why that was the custom, I decided that I didn’t have to understand, but simply to respect it.

Unfortunately, today I got the awful news that another of my senior students lost a parent yesterday! One of my female students’ mom died yesterday, just days after my student went to visit her in the hospital where she was recovering from a brain tumor surgery. This particular mom I knew quite well – she was very involved in her daughter’s education and we had very frank discussions about ways her daughter could improve in order to make the most out of her experience at our school and be truly prepared for university. The sad fact of it all is that I’m just becoming numb to the news of such loss. I feel like it’s everywhere, all the time. That’s a hard thought to shake.

Glitter:  Swim Gala

As an IB World School, we are bound by the IB philosophy to encourage students to be, among many traits, balanced. One way that we do this is by having period sports days where all the students are expected to participate in some way. As well, as role models, us teachers are encouraged to participate as well. And, many of us do, simply in the spirit of having some fun, but many of us because we are active and athletic people in general.

Today was our Secondary Swim gala, were all students from grades 6-12 spent hours competing in various serious and not-so-serious swimming events. All students and teachers are assigned a house (think the houses at Hogwarts!) and it is a fun day of cheering on your housemates. Even us teachers got relay teams together to prove to the students that we still have it in us! While the teachers in my house aren’t overly athletic, we were still able to scrape a team together (all-female, no less) and display our skills. I love things like this. I love a bit of healthy competition – it was instilled in me from quite the young age – and opportunities like this don’t come around often. I will say that this is one aspect of my current job that I will miss, so I am attempting to make the most of all of these days that we have left.

Susan KellermanBorn, raised and educated in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Susan Kellerman decided to spend all her life savings during her senior year of high school and take a Spring Break trip to Spain with her Spanish teacher and fellow students. This was a watershed event, as it sparked her life-long interest in travel and a desire to one day live in Madrid. Fourteen years later, Susan was able to combine her career in music education with her desire to improve her Spanish speaking skills by accepting a job at the American School of Madrid. Currently, she is the music teacher and program coordinator at the International School of Moshi, in Tanzania and enjoying having Mt. Kilimanjaro as her backyard buddy.

The HLG of Settling in in China

by Kerry Nappi

High: Travel

bhutanHaving lived in Asia for nearly seven years before a hiatus of six years in North and South America, our move back to the East meant a return to friends we had grown to love. In that respect, moving to China was a bit like “going home”  to Asia. As soon as we reported our intended move from Brazil, some dear friends of ours who live in Bangkok kindly invited us to join them on their Christmas holidays in Bhutan.

At first, I was too overwhelmed with the move and all the details and complications that came with that to anticipate a trip that huge. With time, I realized that not only had most of the difficult part of planning been done by our friends, but that I really needed something to look forward to as I adjusted to our new home in Nanjing. So all through November and December, I gleefully awaited my son’s arrival from university and our family trip to Bangkok and Bhutan.

Travel, once again, did not disappoint. There’s something about travel that takes you out of your present life to a short new life of newness and possibility. Bhutan has been tucked away in the Himalayas for so long, and travel there only began in 1974. The dzongs and temples and sweeping vistas of mountains and valleys made every day a discovery.  I particularly liked the hotel which had only a wood-burning stove and hot water bottles in bed for heat. The food, particularly the national dish of Ema datshi (large green chillies and cheese made from yak’s milk), was delicious and spicy, and the hot stone baths a welcome salve after hours-long hikes on the mountains.

bhutan2Not only was the travel itself my high, but the week spent with these friends ~ they even welcomed us to their family Christmas celebration in their Bangkok home after our days in Bhutan. Our family memories are now intertwined with theirs.

Low: A good wallow

As much as I recognize that all moves have their difficulties and most of the time, those low points pass by to become distant memories, when you are in the moment, they are acute and painful. Such an example was my low for the month: It was an ordinary day in late November, and my family was off doing exactly what it was they came to Nanjing to do: study and go to work. My friends were in faraway countries living their daily lives (which of course I painted right then as idyllic), and only I had nothing to do and no one with whom to do it.

I let myself wallow for a while that day; I literally stood in the kitchen and sobbed, wondering why it was I had agreed to come on another expatriate posting and what I would do to fill the hours of the next three years. Then I reached out to my wide-flung supporters by whatever means possible and had some good chats which eventually lifted my spirits. Don’t feel sorry for me; my pains are nowhere near those of real suffering, but sometimes you have to just feel sorry for yourself before you move on.

Glitter: New job on the way to mahjong!

In an effort to meet people, I had jumped at a casual invitation to join a Friday mahjong group, and I have really enjoyed learning the game. One Friday, I decided to go a little early to the school cafe where we play, thinking I could as easily have my coffee there and maybe see any one of the dozen people I have met this month. As it happened, a new acquaintance was there, and we started chatting about the programs the school offers for parents, one of which is ESL.

She told me the Beginner and Intermediate classes were going to be without a teacher soon, and that wasn’t I a teacher and would I be interested? Would I ever! I had been planning to look for English work, probably private, after the New Year, but here was an opportunity dropped in my lap that completely aligned with my last work experience ~ teaching English to adults in a small group setting. Before I left that day, I had tracked down the coordinator and worked out the details of my new job, all to start in January, for only three hours a week. This was the structure and opening I had hoped for, and it all came about just because I forced myself to leave my house and talk to people!


Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.