In that hour-long live discussion (listen to the recording at the link!) we asked,
Do your friends and family and colleagues think you enter an 'international cone of silence' when you leave their physical sphere?
Out of sight, out of reach. Apparently, that’s how our global existence sometimes feels to people who aren’t in the habit of connecting every which way like we’ve grown used to doing. Someone left me a message on my new American phone line in 2012 saying “I’ve been waiting 10 years to talk to you” — yet I know I’m more connected now than ever.
The GlobalNiche community talked about this literal and figurative disconnect, and how forward-looking, world-flung types like us can maintain our connections across vast geographical — and perceptual and behavioral — divides.
Our conclusion, which GigaOm just got to?
The more progressive party has to communicate with people where they exist, and that may be somewhere in the past.
Today’s guest blogger, Anastasia Ashman, has been pioneering a new concept of global citizenship. Through various publications, both online and in print, and now through her GlobalNiche initiative, she expresses the belief that common interests and experiences can connect us more than geography, nationality, or even blood. But what happens when someone like Ashman returns to the place where she was born and grew up? Here is the story of her most recent repatriation.
I recently relocated to San Francisco. Three decades away from my hometown area, I keep chanting: “Don’t expect it to be the same as it was in the past.”
Since leaving the Bay area, I’ve lived in 30 homes in 4 countries, journeying first to the East Coast (Philadelphia Mainline) for college, then to Europe (Rome) for further studies, back to the East Coast (New York) and the West Coast (Los Angeles) for work, over to Asia (Penang, Kuala Lumpur) for my first overseas adventure, back to the USA (New York), and finally, to Istanbul for my second expat experience.
My daily mantra has become: “Don’t expect to be the same person you once were.”
With each move, my mental map has faded, supplanted by new information that will get me through the day.
Back in San Francisco, I repeat several times a day: “This place may be where I’m from, but it’s a foreign country now. Don’t expect to know how it all works.”
I knew from my previous expat stint in Malaysia that I needed to tap into a local international scene. But I spent months in limbo without local friends, nor being able to share my transition with the people I’d left.
This time is different. Now I’m connected to expat-repat friends around the world on the social Web with whom I can discuss my re-entry. I’ve built Twitter lists of San Francisco people (1, 2, 3) to tap into local activities and lifestyles, in addition to blasts-from-my-Berkeley-past.
I’ve already drawn some sweet time-travely perks. To get a new driver’s license I only needed to answer half the test questions since I was already in the system from teenhood.
After Turkey’s Byzantine bureaucracy and panicky queue-jumpers, I appreciated the ease of making my license renewal appointment online even if the ruby-taloned woman at the Department of Motor Vehicles Information desk handed me additional forms saying: “Oh, you got instructions on the Internet? That’s a different company.”
One of the reasons my husband and I moved here is to more closely align with a future we want to live in, so it’s cool to see the online-offline reality around us in San Francisco’s tech-forward atmosphere.
It doesn’t always translate to an improved situation though. Just as we are searching for staff to speak to in person at a ghost-town Crate & Barrel, a suggestion card propped on a table told us to text the manager “how things are going.”
So, theoretically I can reach the manager — I just can’t see him or her.
So strange…yet so familiar
It took a couple of months to identify the name for what passes as service now in the economically-depressed United States: anti-service. Customer service has been taken over by scripts read by zombies.
When I bought a sticky roller at The Container Store, the clerk asked me, “Oh, do you have a dog?”
“No, a cat,” I countered into the void.
He passed me the bag, his small-talk quota filled. He wasn’t required by his employer to conclude the pseudo-interaction with human-quality processing, like, “Ah, gotta love ‘em.”
What I didn’t plan for are the psychedelic flashbacks to my childhood. I may have moved on, but this place seems set in amber. The burrito joints are still playing reggae (not even the latest sounds of Kingston or Birmingham) and the pizza places, ’70s classic rock stations (Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle,” anyone?). The street artists are still peddling necklaces of your name twisted in wire. Residents are still dressed like they’re going for a hike in the hills with North Face fleece jackets and a backpack.
A bid for minimalism
The plan is also to be somewhat scrappy after years of increasing bloat. My Turkish husband and I got rid of most of our stuff in Turkey in a bid for minimalism. We camped out on the floor of our apartment in San Francisco until we could procure some furniture.
If it was a literal repositioning, it was also a conscious one — for a different set of circumstances. We’d expanded in Istanbul with a standard 3-bedroom apartment and “depot” storage room, and affordable house cleaners to maintain the high level of cleanliness of a typical Turkish household. In California, I intended to shoulder more of the housework.
I was soon reminded of relocation’s surprises that can make a person clumsy and graceless. I should have kept my own years-in-the-making sewing kit since I can’t find a quality replacement for it in an American market flooded with cheap options from China — and now have to take a jacket to the tailor to sew on a button, something I used to be able to do myself.
When the lower-quality dishwasher door in our San Francisco rental drops open and bangs my kneecap, I recall the too-thin cling wrap and tinfoil that I ripped to shreds in Istanbul, or the garden hose in Penang that kinked and unkinked without warning, spraying me in the face.
“We’re getting too old for this,” my husband and I keep telling each other as we shift on our polyester-filled floor pillows that looked a lot bigger and less junky on Amazon. (We were abusing one-day delivery after years of not buying anything online due to difficulties with customs in Istanbul. Cat litter can be delivered tomorrow! Pepper grinder! Then I read about the harsh conditions faced by fulfillment workers in Amazon’s warehouses and cut back.)
One of our first purchases Stateside was a television. Not that we’re going to start watching local TV, but we did flick through some satellite channels. It’s something I like to do upon relocating: watch TV and soak up the local culture like a cyborg.
Since I last lived in the US, reality shows like COPS — where the camera would follow policemen on their seedy beats — have gone deeper into the underbelly of life, and now there are reality shows about incarceration.
It’s an America I am not quite keen to get to know.
But I can take these reverse culture shocks lightly because my repatriation is part of a continuum. It’s not a hiatus from anything nor a return home. I’m not missing anything elsewhere, I haven’t given up anything for good. Being here now is simply the latest displacement. Today is a bridge to where I’m headed.
The expat+HAREM COMMUNITY AIMS TO HELP YOU:
1) DISCOVER your psychic peers + global community
2) CREATE a hybrid identity from your many worlds
Why do you need our help? The short answer: Because liminal life is a bittersweet limbo -- coming, going, never quite arriving -- and here at expat+HAREM the community embraces this unmoored and central reality of our globetrotting, multicultural, hybrid times.
A PLACE WHERE DIGITAL NOMADS, EXPATS, IMMIGRANTS, FUTURISTS AND WORLD CULTURALISTS ARE UNIQUELY SUITED TO SUCCEED
The psychic limbo and identity adventure global citizens experience today is expat+HAREM's sweet spot. Our neoculture.
This neoculture is our situation in life and our world view. What we work to make sense of, and to capitalize on.
Here at expat+HAREM we've defined the problem, and provide the solution.
MAKING LIMBO A PRODUCTIVE STATE Limbo is usually considered a place in-between. A state of suspended animation. Paralysis, a spinning of the wheels. Nowheresville. But it can also be an unconstrained place where anything is possible. That's how expat+HAREM choses to see it. Multifaceted people like us have strength and flexibility and experience and access to multiple perspectives. These are all assets.
WE'RE IN THE VANGUARD AND NEED EACH OTHER Globalization has had an unfortunate disenfranchising effect. (Perhaps like many in our community you've been there personally!) However, despite the resistance and misunderstanding and worrying 'purity' movements we're witnessing in populations large and small, at expat+HAREM we believe fostering our particular dialogue of culture and identity is a way forward. A chance to find new and meaningful connection to the world while making sense of conflicting situations.
IT'S NOT ALL BIG PICTURE Sure, we like to talk about the big picture -- whole hemispheres and societies! -- but at our heart we're concerned with the smallest details of the individual. Navigating relationships with people in your life. Achieving psychic location independence. Negotiating our personal connection with the many worlds we love to belong to. That's how we'll find our global niche.
Our most important bonds are no longer solely decided by geography, nationality or even blood. When we find where we uniquely belong in the world we've found our global niche.
expat+HAREM, the global niche embodies the Expat Harem concept* -- localized foreigner, outsider on the inside -- while speaking to intentional travelers, identity adventurers and global citizens of all kinds.
This 2-year archive of neoculture discussions delves into perspective on the crossroads and dichotomies of our hybrid lives:
modern existences in historic places
deep-rooted traditions translated in mobile times
limiting stereotypes revisited for wider meaning
the expat mindset as it evolves from nationalism to globalism
Glo· bal· niche, n. psychicsolution to your global identity crisis
Don't coin too many terms, warn the smart search engine optimizers. "No one will know what you're talking about plus they won't be able to find you!" At expat+HAREM we like to talk about unconventional, unbounded and unmapped life as we experience it, and if we could find the lingo we need in common usage, we'd certainly use it.
She'sNext interview: Here I'm talking about how multifaceted, 21st century women can find their global niche.
TAPPING INTO OUR OWN GLOBAL BEING When we discover our psychic peers and foster a global community with them -- fashioning a hybrid identity and a 'salamander' life that intersects and honors the many worlds we belong to -- we've found our global niche. It's good to be home.
A round up of my quotes from interviews, profiles and articles by or about me that keep coming back.
"Expat Harem women are challenged to redefine their lives, definitions of spirituality, femininity, sensuality and self."
-- introduction to Tales from the Expat Harem, with Jennifer Eaton Gökmen, 2005
THE NEGOTIATION OF FOREIGN WOMEN IN TURKEY:Commitment Now asks: "Do you think many of the foreign women who have made Turkey their home have found that their adjustments are one-way?"
Anastasia: "Not in my life or for most foreign women I know. If anything we’re in a constant state of negotiating which way the street is going at any given time to accommodate both our instincts and those of the people around us.
"There's a huge spectrum of society in Turkey, all with their own quotients of modernity and comfort with Western traditions. My Turkish family is secular, modern to the point of being trendy, and highly Europeanized."
-- travel author interview with Commitment Now, 2009
TURKEY'S BOND OF METAMORPHOSIS WITH THE EXPAT HAREM: "Foreign women on Turkish soil are neither what nor who they used to be, yet not fully transformed by their brush with Turkey. Aligned in their ever-shifting contexts, both Turkey and the expatriate share a bond of constant metamorphosis.
THE DAMAGING CULTURAL FACTOR SEX TOURISTS EXPORT: "Writing from the sex-toured Near East, the damaging potential of each disposable liaison is empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt. One forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.
"The environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is also bound to be heightened by the wanton and culturally inappropriate choices of 'sex pilgrims'.
"Travelers and expatriates striving to modulate their behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues must struggle to differentiate themselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made."
-- book review of Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men, Perceptive Travel, 7/06
ON THE PARALLEL IDENTITY STRUGGLES OF TURKEY, AND GLOBAL NOMADS: “Turkey is asking itself some of the world’s most difficult questions these days,” said Ashman, comparing the nation’s quest with her own identity issues as a global nomad and the questions central to her work. “Expat Harem asked 30 foreign women what modern Turkey taught them about themselves.
"Turkey as a crucible of the self, a mirror on our own possibilities as citizens of the world.
"We chose tonight’s topic because it is relevant to Global Nomads who are concerned with the concepts of personal identity, community and belonging, and the balance of cultural influences that can sometimes be at odds.”
EXPATS' AGILE AND UNIQUE NATURE IS KEY TO SUCCESS ABROAD: "Being an expatriate you’re naturally a person in transition. Your worst days can leave you feeling unmoored, and alienated. Your best days bring a sense of your agile nature and the qualities that make you unique from the people who surround you and the people back home.
"Working toward an understanding of what it will take for you to feel your best in your environment is extremely worthwhile.
"Your answers perfectly define you and the more closely they are incorporated into your business plans the better chance you have of career success abroad."
EXPATRIATISM AS FOURTH GENERATION IMMIGRATION: "Being an expat to me may be more akin to someone who simply isn’t living where they started. I’m just farther away. I guess you could say I’m a fourth generation immigrant, since my parents and their parents and their parents before them all left their homelands or their cities in search of better opportunities in the west. Coming to Europe completes that loop for my family.
"When I'm slathering Mediterranean olive oil on a wild arugula salad I am enjoying something a distant ancestor once did but that my closer relatives did not, as they served Spam in Chicago and tofu taco salad in California."
ON PUBLISHING AND THE DIGITAL WORLD CITIZEN: "Geographic disadvantage demands I compete in my home market virtually...and my global audience is now virtual.
"I’m shifting to new school thinking in distribution, promotion, and sales.
"Internet access equalized my ‘90s expat reality. Now Twitter closes the professional morass as Tweetdeck columns resonate thought leadership across publishing, technology, and marketing. I’ve got Web 3.0 plans for my second book not only because as a contemporary author abroad I must connect with readers and offer dynamic interaction with the material, but because as a digital citizen I can."
SOCIAL MEDIA ERASES THE TRADITIONAL DISADVANTAGES OF EXPATRIATISM: "Social media affords expats location-independence (work where you are and where you'll go), self-actualization (be an expert in whatever you choose), language (communicate in your preferred tongue), and flexibility (time and location become irrelevant).
"You can be current, involved, and a player in your field thanks to the new platforms. Once upon a time we expats were disconnected from our bases of operation that our countrymen back home had available to them.
"Now, the divide is digital. Virtual. Non-existent for the expat who makes use of technology."
WRITERS ABROAD BUILD NETWORK FOR NEW ROLE AS CONTENT ENGINEERS: "Reach beyond readers, other writers and even publishing folk. Seek out thought leaders in marketing, interactive tech people, small business owners and creative entrepreneurs. These are all fields that a contemporary author and content producer is entering whether she knows it or not.
"I’ve been revisiting all my projects to see how I can bring them to life in the most current way -- in terms of technology and distribution distinct from the low-percentage, high-barrier traditional paths.
"Writers are now producers, and directors, and engineers of content."
THE 'PROBLEM' OF GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP -- AN IDENTITY SUSPENDED BETWEEN MULTIPLE WORLDS -- CAN BE A SOLUTION FOR 21st CENTURY WOMEN: "We often dream about a spot where *our* kind of people live, where we can lead *our* chosen lifestyle.
"Today the bittersweet psychic limbo of global citizenship frees the multifaceted woman. Frees us to bond around common interest. Experience. World view.
"Through the digital nomadism pioneered by location independent people and use of self-actualizing social media, we can now operate independently of where we live and tap into a sense of ourselves both unique and as big as we can be."
-- She's Next digital media series, inspiring 60 second video interviews to cultivate happiness and leadership in 21st century women, 10/28/10
ASTUTE PORTFOLIO BUILDING: "I knew I could benefit from a more professional approach to the craft.
"[When I pitched a profile to the Village Voice I ended up publishing] a profile/book review/event announcement -- the managing editor’s hybrid idea when I emphasized the curating work my multimedia poet interviewee was doing at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and an upcoming performance there of a new Brion Gysin book.
"If an editor was gracious enough to tell me exactly what he could use all I needed to do was accept the challenge."
HISTORICAL TRAVELOGUE CAN HELP FIND YOUR PLACE: "Long-term travelers, expatriates and global citizens often struggle to make sense of life's evolutions abroad, as well as find meaningful access to their new surroundings. Whether I'm simply passing through, or putting down roots in a place, I've come to crave a certain type of book.
"Historical travelogue and portraits of adventurous women travelers who came before me often helps connect me to the land, and remind me of the transformative tradition of female travel."
At a global nomad dinner party -- guest list drawn up virtually by a mutual friend who met the diners all over the world -- I had the pleasure of chatting with an artist and his architect wife.
Seattle-area residents, they spend a third of their time abroad in places like Kerala, India and the Neapolitan island of Procida, creating public art and advising governments on historic preservation and ways to make it a sustainable choice.
A year before I moved to Penang, the couple was based in that Malaysian state. Patricia worked with local officials on a conservation plan for the Georgetown city center, a collection of vernacular architecture unmatched by other Southeast Asian nations making it a candidate for UNESCO's World Heritage status. In modernizing, hot-to-trot Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore leveled most of their shophouses. (The New York Times highlights one Singapore restoration this week.) She inventoried a thousand shophouses. These two- or three-story rowhouses mostly built between the 1890s-1930s with a shared five foot-wide covered arcade were both places of work and home, ensuring 24/7 vibrancy in the tropical port city.
To me, shophouses embodied the equatorial island's melange of cultures and its exotic mercantile history.
I marveled at the crumbling lime facades and the multilingual signs that reflected the city's waves of traders, immigrants and British administration. A native majority saw $$ in tearing them down, so openly loving these decrepit structures under threat was my foreigner quirk.
Here's Patricia on the merging of Chinese, Malay, Indian and European styles in Penang's shophouses:
From the Chinese came the courtyard plan, the rounded gable ends and the fan-shaped air vents; from the Malay came the carved timber panels and the timber fretwork; from the Indians, urban construction techniques, including a hard-wearing plaster; from the Europeans, French windows and decorative plasterwork.
How does architecture influence your understanding of a place, its people and history?
I once opened a can of ebook whoop-ass on Stephen King. “No interactivity, no extra benefit for readers!” I scolded the usually imaginative novelist back in the go-go days of Y2K.
From my desk on New York’s Silicon Alley where I had the publishing beat at an internet industry magazine, King’s self-publishing experiment The Plant – a flow of static installments lacking flexibility, community and collaboration – was a lackluster leap of faith.
I was used to doling out tough-love to content owners peering across the digital divide. After previous stints in media and entertainment, intellectual property rights and audience concerns were also familiar to me but my exuberance came from a new media clean slate of the expat sort.
I'd just parachuted into the dotcom boom from Southeast Asia.
For five years my Malaysian office was minutes from Kuala Lumpur’s Multimedia Super Corridor, a futuristic zone advised by Bill Gates and Intel’s Andy Grove. Like the rest of the Newly Industrialized Nation, I was plagued by weekly power outages and wrote by candle light. While my attention span shrank to the length of a Compaq battery life, expatriate skills included patience to wait one month for a government-issued phone line. Waiting for internet access expanded my endurance to a couple of years.
When I finally got online the possibilities of global and real-time connection revolutionalized my estranged expat life.
A decade later I’m dipping into the professional fray from 6,000 miles to the East. I’ve been a writer and producer of cultural entertainment in Istanbul since 2003, and continue to live here. My first book Expat Harem took a conventional route: lit agent, Turkish and American publishers, road trip book tours, an electronic release for Expat Harem on Kindle(aff) and Sony eReader. My second effort — an edgy nonlinear memoir of friendship — requires a complete rethink. (Three months to set up our 49-day 10-state road tour across America, three years to recover from? Wouldn't do that again!)
Geographic disadvantage demands I compete in my home market virtually. With the economic crisis, collapse of traditional publishing and fresh hope pinned on the social web, my global audience is also now virtual. I’m shifting to new school thinking in distribution, promotion, and sales.
Like internet access equalized my ‘90s expat reality, now social media closes the professional morass as my Tweetdeck columns resonate thought leadership across publishing, technology, and marketing. (Follow my Twitter lists of 300+ publishing professionals and 200+ interactive media people, transmedia visionaries, digital storytellers and marketers.)
I’ve got Web 2.0 and 3.0 plans for my second book -- see Digital Book World, the publishing community for the 21st century -- not only because as a contemporary author abroad I must connect with readers and offer dynamic interaction with me and my material, but because as a digital citizen I can.
Building community around the healing power of friendship – the memoir’s heart — promises to bring my writing world even closer to who I am and what I care about, making where I am viable. Exactly where I want to be.
Have you been culturally or geographically challenged in your career? How has the playing field shifted today?
A version of this essay first appeared in former editor of Writer's Digest Maria Schneider's Editor Unleashed, 2009.
See more images relating to this story here and here and here.