I felt that I’d been gone too long – over three years. I was desperate to get back to the familiar "home" of the States. I wanted back to familiar people and places.
However, in the past I had experienced that “back home” is a mixed bag - joy and disappointment, reconnection and isolation. Is finding home when you live overseas really so difficult?
When I have been away, I get these horrible feelings of having been left out while the world back home has moved on. And, whether we like it or not, it has moved on, but I have too. It's a dangerously lonely feeling.
Over the years I developed a survival technique for dealing with changes. It’s a "grab the bull by the horns or die" attitude. In other words, I intentionally choose to face the changes and try to make them my own – through both the joy and pain of it. It's the only way I know how to turn my sense of “disappearing home” into “at home again” and overcome the loneliness of being different.
Most of this is achieved by spending time with people, friends and family who love you well. Their love makes you feel like you are wanted and, yes, simply LOVED. That’s what “home” means, isn’t it?
The first morning back I thought, “Now is the time to grab those proverbial bull horns.” Over the next months I tried new exercise techniques, new phrases and words, new coffee shops, newly-built roads, a new hair cut with even some hidden rad colors of red and purple. I grappled with “mindfulness” – useful? narcissistic? I didn't know. I ended up not having enough time to be “mindful” about that trend.
Another new area was, of course, ever-changing technology. While I was away, I felt that I had not been able to keep up. As soon I was back I experimented with new apps for my phone, smaller e-readers, electronic library books. I tried the Apple Pencil and the Microsoft Pen. Not necessarily better than charcoal or ink but totally intuitive with potential for big impact in work projects. I got to know Siri from Apple and Alexa from Amazon. I decided that Siri was a helpful and entertaining companion. I could change its/hers/his accent and gender for variety. The Australian female voice kept me alert on long drives.
Among many new features was jokes. Now, humor is a tough subject. We all know that there’s no accounting for personal taste. Plus, we internationals know that humor also varies by culture. Mostly we completely stay away from it when in a new country. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone or embarrassingly have our own jokes fall flat. Jokes are all about context. Translating a joke, as everyone knows, is sure to fail.
So, wary of hearing something un-funny to me, I asked, “Alexa, tell me a joke.” Alexa answered with this joke (honestly, this was the very first joke that came out of my Alexa speaker):
“If I told you a joke in my language I would have to explain it.”
A split second I stood in disbelief. I GOT that joke. I even chuckled out loud. This whole thing of a joke where you don’t actually tell a joke because of language was hilarious. This was the perfect humor for me as an international.
This silly little joke on a new-to-me technology broke some of my feelings of disconnectedness. While still smiling at the “non-joke,” my heart was telling me that this U.S. visit would turn into “at home again”.
About the Author: Christine is an IDEAS Associate and healthcare professional who works among refugees in Lebanon. She also tells great jokes.