This week I’m excited to share another post in the Expat Wisdom series with you. Incase you’re new here, the Expat Wisdom series is a project I have where I share the story of one expat each month in order to create an online community, you can learn more about the project here. This month’s Expat Wisdom post is from Natalie who moved from Hawaii to Lebanon. Natalie has a blog called Digitaldaybook where she shares her life experiences and a lot of guides whether it is travel related or how to handle adult life – you can find her blog here.
I was born and raised in Hawaii to Lebanese Armenian parents. Growing up I was fed the history of my cultures both physically speaking through our food and metaphorically speaking through our stories.
Despite Hawaii being a melting pot of Asian cultures – I grew up feeling different than my peers. In school, we were required to learn Hawaiian and Japanese, but at home, we spoke Western Armenian. I have curly hair and a protruding nose and ate food like dolma (grape leaves) and manti (stuffed Armenian dumplings) while my classmates had the opposite features and ate spam musubis and bibimbap.
When I graduated from university I knew I had to connect to my ancestral lands in some form. So I packed up my two suitcases and made my way to Armenia where I volunteered for Birthright Armenia. Through this program, I was given my birthright to live, work, and explore my ancestral lands. Every time I gazed out to the empty fields I couldn’t help but think about how my great grandparents and grandparents had been forced to march through the lands.
After three months I finished the program and was off to Lebanon, which is where my family was displaced after the Armenian genocide and where my parents were born and raised. When I landed I went to my late grandparent’s house where I was faced with my first cultural struggle – electrical load shedding. I didn’t have electricity the first night I arrived which is a common occurrence in Lebanon since the 30 years Civil War. I improvised by grabbing some old candles and lighting the places I would frequent for the night until I was able to get the proper electric systems setup.
The following weeks weren’t much easier as I ran into a hot water problem. I soon learned how to heat my water on a gas stove and sparingly bathe myself in that fashion. Bear in mind I was 22 at that time and had no clue how to handle these “adult” situations of calling a plumber, let alone in a country where they mostly speak Arabic. Eventually, I was able to get in touch with a plumber who fixed my hot water issue but with absolutely no ability to communicate with him. I had to just plain trust a stranger.
To say that I was on the brink of giving up is an understatement. You bring to question why would anyone give up a stable life for one that is uncertain? You give up a life full of items collected, achievements made, and everything you have ever known for a ruthless dedication to seek your culture. It’s not for everyone. It is for those of us who know there’s more out there than what we have seen. It’s for those who want to experience life, no matter the consequences – harsh or rewarding.
To assimilate to a culture that is so dear to your heart yet so foreign is an interesting endeavor.
As a student of Political Science and Economics, who upon graduation, went out to these regions and discovered that they bear little resemblance to the bloodless, illogical, and antiseptic descriptions found in most textbooks. My discoveries were as followed:
In Armenia, I danced the kochari among a race so passionate that with every stomp in the dance you feel the vibrations of pain.
In Artsakh, I looked at the brave soldiers, and in their eyes, I saw the reflection of the Armenian tricolor flag.
In Lebanon, I looked at the people so full of life that they live as if every day is their last.
My advice is to anyone who is planning to be an expat is to realize that not all classrooms have four walls. Disassociate yourself with who you were and be prepared to be a new person with new experiences. It’s not always going to be easy, but remind yourself why you are there and push through.
If you liked this piece and want to learn more about Natalie’s story be sure to check out her blog! If you’re interested in sharing your story as a part of the Expat Wisdom project reach out to me on Instagram @Little.Miss.Expat
See you next week,