Finally the papers are all in Ottawa and if everything goes as planned I should have my passport (with visa!) back by the end of the week. Then I can see what this whole married thing is all about! With my return to Moscow finally on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about what living in Russia will be, what it will mean for my identity, how circumstances are different and how it will be different from other places I’ve lived (and not just because it’s Russia). This post may get a bit Intercultural Communication-y.
I’ve made a handful of moves abroad in my adult years, starting with a study abroad program to France when I was 19, and pretty much every country since then was related to study in some form. I’ve never moved anywhere where I didn’t speak at least little of the language, where I didn’t have immediate connections to locals, whether it be through living with a host family, with local roommates, or friends and family from there. It’s a shift in thinking to approach this move NOT as a poor college student (still poor maybe, but not in college anymore 🙂 Sometimes I forget that I initially came to Brazil to finish my MA thesis and that I lived with three host families and in four apartments with Brazilian roommates before the B and I got domestic.
This is also the first time I’ll be a “trailing spouse.” The reality is, as much I think it’s cool to run off and live other places, we’re specifically going where we’re going because of the B’s job. I did a research project on trailing spouses for my MA, so while I’m interested and academically informed, I have no first hand experience. I’m not even sure how I feel about being one. Don’t they join clubs and play cards? All I can think about is my friend who did a case study of Finnish trailing spouses in China who all wound up joining AA from the drinking problem they developed due to all that extra time on their hands while the hubs were at work.
I guess what it comes down to is that I’m coming to terms with being called an “expat”. I’ve probably referred to myself as an expat now and again, in a general sense, but occasionally I’m reminded that the people within that category come in many different shades. There are those here for love, those for money, those to escape from something (if you’ve lived abroad, I think you know who I’m talking about). For the most part, though, it conjures up images in my head of people who aren’t me at all. Of people who work in finance, who have expense accounts, who infuriatingly “live” somewhere without ever learning the language or meeting a local (who isn’t their hired help), or at best who bumble along in some half-understanding cloud and make sweeping generalizations to their friends and family back home. Are we going to become those kinds of expats?
Being the partner of a Brazilian put me in my own category in Brazil. I had an in, a language partner, a cultural interpreter, a home. I think even that category can be subdivided as, in my experience, gringas married to male Brazilians can be all together a different animal from gringos who’ve married female Brazilians (that could be a whole other post). Living in your significant other’s country means you temper your words and rants, allowing the negative feelings to seep out either in other company or in other ways. What will it be like with both of us being strangers in a strange land? I’m bracing myself for a rough hit of textbook culture shock in Russia. As I once told a friend, having a degree in Intercultural Communication doesn’t save you from culture shock, it just makes it less surprising when it happens.
Right before I left Sao Paulo the recent influx of expats to Brazil became overwhelmingly apparent to me. How many hours had I longed to meet a fellow American or Canadian? I’d met a few over the years but they had all come and gone. This wasn’t fair! One particular evening, though, after a few frustrating conversations, intellectual clashes and missed marks, I reminded myself of something that’s important to always keep in mind. Just because someone has the same passport as you doesn’t mean you should be friends, or necessarily have anything in common. I knew I wasn’t going to be friends with some of those people and hell, I’m not friends with their Brazilian equivalents, either. 🙂