Guest Author Anna Frisk writes as part of our Leaving America series. She also has a personal blog, where she writes of her travels.
In leaving America, the question of return always comes next. When one year stretched into three, with the promise of a fourth, the question became convoluted. Would I return? Friends and family stopped asking or expecting it. In some ways though, it was me that became most surprised by it.
According to strangers I meet, I'm the atypical American abroad. For one, I'm from Iowa. This statement alone justifies the judgement strangers feel they can cast upon me, "Iowa, huh? How'd you end up here?" Here being an ever-changing entity: Spain, China, Chile, Japan, Sweden, Turkey. Iowa, to them, equates to an unknown variable they simply don't understand, but apparently it comes equipped with chains.
But it's because of this upbringing--which they fail to connect--that has created the traveler and wanderer I am. Growing up in Iowa was easy, but as the stereotype goes, this same detail made it equally encouraging to leave it. For those unaware, Iowa has become increasingly known for its brain drain, the total out-migration of young, college educated individuals, including me.
In leaving Iowa (and America) to live my adult life, my sense of home and identity have become endlessly blurred. Since graduating from university, I've adopted the title of serial expat. I've worked or volunteered in four countries, spanning two (soon to be three) continents, and in the process, I've created a dissolvable sense of what home can be. It's this aspect that becomes most exhausting about picking up and starting anew. It's easy to dream about a life elsewhere and it's another to create one.
Anna in Italy during a media tour of Tuscany. She was invited as one of the bloggers for Play your Tuscany.
After stints spent in China, Japan and Chile (during university), I continued to crave the adventure of living abroad, where everyday activities become hard-fought challenges. I assumed one year acting as a college teacher in China would suffice. As if I'd perhaps "grow out" of the phase, like a childhood fetish that adults shun against. But I didn't, as the story foretold. One year as an English language teacher became three. I moved to Spain, under the guise of North American language and culture ambassador, and worked my way through Andalusia and Madrid. And after two years spent seeking satisfaction, I decided to move on. This time to Peru to be fitted with another title, but with the same aim. Teach English; see the world.
Most of the time, I'm happy to be teetering between worlds, to live a life in limbo, between nostalgia for a place I know (America, Spain, China, etc.) and adventure to discover somewhere foreign (by all definitions of the word), even if I never quite belong. But in staking out a life as a serial expat, there are draws and ugly truths. For one, it can be lonely. Moving, starting anew means introducing and defining yourself to a new group of friends each time. Old friends have pointed out the obvious, "Are you running from something? Will you ever be satisfied to reside in one place?" And it's something I can only answer with some certainly, no and maybe.
As I grow older, the idea of a permeant home becomes even more enviable. I'm acutely aware of the difference between 23 years and 25, but as my goals shift and ideals grow, I realize guiltily, I still have plans for more. Some days I find myself pining for graduate school in Finland, or pushing submit for a working holiday visa in New Zealand. I didn't see myself here and there are many days when I reflect: this wasn't supposed to be my destiny. Yet somehow it's turned out exactly as it should be.
Anna in Southeastern Turkey where she was invited (as a foreign female) to enter the man's world of the Turkish tea house.