Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing and publishing to expat writers around the globe.
Here’s the truth, as an expat, you are perfectly poised for writing and publishing essays about your experiences. You’ve got all kinds of story possibilities right on your doorstep…adventure, travel, culture, family, etc.
But before you can write and publish a story, you have to find and hone in on a story, which isn’t so easy while also managing cultural differences, miscommunications because of language barriers, international (or local) schools for your kids, travel arrangements for the holidays, and relationships with both folks back home and folks in your host country.
But you know what? You don’t have to look far. Here are two great paths to a good story:
1. Opposites – No matter which country you’re from, I’ll bet that if you pause at any given moment, you’ll be able to pinpoint at least three ways you are the opposite of the folks who are native to the country in which you’re living. (They sound different, look different, drive different, eat different, pray different, dance different, wave different, smell different, give the finger different…you get it.)
2. Commonalities – I’ll also bet that you’ll be able to pinpoint at least three ways you are the same.
Consider, for a moment, Amy Chua’s recently published memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. (If you happened to somehow miss the tremendous hullabaloo surrounding the publication of Tiger Mother, you can catch up here.) In the book, Chua couches her story of mothering in a comparison between the opposite parenting styles of Westerns moms and Chinese moms. It’s an understatement to say that this book stirred the emotions of Western parents, but no matter how you feel about Chua or tiger mamas or parenting, she did a great job of using opposites to structure her story.
But lest you think that opposites can be the sole supporting structures of a story, think again. The core commonality that is also a necessary structural support of Tiger Mother is that both Western moms and Chinese moms love their kids. Without that, the book would have gone ker-plunk.
As you head off in search of your own stories, keep in mind that many can be whittled down to the old adage, us and them. But also remember that some of the best grow out of moments when you find a little bit of us in them or a little bit of them in us.
Q4U: So what about you? What opposites grab your attention in your host country? Is there a story there?
**Also, if you’re an expat writer, check out the online writing workshop I’m launching specifically for you. Yep, you! The first session begins May 1.