Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #3: Firsts

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, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

This is #3 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.


I love firsts. If you ever take a class of mine–live or online–you will most likely be assigned at least one “firsts” essay. Maybe two.

What’s a first?

The first time I _____ (stood on my head, kissed a boy/girl, cooked something more than mac-and-cheese, went to college, stood up for myself, spoke out against ______, shaved my head, traveled alone, got on the wrong train, etc.).

All people have firsts, but expats–ooh, you ma-ma-marvelous expats–have a treasure trove of firsts. Think about it:

  • the first time I considered moving to _____
  • the first time I applied for a visa
  • the first time I stepped off a plane in _____
  • the first language class I took in _____
  • the first time I put my foot in my mouth (& how I got it out)
  • the first time I understood what someone was saying to me in _____ (Chinese/Swedish/Spanish/etc.)
  • the first time I got lost in _____
  • the first time I ate _____
  • the first time I forgot to renew my visa in _____ (We actually did this in China…not fun. I advise against it.)

See what I mean? You could probably write firsts forever and never run out of material.

So…here’s your writing challenge for the week:

  1. Fill in this blank: the first time I ______
  2. Write, write, write, write, write!

Tip #1:  Choose a first that is significant to you. (I wouldn’t write about the first time I saw a bus in China, but I would write about the first time I heard the monks chanting at the Longhua Temple in Shanghai.)

Tip #2: Tell your first fully. See it. Taste it. Hear it. Smell it. Feel it. Breathe it in and out. Run your hands over it. Turn it upside down. Look at it through a prism. Don’t worry about writing too much; there’s time for cutting and tightening later. Right now, write.

Need a little inspiration?

Here’s a couple of firsts from the Christian Science Monitor: the first time I went back to my summer camp and first time to Zimbabwe



Image: Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net