Today we have Sabrina Gail visiting the ExPat Returneth. Sabrina is a writer and fellow traveler. Her novella, FIRES OF JUSTICE, debuts on October 17.
Fall semester junior year I woke up one day to discover my crew had all applied to be somewhere else for Spring semester and my ex-boyfriend lived on my ceiling. Scrambling to cope, I found myself in Vienna, Austria learning German, living with the Countess and having my otherness blast off my skin like neon in the darkness. Growing up, feeling different was something I worked hard to avoid—unsuccessfully I might add. My goal had always been to fit in, conform, be like the "in-crowd" and maybe I'd be okay, I'd belong.
Living abroad changed all that for me. My experience in Austria got me addicted to the otherness rush for a while. As soon as I got home, I turned around and got myself to Italy and then later the UK where I lived—by definition and by choice—as not one of the crowd. I was a visitor, a tourist, someone from a different place and people found me interesting BECAUSE I was other.
Abroad, knowing I was an outsider allowed me to distance myself psychologically and emotionally from slurs and snark and snide comments that would have had me running for cover in the States. In the UK, when that seriously hunky dude I met at a party looked down his nose at me proclaiming loudly "I don't like Americans," it was way too easy to snark back "All 250 million of us?" Having someone dislike me for something as stupid as an accent or a birthplace drove awareness through my gut that really, that's what most people's nasty, judgmental opinions are—unfounded and uninformed. Balance that with the cockney woman at the Fish and Chips shop at the end of my block who waxed poetic one day on how much she liked my accent. My brilliant but glib response--"Huh?"
Her answer had my jaw slapping against my chest. "Because when I speak, everyone makes assumptions about me from my accent,"—UK has an alarming number of accents, all with their own stereotypes—“when you do, we don't have a clue so we have to get to know you." Doesn’t that just explain it all?
The accent—my freedom—her cage. When I came home, did I find myself reinserted in the cage? Perhaps at first, which explains my eagerness to go back abroad. Over that time, I got used to, and then learned to take pride in, my otherness, in the things that make me, well, me.
I came home humbler, more creative from having some of my limits ripped apart having to look at things from multiple angles and a lot less judgmental. What is true in one country about how the world works is not so in the other. Common sense isn’t when you cross the border.
It made a better person and a better writer. Not stuck in one set of rules of the world works, makes it easier to build new world increases the compassion needed to write and love flawed characters and being open to all possible story lines. Characters often lead a writer in new and surprising places.
So with a warm pint of beer in one hand and a gelato in the other, I salute otherness, the part of me that flourished abroad.
Sabrina Garie is on a journey to create the most kick-ass heroine romance fiction has ever known and the hero who can take her. My debut novella Fires of Justice launches on October 17 from www.ellorascave.com. A believer that big, audacious goals spice up life, she relies on coffee, red wine and laughter to make those goals (and her characters) come alive. When not at the computer, she wrangles vegetables and extra helpings of homework into her fashion-loving progeny, kowtows to a fat cat and reads, a lot. Since it is more fun to travel in packs, come along for the ride. Catch the train at www.sabrinagarie.com.