Some Thoughts from One Expat to Another

227815_383666231706144_1451465329_n.jpg

When I first moved to Kazakhstan back in 1999, I’d been there for about half a year when I noticed a couple of interesting things. First, if I was talking to someone back home about Kazakhstan, I had plenty to say, as if I knew what I was talking about. Second, when I would talk to other expats about our experiences living in Central Asia, we would often spend a great deal of time complaining about the different way people did everything.

Now it’s many years later and I live in China, but I was reminded of my early Kazakhstan experiences when I recently overheard a conversation in a coffee shop between a couple of expats discussing their separate experiences in yet another country.

I couldn’t help but listen.

Both of these expats talked about their experiences as if they were experts on their former country, as if they’d really understood the people and the place where they’d lived, and they also spent a great deal of time complaining about that experience. It was almost as if they were trying to one-up each other on who could tell the most horrifying expat story.

“The taxi drivers there are horrible! As soon as they realize you’re a foreigner, they’ll charge you double!”

“You think the taxi drivers are bad, you should try and do business with them! It’s all about nepotism and how much you can pay to get something done!”

“Don’t get me started on corruption! There was one time when I was just trying to get my visa renewed…”

As I was reflecting on both my attitude and the attitudes shown by a couple of random expats in a coffee shop, I was struck by a few things, and I offer these thoughts to any expatriates who might be interested.

Simply living in a country for a limited amount of time does not make us experts on the culture, people and problems of a country. Especially when we haven’t even taken the time to learn the language and primarily hang out with other expats. We may have some insights into that country, but not very much.

We are really only long-term tourists, and should keep that in mind before being tempted to share our deep and insightful thoughts about our host country. When asked, we should just talk about the food we like, the interesting historical sights we’ve seen, reflect on the truth that we still have much to learn about the place, and stress how kindly the people there treat us in spite of our ignorance.

This last part is key – when you’re talking to your friends back home, don’t focus on the horror stories, even though conflict makes for good storytelling. Instead, let them know how well you were treated as a stranger in a strange land. Let them know how much it meant for you when someone went out their way to help you or guide you. Let them know that many of the things that they’ve heard about the place are misconceptions or flat out false.

Especially these days, it’s vital that we learn the value of being good hosts as well as guests, and it’s even more vital that we share that knowledge with others who may have never gone far from home.

This might be the most valuable souvenir we can bring home from our short time living in another country.

Advertisements

Thimblerig’s Travels • Yangshuo, China

My family made an end-of-the-school-year weekend trip from Shenzhen to Yangshuo, and it was a blast. The high-speed “bullet” train, which topped off at 300 KPH (187 MPH), made the 600 KM (375 M) trip to Guillin in just over three hours. Then, an hour-long taxi ride took us into the mystical terrain of Yangshuo. We enjoyed our stay at the Outside Inn, and highly recommend the inn if you’re making the trip and looking for comfortable and friendly lodging outside of Yangshuo proper.

Young Writer Chronicles: Students Around the World Discover a Love for Writing

I was pleased and honored to be asked to write an article for the National Novel Writing Month about my experiences as an international educator taking students through NaNoWriMo. Here is an excerpt from that article, with the link to the whole article at the bottom of the page.

Young Writer Chronicles: Students Around the World Discover a Love for Writing

by Nate Fleming

tumblr_inline_o6x334JM8u1r0x68m_500I fell into NaNoWriMo backwards, through Script Frenzy, a program sponsored by the nonprofit behind NaNo from 2007 to 2012. In Script Frenzy, a writer would write the first draft of a screenplay over the month of April. At that time, I had aspirations to be a screenwriter, even going so far as to take a screenwriting course in Hollywood over the summer of 2007 to help me down this path.

My biggest obstacle to a screenwriting career was geography. That summer I’d come to Hollywood from my wife’s home country of Kazakhstan, where I was teaching in an international school. Central Asia is not exactly the best place for a writer to live if he wants to break into Hollywood, is it? So, on the advice of a screenwriter friend, I turned to NaNoWriMo. If I couldn’t be in Hollywood to sell my screenplay idea, perhaps I could write a novel, and that novel could sell itself! In 2008, I decided to set aside November to work on making my screenplay into a novel.

downloadAlthough I didn’t finish the novel that year, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo so much that in 2009, I decided to try and see if I could fit NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program into my international school’s curriculum. That year, with the approval of my administration, I piloted taking a valiant class of fifth graders through the month of writing, and it was maddening, exhilarating, insane, and immensely rewarding.

My eyes were opened as I saw students who had previously struggled to write a paragraph effortlessly filling pages and pages of a first draft. It also unlocked writing in other classes across the curriculum, and writing was coming easier for these students in history, science, and literature classes. It was revolutionary! The doors had been opened, and my students suddenly believed that they could write! It was almost magical!

To read the rest of the story, go here.

 

McDonald’s Next • Hong Kong

mcdWant to know what McDonald’s of the future might look like? You just have to go no further than Hong Kong’s Admiralty Center and the McDonald’s Next Concept Restaurant. This is a one-in-the-world McD’s dining experience, and has both the traditional menu as well as healthier options that you build for yourself.

The fancy new McDonald’s was a hit for my kids. While my daughter went the traditional double cheeseburger route, my son ordered a hamburger that you built to order, and he said it tasted better than a typical McDonald’s burger. I had the build your own salad with grilled chicken and asparagus (!), and it was quite tasty, and I didn’t leave McDonald’s feeling like I needed to take a few Lipitor for my trouble.

The food was brought to our table by nice McDonald’s employees, and was pretty quick in arriving. And while you can tell that it was a crowded place, we very quickly found seats, and they even had cell phone chargers on every table – which in Hong Kong is a pretty big deal.

I didn’t try the McCafe options, but the baked goods and coffee looked like an upgrade from the typical McCafes that you find in McDonald’s all over China.

It was a pretty cool experience, eating in this McDonald’s from the future. If you’re in Hong Kong, give it a try!

Tomb Sweeping Day on Mt. Qingcheng

Nothing says Tomb Sweeping Day like climbing a mountain.  And it makes it better that this was the mountain that inspired the makers of Kung Fu Panda 2!

Thimblerig's Ark Cover ArtMeanwhile, if you are looking for a good middle grade fantasy novel, try my new novel, Thimblerig’s Ark.  You know about Noah, but wait until you read the animal’s story!  The novel was inspired by C.S. Lewis, the book of Genesis, and an Irish pub song that tells why the unicorns didn’t make it on Noah’s Ark.