This week, like patriotic folks across the USA, we enjoyed a down-home Fourth of July celebration with family, food, and fireworks. Unlike most people across the USA, it was the last we will enjoy – at least stateside – for a while. In addition to marking America’s 240th birthday, July 4 started our final two-week countdown to our Casablanca departure.
Moving to Morocco comes not as an escape plan from the U.S., but as the fulfillment of a longtime ambition to live and work abroad. At once, we live in a big world and a small world and a flat world. Big, because this spinning hunk of rock offers a huge diversity of lands and peoples and cultures to experience and explore. Small, because wherever we have traveled to date – domestically and internationally – we have found that despite all our differences people are still people with far more (good and bad) in common on an individual level. Flat, because technology allows us to communicate and collaborate with people around the globe today with relative ease never imaginable through all but the last years of human history.
Our daughter Charlotte, moving with us to Morocco, proves this last point daily as she FaceTimes from our base in the Pacific Northwest with friends from Arizona to Malaysia. Once we arrive in Casablanca, we will all enjoy video-based face-to-face conversations with friends and family via device apps like FaceTime, Skype, and Google Hangout, to say nothing of email and other digital benefits. So looking ahead to our Expat Expedition, while we anticipate missing close proximity and easy physical access to the family and friends we are leaving back in the States, we also are comforted by our ability to maintain digital contact during our time abroad.
Charlotte and her older sister, Margaret (who will stay in the States while we are in Morocco), have grown up with digital ties as glue that holds together the ends of relationships kept apart physically by distance:
– grandparents living in the PNW while we lived in the eastern U.S.
– aunts and uncles living across oceans or in different hemispheres
– friends in cities and states from which we have moved as mom and dad take on new administrative roles at schools in new places
– even a time we spent as a bilocating family when Audrey had the girls in Louisiana and Brian stayed behind to lead his school in Ohio for one more year, getting “together family time” only once a month when he flew from Cleveland to Lafayette for long weekends.
Visiting through Google Hangout is not the same as giving someone a tight hug or smelling the sour cherry pie cooking in granny’s kitchen, but it allows for reinforcing the relationships that already exist in the same way – but even better – that long-distance phone calls from grandparents (on what today we call “land lines”) kept strong those ties when we were kids. Besides, we plan to be back in the States in December to celebrate Christmas with family.
But what of patriotism during our Expat Expedition? We look forward to discovering that abroad. While we can learn from the experiences of long-time expat friends on different continents, we have more questions than expectations. How “American” will we find expats from the U.S. that we encounter abroad? How will the broader international expat community express patriotism for their respective countries? Perhaps most pertinent on the diplomatic front, where is the line between proud patriotism and distasteful nationalism in the eyes of host nation folks and people from the local international community?
Regardless of what we will find on the path ahead, it was wonderful to have the big booms and bright colors of an hour-long very Americana fireworks show on a forest-surrounded community ball field in a small town in Washington’s Cascade Mountains start our final countdown to departure, reminding us of the heuristic things we will take with us on our intentional adventure.
On your mark. Get set. Here we go!
Brian & Audrey