The Homeland Phenomena

According to family lore, and a great deal of genealogical research on the part of my Great Aunt, about half of my family (My dad’s side) stems from England, having immigrated to the New World even before the United States won it’s freedom… and as far as I know nobody in the family has been back since.

Until now.

Technically my genes make England the homeland for me, but I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in a land I had only dreamed of for my entire life (Thank you J.K. Rowling and a host of other British authors). Should it have felt like coming home? Or was my ancestry far too distant? At what point does an ancestry become far too distant to feel a connection? I certainly felt more of a literary connection than a cultural connection!

I should have felt comfortable there than other places I’ve travelled (which I did to some extent thanks to the familiar sounds of English surrounding me in every direction for the first time in four months), but overall I felt like more of a tourist in England than I did anywhere else. I gawked at the cars driving on the “wrong” side of the street, insisted on eating “fish and chips”, and took a tour to stare at Big Ben and all related landmarks. Perhaps it was just my excitement that made me so touristy, but it certainly wasn’t the reaction of an English girl at last making the voyage to her homeland.

Oddly enough, I felt more “At home” in Israel last year than I did in England, even though the last ancestor of mine to live in Israel isn’t even remotely within recorded family history, probably having left in the diaspora thousands of years ago. In Israel I speak about ten words of the local language- a striking comparison to England where I’m almost fluent in the language (Really, British English and American English do have some interesting points of divergence- I still haven’t figured out what “busking” is). Yet despite the lingual divide, Israel feels more like home.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that the sense of home really is a highly subjective matter. For me, perhaps the practice of Judaism in my home kept the link to Israel much stronger, whereas the roots in England had to be rediscovered and never contributed to any familial practices. And in the end, I suppose the fact remains that I’m simply an American abroad- and an American who will be re-entering American soil at the end of May for the first time in nearly five months. What a weird feeling that will be! The feeling of home will likely smother me then!

Bonus tidbit: I got a good laugh two days later in Dublin when an Irishman saw my last name (Brown) and my freckles and promptly welcomed me “home” to a land which I had zero connection to, but soon found I liked very much.

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Conversion

You know you’ve converted to a local… when you stop mentally converting the currency.

I don’t know when it happened… but at some point over the last few months I have stopped mentally switching my spending from Euros to dollars to understand my expenses. I became used to it and eventually started comparing prices to other european prices I had encountered. Five euro for a sandwich? When I arrived, in January that would instantly have looked like 7 dollars. Now, five euro just looks like more than the 3 euro sandwich I can buy at my preferred sandwich shop.

Sure it’s a shock every time I look at my bank account, but in the moment there’s no mental math to bother me. I’m accustomed to prices here, just like I am accustomed to jam and bread at breakfast every day (as opposed to oatmeal or bacon with eggs). The fact that the money is colorful and each bill is worth more than the green paper I used to work with has become simply a fact that I brush off as I make my transactions.

Does no longer gawking at the money and asking if it’s from a monopoly game make me a local? Perhaps. It’s probably just one factor among dozens on the subjective spectrum of how Europeanized a person is. I’d like to think that it’s a key indicator though.

Unfortunately, over the next month I will be making forays into other European countries with different monetary systems, so I will find myself converting again. But what currency will my mind compare it to? Will I revert to the dollar in my head or will my more recent encounters with the Euro surface first? And then at the end of May I will return to the US… my real home (little though I want to admit it at the moment) and land of the green money. I wonder if I have become so adjusted to the Euro that I will suffer a readjustment period. Perhaps I won’t… and it will be the beginning of being able to operate equally in two monetary systems. There’s only one way to find out, so I will hope that adjusting to my own government’s money will not be a part of reverse culture shock when I hop back to the other side of the Big Pond.

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Unexpected Joys… of Teaching Abroad

My entire life I’ve known that I was NOT destined to be a teacher. My sister considered going into education when we were picking college majors, but the thought never even crossed my mind. Therefore, when I decided to do an internship in a French high school while living in Strasbourg, I was very hesitant. I was exceptionally nervous as I entered the school. I was surprised to find just how much older I felt, just 2 years out of high school myself. My eyes must have been wide with horror as I dodged yelling students that had no shyness about shoving into each other. I also felt quite invisible, suffering from poor French and a significantly shorter stature than the average student.

But I reached the classroom where I was slated to be an assistant and I was welcomed with open arms. The teacher I was assigned to was excited to have me and “an American perspective” and as soon as the students were allowed to ask me questions, they were very inquisitive. From that great start, going to the school has only gotten better. I became re-adjusted to the noise and maturity level of high schoolers and now I even look forward to greeting their enthusiasm with lessons and explanations of American culture.

At first I did a lot of observing, but after just a few weeks the teacher I was shadowing suggested that I come up with a lesson to teach. The students in that class spoke excellent English…. so I titled my lesson “surviving casual encounters”…. and proceeded to teach them American slang. They wrote down every word I said and offered up their own contrast to French slang, so as I taught, I also learned. The lesson had been so enjoyable for me that I decided to offer outside oral practice for the students and went on to also lead debates for the students during class time.

I was not destined to teach… but it has happened anyway and I’m glad it has. More than ever now it has made me determined to apply to the peace corps and continue spreading english as a second language. Certainly teaching in an under developed country will be a very different experience, but the principle of spreading language remains the same- not to mention the chance to keep expanding my own secondary language skills! I’m glad that I’ve discovered how fulfilling teaching can be and hopefully when my internship ends in a few weeks it will mark the beginning of my opportunities in this area, rather than the end!