Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Testing YK(S)I, kaksi, kolme...



It’s been ages since I’ve had to take a high-stakes test. But I’m thinking about applying for Finnish citizenship for a number of reasons, not least of all because of the chillier climate against foreigners right now. Finland has a language requirement for applicants, which is fulfilled by passing a test known as YKI at the intermediate level. I could easily do this in Swedish, but I want to do it in the majority language. For some reason it would feel like cheating otherwise.

A few days ago, I took that test, and it was a fascinating experience on many levels. To begin with, it was held in a very small town, Pieksämäki (population 19,000), not in my town, Joensuu (population 58,000). I had never visited that tiny town though I have changed trains there many, many times. Someone once told me that it had won the prize for being Finland’s most boring town, though perhaps the competition was fictitious. There was no morning train that would get me there in time, so I ended up spending the night in a quaint, nicely kept pension a few blocks from the school where the exam was held. The only other guest was a man from Afghanistan, also in town to take the test, who asked me to join him to take in the local sights after our common ordeal. I declined politely, but I felt bad – he seemed sane and said he was a photo journalist in his own country, so I'm sure it would have been interesting to talk to him, but I doubt he understood that I was probably 30 years older than he was.

I made sure I got to the exam early – way too early. It gave me time to inspect the fountain in front of the high school – two naked boys playing in the water, something you could never find in front of a school in the US – and a monument to those who had suffered loss and deprivation during WWII. (There was a plaque inside the building listing the names of the fallen soldiers from that school, and in the park across the way from the pension, there was a statue honoring those who disappeared and left families behind.) 


Monument to fathers missing in action and those they left behind

 There was a chilly wind and we early birds smiled tentatively and discussed the weather. A woman from Africa (I never did find out which country she was from) in rather summery clothes arrived and said ‘Not cold. Winter is cold!’ We all practiced our Finnish with each other, each with a different accent and at a different level of proficiency. I started to think that maybe I’d do OK on the test, since I was certainly not the weakest speaker. That honor went to a man from Ukraine, who had only been in Finland six months.

One man from Egypt asked, “You’ll help me, right?” I didn’t quite understand what he meant until later. But apparently he wanted me to show him my answers so that he could pass the test. He was unable to read Finnish letters. I wondered why he was there for the test at all but all he would say was, “I’ve been here 18 years and I haven’t passed this test and they won’t let me be a citizen! I have a crippled daughter who needs special care in another country!” He seemed angry, but I wondered why he hadn’t tried to find a tutor -- the test is expensive (100 euros, or over $100) and you’d think he would have tried to improve his score to save some money by this time.

Finally all 13 of us were ushered into the building and up the stairs. We were called one by one into the examination room and the names were mostly stumbled over. Unfortunately, one of the examiners was not Finnish, and her German accent made it very difficult to understand her. I thought to myself how it hadn’t occurred to anyone that this could make non-native test-takers more nervous, but perhaps it was just me. Our cell phones were collected and each one sealed in a paper envelope. The pile of envelopes was balanced precariously on a desk up at the front of the classroom – miraculously, they didn’t fall. (Or maybe they did – my phone sounds different now than it did before…)

I was surprised at how many examinees had not read the directions (or was their Finnish so poor that they couldn’t read them?) and had brought no pencil, eraser or application form. We spent an extra 10 minutes because of this, and I was impatient to start the test. Mr. Egypt was seated across the aisle from me and he borrowed my pencil sharpener. Unlike me, the teachers were very patient, considering how most of the students needed some kind of additional assistance. Finally we were let loose on the test. 

The first section was reading comprehension, probably the easiest part of the test for me though I can’t remember any of it. In the second section, we had to write one e-mail message to a teacher explaining that we weren’t able to come to class, one complaint letter to the Department of Health regarding a bad meal experience at a restaurant, and one blog post on the benefits of second-hand shopping. Right up my alley!

We had a break after that. Mr. Egypt looked at me sternly and said, “You! Why didn’t you help me? You didn’t even look at me!” The woman from China was trying to tell him that this is a different culture – that people don’t cheat in Finland. He ignored her and said, “They wouldn't have noticed if you had just lifted up your paper a little so I could see it. Now I will never pass this test!” He went back into his rant. It occurred to me that he had probably been taking this test over and over hoping for a kind soul to help him out. Unbelievable! I hoped for his daughter’s sake that Daddy learns to read Finnish. The man from the Ukraine was smiling and understood very little – he had been in Finland only six months, and he couldn’t explain why he was taking the test. Maybe the Russian woman was able to get it out of him.

After our break it was time for the listening and speaking portions of the test in the language studio. I know that these are my weakest areas, and there were several places where I had to simply use common sense to answer questions, and one question I completely missed. When I had to talk, I became very conscious of how slowly I speak, how I overthink every sentence. I hope I can move on from that that stage eventually – to a place where I can speak without thinking about the syntax.

Finally, unbelievably, it was over. We lined up to get our cell phones and then we dispersed. The Iraqi woman’s husband (brother?) came to the front door to fetch her, and, because of her covered head, I wondered if she enjoyed being protected, or if she chafed because her freedom was restricted. And then I started to think about the other people there. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to stay and swap stories?

Or hideously painful. Most refugees I have met have been driven out of their homelands by violence and persecution. They haven’t left by choice. I was intensely aware of the looks I got when I pulled out my American passport. Why would you leave a country like the US? they were probably thinking. I’m here with a permanent job, by choice, no matter how little choice I felt I had when I came here. Few people look at me and think, “damned immigrant”. Neither my dress nor my skin color gives me away. Not one person in that group besides me could walk down the street in Pieksämäki and pass for a Finn.

I told the story of the Egyptian man to colleagues over coffee yesterday, and the fellow who teaches our Culture Colloquium said, “I’d never start a class with such a negative anecdote.” I argued that that was precisely why you should talk about it off the bat – that part of cultural competence is testing where we think universals lie. Is it universally bad to cheat? No. From the Egyptian man’s point of view, I was a cold, arrogant American who couldn’t be bothered to help him out, just like Americans never help anyone unless there's something in it for them (I imagined him thinking). I have no idea what he’s gone through in this country, because the stories I hear from other immigrants do not paint a rosy picture. It seems that foreigners are not given equal rights here, that city officials can intimidate and threaten to an extent that would make any Finn indignant. He could, of course, be a complete user and have no daughter, no family, and not have been in this country for more than a few years. But part of trying to understand people different than you are has to be considering all possible scenarios. And maybe that’s why it’s easier to slip into stereotypes and preconceived ideas – it’s a heck of a lot less work.

So now I'll wait for two months for the results of my test. Not much is hanging on it. But for my fellow test-takers, the stakes are higher. Citizenship can mean the difference between being able to travel to see loved ones or not, between having an EU passport or a 'stateless person' passport from Finland. It can mean better sleep at night knowing they will not be thrown out and forced to go back to a country where they may be slammed in jail upon arrival, or worse. Maybe I should think about this next time I get huffy about people not reading instructions...but it won't make me change my mind about helping  people cheat on exams.

You may be left with the impression that Finland is a harsh place for foreigners. It can be in many ways, but there are many, many individual acts of kindness and helpfulness. After the test I ate lunch at the market square, where there was a family-operated Thai food truck. While waiting for my food, a Finnish man arrived to pick up a take-out platter for a party. As he paid, he told the young woman behind the counter, "My mother says to tell your mother hello!" The younger cook told her mother, who apparently didn't speak any Finnish. The older woman turned around and, smiling hugely, said something to the man which must have been similar greetings back, grasping and shaking his hand as she did so. I imagined the transactions and friendly words that must have occurred over weeks, months or years between this Thai family, living in Finland's 'most boring town', and this man and his mother. Those thoughts kept me nice and warm as I ate my pad thai in the white plastic tent nearby, the chilly wind whipping autumn leaves across the square.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Home Sweet Home (past tense)



When I was approached about the possibility of moving to Finland to teach English and translation, my response was literally this: “I can’t do that. I have a house and an old dog.” I ended up finding ways to detach from both – rent out the house, farm out the dog – but it wasn’t easy, and was only made possible by an angel of a property manager and a friend who is an uncanny animal lover.

The old dog, miraculously, lived on with this friend to the age of 18, dying just a few months ago. And now it looks like that other barrier is about to go the same route. An unexpected offer was made on my house, although it had never been on the market, not even for a day. A picture on Zillow.com, put there for potential renters, was all it took. It seems the buyers fell in love with the house as madly as I did when I first saw it in 1993. They made a very good offer which included a price better than fair and doing all the repairs. (After three years of renters, there are quite a few.)

I just signed the last papers I will have to sign, so it looks like the unbelievable is going to happen.

I’m having all kinds of interesting reactions to this development. The center-stage one, perhaps expectedly, is grief. This feels like a divorce, except the marriage was a good one. I know there are irreconcilable differences, such as the house not being able to relocate to Finland. I am fully aware that even if I were to move back to Oregon someday, chances are I wouldn’t want to live in a house that is about three times the size of what I live in here in Finland – and mine is large for a single person, by Finnish standards. And let’s face it: I am not as young as I was when I first lived in that house. Eventually, I would become too decrepit to maneuver the tricky stairs and the steep hill down to the local market – let alone have the stamina for the considerable amount of yard work. But this is the first house I ever bought on my own, and it’s where my children spent most of their growing-up years. It’s hard to say goodbye.

I have to go back for a moment to how I fell in love. I was newly divorced, living with my children in a rented house, waiting for my ex-husband to sell our home in Connecticut. I would be using the proceeds to put a down payment on a home in Oregon. Every weekend I dutifully circled ads in the local paper and took the kids to open houses. I had found one home that would have been a marriage of convenience. All the boxes were checked – it even had a sauna – and it wouldn’t have been a bad place for us. (Later, I would attend sing-along spaghetti parties in that house, and it was quite lovely. Sometimes marriages of convenience are satisfying, and we could have been happy in that house.)

One Sunday when we were particularly exhausted, after our weekly laundromat run, I promised my children we'd only go to one open house. They weren’t too happy but I probably bribed them with the prospect of pizza afterwards. I picked the one closest to the house we were renting so we wouldn’t have too far to drive home.

As soon as we pulled up, I felt like I had seen the house before. There was something about the way it was set on the hill, the way it faced the street – welcoming but also elevated. It gave the illusion of being in the forest, though it was well within the city limits. It was an older house and defied classification (raised ranch, Cape Cod, bungalow) – later I’d find out that it was a summer home (and possibly a speakeasy) that had a second story added on top in the 1960s. We walked in the front door and I saw something charming or beautiful at every turn: a wallpapered room behind French doors, a long living room with hardwood floors and a fireplace with a reading nook built in next to it, a dining room with sweet corner cabinets, a big kitchen with a huge window facing the backyard. Through this window I could see my crabby children racing to the swing set. All of a sudden a vision of years of meals and happy times together passed through my mind. This was it. This was my house.

The problem was that two other couples had decided the same thing. My realtor said that I should write a personal note to the sellers so that my bid would be accepted. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote in that letter, but I know I put my whole heart in it. I knew it was true love.

And then, it was ours. My children grew up in that house. Friends gathered at holidays. Pets joined us and ran or passed away. Birthdays were celebrated, homework was ground out. Illnesses, confirmations, Swedish classes, community meetings, sleepovers, and even a joint party to celebrate the publication of my book and a friend passing the bar. The people across the street became surrogate parents to me. I helped redesign the street that ran past my house. And what I like to remember best is the music. Our  house seemed created for music, and someone was always in the music room, behind the French doors, playing the piano I eventually managed to buy or singing or playing another instrument (we had a cello, a trombone, a trumpet, a flute, and a viola). Sometimes Erik and Maija would sing and play duets; other times friends would come and join one or the other of them.

But then the house grew silent. This is probably what I should be thinking about now – that my mourning for the house began when my youngest child moved away. That’s when I started taking in tenants to help pay the mortgage, when I started taking on extra jobs at night, when I did little more there than work and sleep. The house never quite felt the same again. 

In a sense, this is simply another move in a progression that has already been put in motion, and it’s rather iconic after all – the empty nest, and what is done with it.

So besides grief, I am also feeling some curiosity, some anticipation, some anxiety. In pulling one of my feet out of the United States, maybe I can stand more firmly in Finland. Theoretically. This is a new identity, in a way. I’ve gotten somewhat comfortable living this kind of in-between life, and it seems now there is another transition to undergo. Well, lookee here, another feeling rearing its not-so-lovely head: anger.

When you’re in your fifties, aren’t you supposed to be reaping the fruits you’ve sown before you're too physically decapacitated to enjoy them? Slowing down a little bit after you’ve reached your career peak? Spending your free time doing nothing more challenging than traveling to cool places and deciding whether it’s time to redecorate the bathroom? Isn’t it the time between launching your children and taking on eldercare? The middle kingdom of satisfaction?

This, of course, is exaggerated, as I’m well aware. But really: how many people do you know up and move to a foreign country at this point in their lives, and have to learn a new language to conduct their life in? (Admittedly, I’d studied Finnish, but I’d never achieved fluency.) How many 50-somethings have to learn how to do their taxes in a completely different way? Or to learn how to purchase property, register address changes, do banking, health care, home maintenance and shopping? I’m not even going to get into learning an entirely new unspoken social code. Or the motivation and energy needed to make new friends.

Besides this, there's the transition of ‘no-it’s-not-just-a-year-of-wait-and-see’. Now it’s real: I live in Finland, and there’s no way back.

It’s like climbing a mountain though you’re scared of heights. There’s only one way: up. This feels like a really big step up. It’s scary, dizzying, exhausting. I want a rest. I'm tired of constant struggle.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I usually try to find my way back to the gratitude place. So although I’m all of these things – scared, angry, sad, grieving – I’m also amazed and grateful.

How did those people find my house? They are a young couple, eager to move in and make the house feel loved and to start a family. Obviously they deserve the house. This should be celebrated, not mourned.

How did I end up in a country where I wake up to birdsong and the scent of forest? Where my health care is paid for, and my pension guaranteed?

How did I land a job that leaves nothing to be desired – ambitious students, manageable class sizes, appropriate salary, clean and well-lit private office, research leave, kind and intelligent colleagues, livable working hours?

How did I end up owning two properties in this place – one my ancestral cabin, one a smaller version of the house in Oregon, or could be with some work?

And finally, would I really have been happy in the ‘middle kingdom of satisfaction’? How can I compare my life of exhausted and nearly constant work – albeit in a house I adored – to my present, more sane life, where I feel healthier and younger, where I even have time to travel and relax?

So goodbye, then, sweet house. Please wrap your new owners in the peaceful, welcoming aura you treated us to for 22 years. We leave with so many good memories and an anthropomorphic sense that you loved us, too.


(c) Kathy Saranpa 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

“Allies can no longer be silent”



It’s been many months since I’ve written anything in this blog. I’ve started several times only to give up. Do I really have anything worth saying? My mind has been clogged with grading, planning, buying a new home, traveling. Not enough time to focus, not enough leisure to let the thoughts take shape.

But now, Charleston. Nine black people murdered in cold blood by a white supremacist shooter, who was given a gun by his father as a birthday present. IN A CHURCH, during a Bible study. And the perpetrator had been sitting in their midst, a latter-day Judas. He reloaded, too, so it’s not like he was doing this on some kind of impulse.

This would be horrible enough. But it comes after a long, all too long, series of murders of other black people, mostly by white people in positions of power. Ferguson is the best known of these. Yes, mental illness apparently played a role in this case. But it’s so much more comfortable for most white people to talk about mental illness than about race, and we can’t let this event slide off into an easier discussion of one single issue. It’s about mental illness, yes, and about gun control, both very crucial issues. But race appears to be the biggest motivator when the shooter is alleged to have said “You rape our women and are taking over our country”. 

I’m going to write about race, because to be silent any longer is to be an accomplice to genocide. I know why many white people are silent. It’s because we’re afraid of putting our foot in our mouth. We want to say the right thing. We don’t want to hurt anyone. We want to appear enlightened. We want to be liked. We want to say things like ‘I’m colorblind’ or ‘Race doesn’t matter’. But enlightenment takes work. I’m going to put myself out there no matter what frogs will pop out of my mouth (and feel free to point them out to me) and talk about some of the things I believe when it comes to race.

(I’m going to talk about racism against blacks specifically in this post, but much of what I say is applicable to other people of color.)

1. I believe you can’t and shouldn’t be colorblind. Color matters, and it’s part of your history, part of your identity. You may not attach a lot of significance to race, but you’d better believe the black person you are looking at has suffered because of it, and in such a case, it’s an insult to say you’re colorblind. It means you’re not recognizing the oppression and suffering that person may have endured – whether or not you were the cause of it.

2. I believe people are biologically prone to noticing differences. Our ancestors needed to be able to discern who belonged to their own tribe and who was an enemy. I believe we still have this reaction. I feel a kind of shock whenever I see a very black person. I don’t think I should be ashamed of this. What I SHOULD be ashamed of is if that reaction leads me to treat that person as less than human. If you grow up among people of many different races, it’s possible you don’t feel that shock – but I didn’t. I grew up in a very white area and had a grandmother in Cleveland, which is the only place I ever saw black people. She would pull me close to her side if we were walking down the street and a black person was approaching, and she would always say something about ‘coloreds’ afterwards. Grandma’s reaction is probably in my hard wiring. 

Let’s be honest about our ‘biological racism’ – if we have it – while at the same time acknowledging the damage it can do if it isn’t admitted and dealt with in a sane and rational matter rather than by concealing it behind platitudes.

3. I believe white privilege exists, and it exists whether you live among black people or not, and it matters whether you live among black people or not. I’ve heard this reaction: “White privilege? I’m on welfare. I am not privileged.” Well, yes, you are privileged if you have white skin, at least in the US. You can walk into a grocery store and find the hair products you need. Your children see people that look like them on television all the time. Etc. You can Google ‘white privilege’ to get the whole list. Stop thinking you’re not privileged. You are.

4. I believe white people should go through some race-sensitivity training, whether they think they need it or not. (And I assume people of color need it as well, but that’s not my business.) I didn’t think I needed it. But I did. I was fortunate to be a public-school teacher for seven years, where diversity training is mandatory. I started out smirking at it. After all, I’m a smart woman with a Yale PhD. I’m empathetic and thoughtful. What could these administrators teach me just because they are people of color? Oh, my face is so red thinking about that misguided feeling of superiority.

But I learned so much. This is the one that changed my life in terms of understanding racial equity issues: http://www.edequityoregon.com/equity-3/taking-it-up/. There are many more out there.

In this particular training, we were put into small groups, and each one was led by a person of color. Our guide was trying to tell us that Arnold Schwarzenegger was probably from a black family because of his last name, and of course I was seething about that. I focused on that bit of misinformation to convince myself that this guy didn’t know what he was talking about. But then. We got to ask any question we wanted. The one that was burning in my mind was this: “I go through these trainings and feel like I’m the accused without having done anything just because I’m white. Why don’t you just TELL me what to say and do?” This lovely man, with infinite kindness and patience, said, “Why is that my job?”
 
Wow. Imagine that: you are a black person with a bunch of white friends. Imagine that your friendship consisted not of engaging in activities you all enjoy but of being constantly asked by your well-meaning white friends, “Does that hurt black people?” And these well-meaning white friends are thinking, “Aren’t I a nice and considerate friend?” Imagine having to work 24 hours a day at being THE representative for all black people, everywhere, who obviously would have one and only one reaction to any given stimulus. No. That’s not what friendship is. Friendship is the white people figuring out how to make the black friend feel part of the group without asking for instructions, and seeing that person as their friend, with individual quirks and feelings, not the representative of all blacks everywhere.

Which brings up another anecdote, told by the diversity studies teacher at our school. He was in the grocery store one day and, I kid you not, a man came up to him to ask for his help in picking out a watermelon. This teacher patiently told the man what to look for, and afterwards asked him if he understood what he had just done. The white man seemed clueless. However, the teacher said that although his first impulse was to clock the guy, he decided to use it as a teachable moment. Hopefully the white guy left the conversation knowing more than just how to pick a good watermelon. So black friends can tell you a lot – but don’t put them in the role of constant teacher.

5. I believe white people need to help end racism no matter where they are or how much contact they have with black people. White people have had economic, social, political, and every other kind of advantage for hundreds of years in the US. We can’t now say “Oh, but the laws have eliminated discrimination.” or “Affirmative action is reverse racism.” or “I have a lot of friends of different colors.” We need to be active allies to help make up for those hundreds of years. We need to talk about race, read what black writers have to say, follow the news, donate to organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center or the ACLU or whatever your research tells you is best. We need to stop tiptoeing around, afraid of offending people and speak our hearts, humbly and with receptivity to being corrected and contradicted. We have to do this now. There is so much to worry about in the world – the environment above all, but also unrest in Russia and North Korea and the Middle East – to be killing our fellow citizens and widening the race gulf is suicide. It doesn’t matter if you live in a very white area of the US. This is your issue, too.

There it is – my imperfect ‘credo’ on racism. I’m a middle-aged white woman with few black friends,  woefully ignorant in so many ways. My blind spots are many, but I’m willing to work towards enlightenment. And I’m grateful for the graciousness and patience of people of color who have helped me along the way. 

I still have to figure out what I’m doing living in perhaps the whitest country in the world when I’m a white American and an ally to blacks. I promise I will do my best to figure that out.

© 2015 Kathy Saranpa

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Third (!!!) Year Begins






Today I attended the university’s opening festivities for the third time. It doesn’t seem possible. I’ve now been living in Finland for two years. Really?? To be honest, I don’t feel quite so alien anymore. While I’ve had my ups and downs with the Finnish language since I got home (note the use of that word, ‘home’), I do think I’m understanding more, and I’m certainly reading Finnish with more comprehension. But while I feel less alien, I still feel like I don’t fit in comfortably. And maybe I never will.

My friend Kate says, “the first five years are the hardest”. I laughed when I first heard that, but maybe she’s right. Maybe it’s still hard, and I shouldn’t be EXPECTING to fit in comfortably yet.
Compared to the first two years, however, I am fitting in better, if not perfectly. I’ll use today’s opening festivities as an illustration. The first year, I went to the Orthodox church for the religious portion of the celebration and felt completely lost. I didn’t understand the sermon, nor why there were so few people there, nor why the ceremony was in the Orthodox church. This year I was able to appreciate the different manner of worship (those who crossed themselves three times and bowed intermittently were no doubt members of the Orthodox Church), the beautiful, unaccompanied choral music alternating with the cantor’s deep bass voice, and even the sermon by Archbishop Leo, who talked about how churches and universities, at their best, have the same goal: to uncover the truth. I also know that many of my colleagues don’t go to the opening ceremonies because a) they don’t feel they have time, b) they don’t find them meaningful, c) they don’t think about going, d) they don’t want to go to a church and/or they think the doctoral procession is elitist.

I also know now that because Finland has two official churches, these two churches share the hosting of the worship service in honor of the opening of the academic year. Last year it was held at the Lutheran church, which is where it will be next year. I anticipate there will be more people crossing themselves once rather than three times and very little bowing.

The first year I participated in the doctoral procession (which precedes the secular part of the opening festivities), I was able to stay pretty much glued to an English-speaking colleague from the time we gathered to form the two lines to march in to the time we had coffee afterwards. He explained everything I needed to know, in English. I understood nothing of the speeches and was critical of the choir’s performance. This year I was on my own and met a new faculty member (although I couldn’t understand the first thing he said to me – in general, it takes a sentence or two to understand a new Finnish speaker). I understood the directions in Finnish and was even able to make a joke. I followed all the speeches – even the very long one by the Minister of Education and Science, Krista Kiuru – and was completely moved by the music. This time, instead of American-inspired show tunes (which made my skin crawl), there was a trio performing my very favorite Mendelssohn piece. The choir sang folk songs, and there were two extra musical numbers to honor our retiring university president, Perttu Vartiainen. He took the floor unexpectedly to hug the choir director and tell the musicians how this was something he would miss, though there were plenty of things he would not. Judging by the woman wiping her eyes next to me, this was a very moving addition to the official program.

After the ceremony (during which, I should add, I also didn’t feel as out of place without a Finnish doctoral hat as I did that first time), I sat with my coffee and feta tart at a table and was joined by three faculty members from another discipline. They were friendly and we had a pleasant and easy conversation. And one of the women, in fact, was also hat-less – her PhD was from Edinburgh.

After I changed into my biking clothes and was preparing to leave my office, a colleague in Russian stopped by to talk about Putin and the situation in Ukraine. I felt honored by how seriously he took a remark I had made, and how defensive he was of me because someone else had not taken it seriously enough. As I strolled out of the building to my bike and saw the happy crowd of new and old students dancing out on the lawn to a song in Spanish being blasted from enormous speakers, I had a warm, almost euphoric feeling – this is my place, now, and these are my folks.

So maybe we’re all out of place, at least some of the time. Maybe just because I’m American doesn’t mean I’m not also a full-fledged member of this community. "Internationalization" (a favorite word in the university administration) can also mean that your community has fluid borders. In fact, we’re all aliens anyway, aren’t we? This morning, serendipitously, I read something by Jessica Benjamin that struck a chord: identity is often claimed, but never achieved. She’s right. Creating your identity is a process, not a goal, and we’re always remaking ourselves and our identities – and there’s nothing like moving to another country to bring that home.


(c) 2014 Kathy Saranpa