As an American living abroad, I often feel I have one foot planted firmly in the United States, one firmly in South Africa. The two places that I call home are so incredibly different, nearly opposites, yet I have fallen in love with them in equal measure. Being an expat in South Africa has its pros and cons; returning to America excites and frustrates me at the same time. I’ve found myself living in a world of contrasts.
If you’ve ever lived abroad for an extended period of time, you’ll be familiar with the types of questions people like to ask when first meeting you. When I return from South Africa and friends or family introduce me to fellow Americans, it’s mostly the same script: “Oh wow, you live in South Africa? I’ve heard it’s beautiful but there’s a lot of violence – is that true? What about politics? Do you feel safe? Do you ride elephants? What’s going on with farm expropriation?”
In South Africa, especially in the last couple of years, the conversation is almost exactly the same. When I meet someone for the first time, I get a lot of the same: “Oh wow, you’re American? I’ve heard it’s great, but there’s a lot of violence – is that true? What about politics? Do you feel safe? Is there anywhere with wildlife? What’s going on with Trump?”
The truth is, I love both my countries, and as an expat, I have a powerful role to play. I get to represent both places abroad and defend their people, their beauty, their various and endless good qualities. But I also have to face the realities that I experience on either side.
My husband and I recently visited New York City for the first time, to attend a friend’s wedding. We flew in directly from Johannesburg and saw news headlines almost immediately. The television flashed between images of shootings, to murder cases, to local violence, to lost children. We watched and waited for the good news to arrive. Sometimes I feel that way when I’m back in the states – that the big network news always has upsetting stories to tell. I long to visit my folks in their small town and read the local paper, which has a front page story about a local girl making a 7-10 split in bowling.
The truth is, there’s violence and danger all over the world. It’s our responsibility to be good citizens and represent our country best we can, no matter where we are. I hope that my efforts to share the beauty of America and South Africa will make a small change in this way. That’s really one of the reasons I set up this blog, so I could share my stories, as I experience the amazing things both countries have to offer!
I have one month left in my three-month visit to the states. I’ve been in Maine since September and in just over a week I’ll fly back to North Carolina. I’ve been quite lucky to spend so much time in one of the country’s most accessible and unique national parks. I look forward to returning to South Africa and sharing stories of my experience!