We have been living for just 11 months in an affluent small town in New Jersey too far from New York City to be international. If I want to go to the City it takes me a good 90 minutes by train one way, so I don’t go often there, although I loved living in NYC back in 2001.
Here we can see farms with cows, many deer and all sort of animals including bears. At first I really enjoyed the place. Imagine “Wisteria Lane” transposed in New Jersey and you have an idea why I enjoyed it : big house, kids playing in the street, except that no desperate housewives were there to welcome us with cookies or just “hello”
For the first time I was in a place with no expat around, my son going to a local public school in 4th grade. Families in my neighborhoods have been living there for more than 10 years and most kids have been going to the same school since they were 5 years old. The first day at school was not fun, my son came back crying that the teacher did not introduce him to the class as he was the only new comer and French in his class. What a trauma for him as he was used to have 20 students from almost 20 different nationalities in the class and plenty of new comers. For me it was hard too, nothing was organized for new parents and I was very disappointed when the parents were invited just to get a lecture from the teacher about the program and everybody was back home without having the opportunity to chat.
However at that time, from September to February, I saw only the positive aspects of my new life such as having the school bus just in front of my house, the YMCA at walking distance to enjoy Zumba classes and other sports like hiking where I met other people but never found somebody to call a friend. Nevertheless I had enough work from clients I coached via Skype to have a balanced life and feel happy.
Then March arrived and my husband had an offer to relocate to a totally new country, for a very interesting position, while here in New Jersey, many big companies were keeping laying-off people massively. We had two choices: staying in the US where we are considered as local foreigners without the benefits of having an international community or jumping into a totally new adventure in a developing country. We took choice #2 and then my perception of my situation went from pink to grey.
I don’t know if many expatriates experiment this but it was like I was trying to justify the pain of leaving after less than one year by trying to focus on all the negatives. It is really true, you are what you think. Then I engaged in many interactions via social networks and phone calls to get information about the new country I felt understood by expats that kindly gave me great tips and share their stories.
So time to go back to the title of this post: Today my son was finishing grade 4 and having a graduation ceremony celebrating the end of the primary school to go in 5th grade in middle-school.
I felt lonely when I arrived in the auditorium with parents and family of the 150 4th graders. I recognized barely three families there. I felt like a total stranger when everybody sang the American anthem and made the pledge to the American flag. Yes, it is a shame, but actually I did not have the opportunity in my daily activities to learn those things. I am wondering how many Americans who live in France know “La Marseillaise ” ? Even me I don’t know all the words of the French anthem. We don’t have to do the pledge to the French flag every morning or any flag for kids in international schools like they do in America. ,
The 150 kids had their name called, marched on the podium to receive the diploma and a concert of applause followed each kid except my son. My heart really hurt and I felt so sad, I never felt more stranger than today in 20 years of expatriation.