NEW YEAR’S PERSPECTIVE – 2017
Since the beginning of this Blog, we have paused after the New Year’s celebrations to reflect on the year just past. Each year as Expatriates has brought new and different experiences. Thinking back on these events seems to help us better understand this stimulating and different life we are now living.
Of course, not all last year’s experiences affected us in positive and reinforcing ways. In reflecting back on 2016, a general refrain we are hearing from others as well is a diminished enthusiasm for some of what the past year brought. The major event in our United States homeland was a presidential election. The overall impression is that process was marked by division, acrimony, and expressions of vitriol largely rooted in fear and exploited anxiety. What might have been hoped for in reasoned explorations of alternative visions to bring about a better tomorrow was largely drowned out in negativity.
The presidential election process projected an overall absence of civilly moderated, reasoned dialog discouraged by the disparaging of ‘political correctness.’ The outcome appears to be we have been forced to confront the reality that just barely beneath the surface of American culture, there lurks coarseness and crude insensitivity.
Apparently, a commitment to maintain a cohesive and inclusive American larger sense of common community has been sacrificed in favor of identity politics. This extremely troubling development is a consequence of fomenting division as a political strategy – a classic ‘divide and conquer’ objective. Demagoguery too easily replaces reasoned, civil debate in a society saturated in the stimulating noise of mass media entertainment. A meaningful vision of ‘a larger, We’ somehow gets lost in the process.
Americans are now confronted by deep divisions within the fabric of the nation. Reflecting on the words of Abraham Lincoln in the dark days leading up to the American Civil War, we need to consider very seriously the question of ‘whether a house divided against itself can stand?’ America is currently appearing too fractured to promote a cohesive, collaborative community committed to a Common Good.
Not all Americans wanted it this way but it seems sufficient numbers of us bought the sound bites probably out of desperation. An opportunity for some corrective redirection might present itself once it becomes apparent what was sold isn’t going to be delivered.
Unfortunately, that element within American society that values diversity, inclusion and wants to promote equal opportunity for the many to become all they can become, ironically tends to be a fractious bunch. Narrowed commitment to concentrations of ‘favorite special causes’ too often fragments political effectiveness by diluting a necessary larger picture solidarity. Hopefully, the result of the recent electoral fray will instill an imperative for more effective collaboration. If that becomes possible, America might yet save itself from itself.
And then there were other experiences that also caused concern. Here in Central Italy, the past year marked the beginning of a protracted period of earth tremors concentrated in a nearby area in the Sibillini Range of the Apennine Mountain chain. The initial major earthquake shocks in August resulted in loss of life for nearly 300, serious injuries to many others and millions of euros in property losses. Prompt and effective action by the Italian civil authorities contained the loss of life to the initial major earthquakes.
Currently, a series of lesser intensity tremors are still occasionally occurring concentrated in an elongated pattern in the mountains more than 40 kilometers from where we live in Ascoli Piceno. The geophysical forces behind these events are generally understood but are insufficiently grasped to accurately predict if there is a probability of a recurrence of more serious seismic events. But precautions have been taken. First response assets have been prepositioned and daily life here is going on.
As we have remarked elsewhere, we find the Italians a very resilient people. Our assessment is their strong sense of family and community connection is what provides an important resiliency resource. Our wish for America going into this new year is to learn to appreciate those same attributes anew as important assets for survival.
On a more positive note, during the summer of 2016, we returned to the U.S. to visit with family and close friends and to finalize our transition in becoming long-term residents in the Republic of Italy. We sorted through household and personal items we had in storage in southern California and selected what was to be shipped to us in Ascoli Piceno. As anticipated, once the cartons started being unpacked in our apartment, this space felt even more like home.
There is something to be said for being stimulated by the new and appealing while also being reinforced by feelings supported by familiar, immediate surroundings. Seeing and touching once again items that have been an important part of our long life together is very comforting. Many of these items had previously belonged to people who have been significant in our lives who have passed on ahead of us. It seems pleasant memories and comfort can be enhanced by the tangible.
Added to the positive depth of our interpersonal experiences here in Italy is the reinforcement we had this year in being together with family and close friends in the United States. Arlene had a very rich experience in returning to the U.S. to participate in a surprise 85th birthday for her mother combined with the 60th birthday celebration for an exceptional step-brother. This family reunion event brought together the blended families of her stepfather and of Arlene’s mother and sister. Some logistical issues kept Larry in Ascoli. But this was an important event for Arlene to reinforce being an Expatriate does not have to mean the loss of connectedness and having bonds of deep affection with those back in the place you came from.
The year of 2016 also reinforced for us the importance of connectivity with others. Over the now three and one half years we have been residents of Ascoli Piceno, our circle of friends has both widened and deepened. We have very strong bonds of affection with many Italian friends. We had originally deliberately decided to not embed ourselves into an English-speaking Expatriate community. After all we came to Italy to experience Italy. And then over recent years, several couples from both the United States and Canada have also settled in Ascoli. We have become very close friends to a point approaching an ‘extended family’ status.
Each of us, in our own ways, is in process of integrating ourselves into Italian life in Ascoli. This group of friends is not a means of avoiding what we came here to experience. Our loosely knit group of Expats is more of a comfortable supplement to our experience. We are all still in process of acquiring competency in the Italian language. But, it is one thing to handle rudimentary tasks in a language you have been struggling with for only three years and quite another to express yourself with any depth in a language you have been speaking since childhood. And then there are the subtleties and nuances encountered in a lifetime spent in North America that are not as easily communicated in a language not your own to people from another culture.
And then our circle of acquaintanceship continues to grow because of this Blog. We continue to enjoy interacting with people we might not have otherwise had a chance to share with in conversation. Several couples have been exchanging Emails with us and a few have visited Ascoli in the process of considering the Expat life.
We firmly believe the complex issues involved in transitioning to becoming Expatriates are very individual ones. By the time any of us reach the stage of life where the Expat option could be considered, we have become unique individuals. For that reason, we make no pretense of having found a ‘cookie-cutter’ formula of how to make the Expat adventure work. A motivation for this Blog is we recall we had wished we had someone on the ground to exchange ideas with as we went through the process of considering becoming Expats.
Which brings me to an observation that has developed in exchanging thoughts with others who are in the process of considering life as an Expatriate. It involves the question of mindset as you attempt to see yourself as future Expats. Many who are considering this lifestyle change have travelled before as tourists. A major attraction to becoming Expats is the ability to facilitate expanding on that experience. And that is all true. But, while you will be able to spend some time travelling and seeing what you want to experience, a great deal more of your time will simply be spent in the process of day-to-day tasks of living. While travelling outside of your homeland is what you may have some experience with, day-to-day living in a foreign place may be something less familiar.
What has emerged in discussion with those considering becoming Expats is the early stages of the planning for some seem to prioritize making more tourist-type travelling efficient. While that is a factor, the harder issue is to address evaluating how you want to live on a day-to-day basis. A quaint mountain village is a picturesque way to spend a holiday. But could you live there every day of the year? Not an easy question to answer but we want to suggest it deserves serious thought.
The start of this Blog post began with a somewhat negative tone. But we also want to reiterate, we continue to be delighted we made this life changing decision to become Expats in Ascoli Piceno, Italy. We can’t imagine spending our days anywhere else. We feel blessed with the expanding international circle of friends we are developing and the stimulating life in Italy we feel privileged to be experiencing.
A VERY PROMISING NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL FROM ASCOLI PICENO
We love your reflective thought provoking comments as always.We have lived away from family for 25 years now but feel as close to those we love as ever before. It is reassuring that you both have that experience and know it to be true.I feel that for an expat to feel integrated, being open to all things strange and new ,embracing the unfamiliar is the best way to immerse oneself in a new country. NO ….nothing will be like it was. Don’t expect it just enjoy the experience. If ever there was a couple who know that its you two. Hope to be with you later in the year. Happy New Year.