March 16, 2010

Not related to coffee, but just pretentious enough for me

Such is the life abroad that we become caricatures of ourselves. My caricature is the Nordic princess, the Valkyrie, the impossibly tall woman in a land of smaller people. My outer appearance gives me away as a foreigner, as a greenhorn, but also as a very revered speaker of the coveted English language. I've never been so aware of my physical appearance, and yet, I've never done so little to prepare myself for facing the world. The asymmetries of my face that I do my best to conceal at home are in full view here. Stripped of my security make-up, hair and adornments. I am in the raw, and I think it works for me.

When our routines are stuck half-way around the world, our daily habits are also exaggerated. Though I'm only modestly sporty at home, here in Phnom Penh, I might as well be training for the Olympics. My KFC-tanned legs are a testament to the hours I put in at the pool. Having been a competitive swimmer for 10 years, I take for granted my abilities to move my body up and down the lane without stopping. Surprisingly, this skill has been one of my most prized possessions in the past two months. Swimming is a refuge for me, a time I can be alone. It is also a conversation piece, however, that I use to my advantage.

Besides having an eye-catching ability in the pool and retaining my need for punctuality, I have discovered skills I didn't know I had. My animation in front of the classroom still surprises me. I'm not really a shy person, but I usually prefer to error on the side of reserved. Interacting with non-native speakers in a classroom setting has changed my communication. I suppose it was a (excuse the pun) sink or swim alteration, but I now communicate with simpler sentences, removing all superfluities, and instead I use my body, face to express difficult concepts and words.

During the life abroad, we see ourselves in a new context. I'm surprised at the things that dropped away unnoticed (heaps of chocolate, driving my car, watching TV). The parts of my caricature that remain dominant are the parts I truly value, but most interesting to me are the things that are surfacing as weeks pass—new talents, things I miss about home, and my identity outside of Nebraska.