Expatriate Returns: My First Christmas Party in America!

This blog post is athank you to my new colleagues at Benetech who have welcomed me home after more than three decades of living abroad.

As an aidworker and social ‘intrapreneur,’ my life in far-flung locations has required me to be in countries with a variety of legal, social, economic, cultural, and religiousideologies and customs that vary from place to place. On many occasions, Christmas was not celebrated where I worked and lived. Normally, by the time I returned to my Catholic family in America during my leave, the Christmas parties had passed. I can’t remember if I have ever gone to a typicalAmerican-style party with Christmas music, Christmas karaoke, Christmas cookies, yummy food, families dressed festively, and children running and playing. It’s been that long ago!

Having only recently joined Benetech as the International Program Manager responsible for expanding Bookshare – the world’s largest digital library for people with print disabilities–I am adjusting to another new environment: my childhood home, America. To me it’s a foreign environment. Nothing is expected to be as I remember. Everything is a new experience. Working with Americans is different (SMILE — everyone speaks perfect English!) and most people have a similar skill level which is a refreshing change (as an expat I usually was the expert building the capacity of others). Today, I am on my own learning curve. I am faced with unfamiliar technology, but fortunately I have colleagues who are able and willing to help me.

Joining our Christmas party to celebrate life and enter the holidays together with my team members was a new experience. At the party I was asked by a colleague’s wife what I was enjoying in America. I told her that I found this question hard to answer. I hesitated because I am still trying to process and adjust to life in America. I am not sure yet that I am home. Yes, I am living in my childhood home environment, but the loss of my expatriate life in my field dungarees represents a missing part of the me I have been for so many years. The commuter, the office worker, the American woman with an American voice are all things I have yet not completely absorbed–not because deep down I don’t want to … just because. Just because it takes time. And, that might be something most people here at home don’t understand. I am a woman with an American exterior and a foreign core. Enjoying America and having goods and services available to me is so very new. There is so much that is plentiful in our countryand having it all so easily is overwhelming.

Yet, in contemplation this morning as I write, I want my colleagues at Benetech to know this: I enjoyed last night’s first Christmas office experience with a depth of pleasure that is difficult to express in words. I felt tears in my eyes. I felt a tug at my heart when I saw the happiness on your faces, heard the joy in your children’s voices, and understood by observing your behavior that you are congenial people seemingly happy to be working and celebrating with each other.

We are a wealthy nation in spirit. We are blessed to have good jobs with Benetechin a great company. Thus, to answer my colleague’s wife’s question–I do know something–I am so very happy to be a part of this Benetech family. That is what I know as I transition back into life in the States.

To my colleagues, I wishyou my very best for showing me the way home. May each and everyone of you be content in life, love, and work. May the future be everything you desire it to be. May you and your family be healthy and well.

I raise my glass to you all…. Cheers!


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