Finding New Life Currencies

It’s been almost a year and a half since I started this blog, and things have changed quite a lot.  

Since moving to Amsterdam, I’ve seen over 30 places across 14 countries, some multiple times.  95% of these places I’ve visited have been first time visits to new countries or new cities for me.

What happens when you go from seeing 1-2 new places a year to 30+?  You get used to it.  Just like a fish that grows bigger in a bigger fish bowl that it is given, or people whose “needs” become inflated when their income rises, everything in life normalizes around your new level.  I find myself having to watch for how I present travels to my friends and family at home. I have to remember what it was like before I moved here, to hear what people that had these opportunities or this access sounded like to that version of me.  I have to put myself back in my old shoes.

You learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, because it is your new normal.   I bounce greetings and thanks across different languages without being ashamed at my poor accent. I meet new people from countries around the world regularly, and I learn new cultural nuances, witty phrases, political stances, and social sensitivities. On a more practical level, I don’t think twice that I will not understand emergency announcements or delayed train explanations on a platform. I am comfortable that my iPhone may very well not work, and that I’ll need to find my way without the blue dot of Google Maps.

This concept of normalizing to new levels, spun negatively, feels like you are never satisfied.  Spun positively, you can always handle what you are given.  Other things that happened this year that are pretty major: I got engaged, I’m planning two weddings (thanks to my marriage to an Australian, I get a legal we-need-to-apply-for-a- green-card-stat ceremony with family, as well as our dream wedding in France), my father died unexpectedly when I lived across the world away from family and friends, and as a result of the overwhelmedness, lack of motivation, and severe lack of focus, I’ve decided to reevaluate the career I’ve been had for the last 10 years.  

So I’m in a place I never saw myself in even 3 years ago:  in a loving and committed lifelong relationship, fatherless, and questioning my career.  Re-defining who I am now is quite a feat; I call it, “finding my new life currency”. What is that thing that now defines my value?  I thought that once I “made it” in my New York career, that I had everything figured out.  I figured out how to define my value in life, and anyone doing it differently was not as smart, not as motivated, not as strong-willed.  Having my job and excelling in my career defined me. Working hard and late, having many projects running at the same time, spending my hard earned money on rent, eating out, and drinking defined me. Being a New Yorker defined me.  

I wasn’t unhappy, but there was a time limit to this way of living for me.  Once I hit a certain age or time of my life, I suddenly realized that I didn’t actually care about the job I was doing; I was just really motivated that I was really good at doing it.  I realized that this was not enough for me – being really good at something I really didn’t care about.  It was time to move to a different place and change my perspective.  

Throughout this process I am finding a way to learn and believe that parallel or sideways growth is just as much a movement upward as moving upward in your job or your income level. My first mentor once told me that a great and fulfilled life does not look like a ladder that only climbed up in the end, but instead is a mosaic of different points, skills, jobs, and experiences.  And when you stand back to look, it has actually resulted in a beautiful piece of art.

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Israel for a Beginner, or Trip to the Holy (Crap this is Amazing) Land – PART 1

Uri was invited to a wedding in Caesarea, Israel, in June. When I first learned about the opportunity to go on a trip to Israel, I was pretty hesitant. I didn’t know much about Israel, except that it was filed away in my head in “places frequently on the news for reasons to do with war or infighting, or airstrikes, or whatever… I would never have a reason to go anyway.” I didn’t understand the difference between an Israeli and a Palestinian, and I honestly didn’t know what side America even supported.

I was raised Catholic, but more influentially, was just raised in a place where I just didn’t have the motivation to learn much about things outside of my little world (see my previous entry). I also wouldn’t describe myself as an adventure traveler, keen to tick off the most risky places in the world. I am more of an experience-traveler. With every place I visit, I learn more about the world, the people in it, and how I fit. But ever since my extraordinarily well-traveled and adventurous great friend, Erik, made a video for Discovery Channel Travel, my mind had changed and I very much wanted to see this place for myself. Plus, I was dating a Jewish guy who answered my questions patiently and allowed me to grill him on risk aversion and current states of affairs, and his own opinions and experiences.

With all of this, I was very nervous to talk to my parents about making my decision to go. My mom’s reaction was as expected–she didn’t know much about the place, but she heard on the news that there was fighting and it could be dangerous. She didn’t want me to go, but trusted my decision. My dad’s reaction was less predictable. A history buff and a bit of a war alarmist-I was very afraid he would have a lot to say about going to a country where bombs have exploded on public city buses twice in the last few years, and where the U.S. Department of State travel site warns against visiting. His reaction was that this was a place as much for Christians as it is for Jews, or even for us agnostics who want to experience the historic significance. He wished it was something he could experience, and encouraged me to “go find out where I came from.” And with that, I was off to Israel.

Middle Eastern Arrival

My first touchpoint with the Middle East wasn’t even the Middle East, it was Turkey, and it wasn’t even reality, it was the #7 best airport lounge in the world (#1 to me!), the Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul airport. As a layover to our overnight flight, I wished the 2 hours was longer… we arrived at around 4am waiting for the stalls to open. It was 3000 sq. meters (32,000 sq. feet!) of endless space, cold food stations, stations with 15 different types of nuts (10 of which I’ve never seen), stations overflowing with fruit and a fresh honeycomb, fresh omelet stations, a bakers corner where fresh sesame seed bagels were being twisted and dipped, coming out of the oven served with Turkish country butter, and best of all, the gozleme station, which I waited (im)patiently to open. I watched a Turkish lady prepping what became my layover breakfast: spinach, cheese, or potatoes, grilled inside paper thin, crispy sheets of dough (like phyllo), and basted with fresh garlicky butter. Delicious!!! The whole experience can only be described as opulent as was the experience of the ladies of Sex and the City 2 when arriving in Abu Dhabi. Hah!

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After two hours of bliss and a reminder from Uri of, “This is not what our trip will be like…,” we were off to Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv

After arriving at the airport, we took the train to Tel Aviv and hailed a cab from the station. That’s a lie. We didn’t hail a cab–we were accosted by snarly, screaming Israeli men, who yelled at us as if we were doing something wrong requesting a cab in the cab line. Apparently that is how it goes there. We watched as a cabbie tried to coerce a solo female traveler to travel with us in our cab without a discount on price or a proper explanation. We all refused and we were all again shouted at by the impatient cabbie. Once in the cab, we fought about price throughout the ride as he continued to give us the run around, until I finally snapped with “50 shekels – no more discussion!!!”

My first impression of Tel Aviv was, “Soon we will drive out of this dirty, rundown area, and into the city, yes?” But then we pulled up to our hotel, right in the middle of said area. I can only describe the area as something of a bombed out desert town with dilapidated buildings, stray cats everywhere, crumbling sidewalks, and trash strewn in all the streets. Then, someone decided they wanted to build Miami over it. They didn’t bother to fix the building facades, or to clean the streets. They just gutted the insides of the buildings, and opened up a bunch of restaurants a la the trendiest styles of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and beach clothing shops.

The good news is, my impression of Tel Aviv only gets better from here. Yes, it is run down city that needs a lot of love and care, but we eventually found the strips of streets and neighborhoods that give it its charm. Would I feel comfortable walking these streets at night alone? Probably not. But as with any other place, you become desensitized to certain things that initially stand out (throngs of tourists in Midtown NYC on your way to work, or smelling pot on the tourist streets in Amsterdam). If I spent more time there and explored more neighborhoods, I would probably grow to feel even more comfortable with the difference in what was “normal”.

Tel Aviv is also a city to eat amazing food. Coming from New York City and moving to Amsterdam, I have been coping with the adjustment to the suburbanized lifestyle (in comparison), and struggling with the dearth of decent food options. Tel Aviv, like New York City, is a city to eat delicious food. I had many memorable meals: kebabs, hummus, pita, tapas, pork chops (yes, pork chops), shaksouka, sweet potato and yogurt chive dip, and on and on. My favorite restaurants were Orna and Ella, Vicky Christina, and Gedera 26. I cannot say enough about how amazing the food was!

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Tel Aviv is also the city of contrasts. A beach next to a previously hollowed out desert town (at least by appearances), Old Jaffa next to the new ports, hedonistic tendencies in a place where the entire city shuts down for Shabbat*… And then the Israeli women. They are pretty looking and pretty tough. I’d go so far to say they were some of the bitchiest women I ever met as a combined group, as far as the shop keeps, waitresses, and observances of vacationers and city dwellers we crossed paths with goes. The locals explained to me that this is how Israeli women are built to deal with Israeli men. If the men are anything like the cabbies, then I understand 😉 Over and over again I was astounded by how stick skinny and gorgeous (not related) they all were as well. It must be something in the hummus???

*Don’t let anyone tell you Tel Aviv doesn’t shut down on Shabbat! Sure, it wasn’t dead quiet like Jerusalem would be, but every restaurant we wanted to try was closed and every store was as well. We eventually parked ourselves on the beach for hours, and found a few open restaurants to eat, but our options that day were definitely more than limited. Not to mention that there is no public transportation running. And remember those snarly cab drivers? They know your lack of options and will gut you accordingly for those extra shekels.

Next up: Jerusalem, the Dead Sea & Masada, and a Jewish wedding…

The Do’s and Don’ts of Expat Meetups

Having moved to Amsterdam in February, we’ve decided to use the Meetup group as a forum to meet other expats or people interested in befriending internationals.

We’ve had two successful nights out (if the score is kept by number of quality people you end up meeting), and we’ve learned a few things along the way:

Do:  Take special care in who you approach.

On our first night, Uri (my boyfriend, or as they call here in the Netherlands, my “partner”) and I showed up right on time for the Meetup event (we’ve heard time and time again that the Dutch are always on time), to be reminded that this event is all internationals that like to show up late.

We sat at the bar for a bit and eventually saw two small groups form.  One was a couple sitting to the right, and the other was two couples chatting to the left.  We nervously plotted our plan (it was our first time, and we were apprehensive, feeling a bit like we were speed dating for friends). We approached couple #1, and as we pulled out our chairs to sit, we asked them if we could join them.  They seemed very uncomfortable and by the looks on their faces it seemed right to ask, “Wait.. are you here for the expat Meetup?” (“No.”)

So basically we invited ourselves to sit in on this couple’s date, appearing briefly to be swingers or something.  This story has apparently circulated, and when we went to the Meetup again, several people mentioned hearing about the time some expats sat in on a date asking to join in! Oops!

Do:  Be outgoing and ask questions.

Both times we’ve attended these events, I’ve been lucky to get friend-digits and meet some really great people.  By the end of both nights we stayed out later than expected, had a few extra drinks than planned, and felt really comfortable with the people we met.  We were often in the largest or seemingly most fun/ laughter-filled circle.

What I’ve found that works is to ask people questions; we all love to talk about ourselves, and it’s a much nicer way to get to know someone than to just prattle away with your own story.  The effect is cumulative; once you are in a group of chatty people, others will join.

Listening… what a novel idea!

Don’t:  Give out your phone number to the opposite sex without clear intention.

At our second Meetup event, we started off strong again, creating an energetic circle of laughing people.  We chatted at length with one guy, who eventually got a phone call needing to leave.  He said he was coming back and asked me for my phone number, which I thought was a bit strange. But as I was in the center of the newly formed group, I assumed he was using me as the doorway back to the crowd.  I turned and asked Uri if it was okay that I gave this strange man my number (he said yes, assuming it could only be for the same reason).  Then the guy says, “Wait, this is your boyfriend??”  With his phone still in my hand, I deleted my number and returned with, “Wait, are you hitting on me?” (I had been holding hands or standing close with Uri the entire time, and I’m pretty sure we introduced ourselves together.)  Everyone got a really big laugh out of that one.  Well, except for the guy, who seemed to bolt out of there pretty fast.  And he didn’t come back.  Oops again.

Don’t: Take yourself too seriously.

In both bumbling situations, the mishaps we had at the events ended up being great icebreakers.  It’s humanizing to remember that all of these expats are just like you: many are far from home (many for the first time), and everyone there really wants to make friends to better call this new place home.  Our little social “blunders” cut through the formalities pretty quickly and I really believe helped us to make quick connections with great people.

… as did my numerous glasses of cava, of course.

So basically, the expat Meetup is a great way to meet like minded people that are in a similar situation to you. I was pleasantly surprised that the age did not skew super young. There were plenty of young-minded 25-30-something professionals looking to meet new people.  Just make sure to remain attentive to the intentions of those around you 😉

Hello, world.

How many blogs start this way? My guess is 45-50%.

Is this thing on? It’s my first time.

Well, I’m Amanda and I’m abroad.  … Get it? It’s my attempt at being pun-ny.

Anyway, I hope to have some posts here that entertain my family and friends, and maybe some strangers, too.  I’m writing this blog mostly for myself, so i can take time and reflect on remember what I’ve done out here.  My friend Megan can confirm I have a horrible memory and I often overlook my accomplishments forget that I have met people.  I’d like to get better at that.

I’m a girl who “never thought she could do something like move abroad” and I am sure there are many, many people out there writing things just like this.

The difference is, this is mine. So there.

I don’t think I am particularly funny, intuitive, or adventurous.  I’m also not particular self-deprecating either (well, sometimes, but I’m not going to write a bumbling/charming-girl-in-Europe-and-her-mishaps blog).  I’m just a regular girl from a place where people don’t move out.  But I did. And ever since the dawn of email-chains-to-your-friends-trading-hilarious-ongoings, I’ve been told “You need to start a blog!”

So, we’ll see where this takes me.

A