A few former students are taking a communication class and asked if they could interview me about my time outside the U.S. I was thinking recently about the whole genre of interviews and what the website The Nervous Breakdown does with their author self-interviews. Thought I’d give one a shot. It is fun to think of those times.
So, have you lived outside of the U.S.?
When I was little, before first grade, I lived in England and Germany. I don’t remember Germany. I remember running around castles in plastic armor when I was in England. Kids made fun of my British accent in first grade in Oregon. As an adult, I lived in Budapest, Hungary for one year. I also lived in Saipan which is in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for two years. I have travelled a little in other countries.
Why did you move overseas?
Both times I moved with my wife because it seemed like a fun adventure, and because we both got jobs teaching in high schools. When we returned from Saipan, we brought home a one year old boy named Nikolaj. We made him on the island.
Made him? Gross.
Is that a question? Come on. What do you want to know?
What do you remember?
Really? Remember? Well, lots of things. I miss wandering around Hungary not understanding the language. Chatter on buses and on trams and in the underground was all white noise. I like not knowing what people are saying, it started to feel calm. Unless they were talking about numbers or vegetables. I learned those pretty well. I miss the museums in Budapest. The history, the tiny coffee shops, bars, and the little stands that sold pastries underground. I used to love getting on a tram or on the subway and then getting off on random stops and trying to find my way home wandering through the city streets. In Hungary, there were a lot of statues of poets. And there were a lot of places to buy coffee.
What about Saipan?
Saipan was hot. That took some getting used to. My students were from many places and had a lot of local traditions and customs that were fun to learn about. I loved snorkeling and wandering around the jungle. I once waited out a rainstorm in a jungle cave where a hornets nest in the corner forced me to another corner of the cave where there was the skull of a Japanese soldier from WWII. A snake was crawling out of his eye socket.
Is that a true story?
No. Almost. I did snorkel and wander around the jungle. I did wait out a rainstorm, and there were hornets. The skull I found somewhere else. It seemed like a good detail to be in the cave. There was no snake, not there anyway. There was a radio jingle about Brown Tree Snakes that I still get stuck in my head. I wrote a short story party based on that to give as a Christmas gift. Read it here: “Jungle Bells”
Do you recommend living outside the U.S.?
Absolutely. I think living somewhere is more valuable than visiting. When we lived in Hungary, we went to the hardware store to buy paint in order to paint our kitchen. Tourists don’t do that. And tourists don’t really make friends or learn which grocery stores have the best deals. I also love that when my wife and I moved (both times) we did it rather open-endedly…we didn’t know how long we’d be there. This changes your outlook. It lets you view the place differently. I like that, and I recommend it.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Absolutely. But because I am quite literally talking to myself right now, I think I am going to go do something else instead. Eat breakfast, for example.
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