Remind me, please. Who am I?

Another new experience
Another new experience

I know that it is true that we are many people. Not so much schizophrenic, but simply able to be the chameleon, say, in a new setting, or the life and soul of a party among friends and even the expert when doing our job.

Just as I was definitely a different person in Norway, when I was desperately unhappy, from the one I was in England, back in my home town, when I belonged, I am very different again now, in Malaysia. The trouble is, I’m not quite sure who I am this time. Not yet anyway. Though I expect I shall know in time.

You see, in my street back in The Hague, I was the buurvrouw (neighbour) and considered the people who served me weekly in the fish shop, veg shop, healthfood shop, butcher, stationer, bar and pharmacy to be friends. I belonged. It was familiar. I was familiar.

Before Christmas, during our first three months here I was the Newbie, caught in the jaws of culture shock – scared, pathetic, ignorant, isolated, lonely.

Now I’m back and I’ve been the Apparently Confident tour guide for four of the six weeks I’ve been here. This time I know the way, dare to hail a cab and have a favourite flower seller and fish man in the outdoor market.

But now, my visitors have gone and I’m left not quite sure who I am again.

I’m not scared any more. And now I’m not the hostess either. Now this is Real Life. But who am I going to be now?

Scared Jo did not go out much nor make many friends outside our condo and company spouse coffee mornings. Happier Jo has been exploring with her houseguests and become a more confident driver and finder of places and things to do. I’ve certainly found plenty of things to love about KL and Malaysia. But neither of these persona are the Old Jo. The one who did her boodschappen (shopping) in the street outside her front door and was an active member of several networks. The one who won the Women’s Business Initiative’s Networker of the Year trophy and the Families in Global Transition’s Trailblazer award.

Now, I go to yoga and aquarobics, walk in the botanical gardens with new friends, do all my shopping by car and am considering Bahasa Malay classes. I’ve also been to quite a lot of coffee mornings. The New Jo has dropped a few pounds and gets her toenails painted.

Many elements of my life remain constant, though. Sure, I still run Summertime Publishing and setting up a writers’ circle was my number one priority. I even have my first writing workshop to run next week and not only write poems for fun but this blog too, and love it.  But, for some reason, this still does not feel like me.

This is not a sob story – I’m just curious

I’m not writing this because I feel sorry for myself – far from it – but because, since my parents left I have had the constant niggling feeling that I need to do something ‘more normal’ in order to feel properly fulfilled. Only, my ‘new normal’ and my ‘old normal’ are so very different that I really haven’t a clue what I want or need.

I am searching for an identity, knowing it can’t possibly be similar to what has gone before, nor do I necessarily want it to. I used to think this phase of a new posting was all about reinvention, but it doesn’t feel like that now it’s happening. Maybe it’s age, but it feels more like redefinition.

But last night I went to my first book club in a decade and really enjoyed it. Next week I’m going back to batik painting.

Do you think this might be it? Or am I clutching at straws?

If you think you have any ideas – then answers on a postcard please…




5 thoughts on “Remind me, please. Who am I?

  1. Expatriations are like pregnancies, no two are the same. Your choice of words – from reinvention to redefinition – suggests a refining of the transition process. You’ve become more practiced, more self-aware. But the niggling doubt over who you are here/how you fit suggests you haven’t yet achieved identity congruence and that’s no surprise considering the growth and change of the past months. Be patient and trust in your abilities – you may be staying in one place physically, but emotionally you’re still journeying. You’ll catch up to yourself soon.


  2. I am stunned by the response to this post. I had several private emails, more than 10 comments on Facebook and here too. Everyone has sound advice and I know this is ‘just a phrase’ as my mother says, but nevertheless I find it fascinating and am curious about my next metamorphosis. Aisha is right, I think, that emotionally I am still journeying. I like that.


  3. Dear Jo, Apa kabar? You’re adding another petal to the bloom that is you. I find a good way to start absorbing new surroundings is to learn the local politics, best source taxi drivers and markets, which then helps one understand local customs. X


  4. Yes, something is changing but you’re going to have to wait and see rather than finding out before the identity (for want of a better word) is ready to be revealed. If you try to decide who you are before it becomes obvious to you, then it’s not really who you are….
    If you see what I mean.


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