By Allie Ryan
“ An individual constitutes and invents themselves through the constant editing and re-editing of memory.”
When you choose to live abroad, leaving your friends and family at home, you begin to write a story for those not with you. Using social media tools, such as Facebook, Instagram, tumblr and blogs, you assume authorship over the life that you deliver to your loved ones across the sea.
And I believe it’s inevitable that the story that is delivered, isn’t always accurately received, nor does it necessarily portray an accurate representation of the setting, object, or event. Instagram is the easiest example to use, because we’re all familiar with the application, and how appealing it makes even the most basic subjects. With a bit of editing, a photo is instantly enhanced with vibrant colors, glowing backgrounds, and there is an undeniable nostalgic aura to the finished product. The subject in the photo didn’t necessarily change, but what is posted on the Internet isn’t the same copy as what the eye originally saw.
That’s the point I’m trying to make about authorship abroad. Friends scroll through my Facebook photo albums and read my latest articles on the various blogs I write for, but even these, combined with frequent Skype sessions, doesn’t even begin to depict what my life is truly like abroad.
Let me explain.
The photos that make it to the Internet are only a small selection of all those that have been taken. Many of them have been cropped and edited, and they are the few that captured the most magical and charming things that I have witnessed during my travels. They are the photos that capture the moment you leap off a waterfall, the oldest castle in the country, which happens to be down the street from me, or a night in Bangkok I’ll never forget. Although I’m not a fan of food photos, there are the occasional times that I can’t resist capturing on film the rare, bizarre, and delicious meals I am trying for the first time. In addition to the beautiful things I have been privileged to experience, I equally have seen as much poverty, destruction and despair, and I try to capture this side of life without being insensitive. Traveling is as much as it is about leisure and enjoyment, as it is social responsibility and exposing yourself to the inequalities that exist among and within cultures.
These photos, published alongside blog entries of moments I want remembered forever, paint a picture of my life as one that is filled with one adventure after the next; A life of pleasure, play and excitement.
Which it is. And isn’t.
It’s not that when I blog I’m telling a lie, but it’s also not as if I blog about the boredom I experience, or the frustration I’m feeling after failing to complete what should be a simple errand. I never blog or tell my friends at home about all the small complications that come from living in a country where most people don’t speak your native language. The list of complaints I have is too long to even begin with, so I rarely mention it. I don’t ever post pictures of all the peanut butter sandwiches or bowls of white rice I eat, nor do I take pictures of my walk to work in the morning, which for the most part is through neighborhoods with buildings pressed side by side, with no real difference in one from the next, down single-lane streets clogged with traffic.
Living abroad gives you a certain amount of power as the author over the life you deliver to those at home. You never want them to worry or know when you’re home sick, so you write a comforting chapter for them to read; One that focuses on the exciting new experiences in your life.
In a way, this is incredibly empowering, because you are able to craft a story however you would like, but as the author, you know how much truth and falsity it may contain. The weirdest part about being this type of author is that in a small way, you have the power to erase certain parts of your life from your own personal history. While you can’t actually undo what’s occurred, you don’t have to share it with those back home, and so the collective memory of the events in your life, is limited to what you want known. You decide what story line develops throughout each chapter, and what characters are involved and how familiar your readers are with them.
Social media becomes a means of expression, confession, truth, lies and most of all, exposure. But the exposure is often unreliable, because what is crafted to be seen, known, and remembered, is different than that which actually occurs. In a way, living abroad gives you a censorship over your life, in regard to those back home.
In this way, using tools of social media, the traveler or expatriate is able to reconstruct reality, as they would like it remembered.
As representatives to our home countries of what life is like abroad, we are held to a certain level of responsibility to record life as it is, fairly and accurately, but I find that is nearly impossible. The things I see that provoke me to capture them on film, the adventures I choose to write about, they will always be the moments that stand the strongest in my memory. In this way, what I share with those back home only represents a small segment of the life I am living.
As an author, I am worried that my story is as honest as it is unreliable.
Allie combined her love of foreign cultures, spontaneous adventures, working with children and art, and let it carry her to Thailand, where she worked as a kindergarden teacher. After finishing the year in Thailand, she moved to Japan, and currently works at an international preschool, where she started the school’s first blog. Her blog, Blue Eyed Sensei, documents a foreigner’s experience in a Japanese school. She documents her other adventures at Taking Up Your Precious Time.