I'm one of the club

Way back when, during the period in my life when I proudly wore clogs, thought The Knack were the next Beetles, and engrossed myself in the study of Valley girl speak, my academic self suffered for the sake of my social life.

Even though I carried a B-minus average and landed only in the top 25 percent of my class--well below many of my friends--there was one area in which I excelled: senior stats. This was the cumulative record of one's participation in groups, clubs, and teams, as well as honors racked up during four years of high school. Each senior’s record would be documented for all of perpetuity in the yearbook, compared and counted by the number of lines it took to complete. My senior stats--a whopping 13 lines-- earned notoriety for being longer than any of my 365 classmates.

Math club ('83), Latin club ('83-85), Students Against Drunk Drivers ('86), Drama club ('83-85, president 86), Student Council, The Eagle ('83-84), Yearbook staff ('83-85, editor-in-chief '86)….

The sheer number of clubs and organizations that I joined was staggering. Hardly a day passed when I didn’t have to ride activity bus home from school because an after-hours engagement kept me late. The most social of social butterflies, I enjoyed being part of a group and drew comfort in the structure it provided.

But once school ended and I got on with the business of life, my interest in clubs diminished. Joining the gym and signing up for a dance class was the closest I came to being in a formal group. When Max and I moved to Germany and became aware of an English-speaking club hosted by the company, we both sort of scoffed. We hadn’t come to a different country to socialize with other Americans, we haughtily thought. We came to live among the natives.

So it came as a bit of a shock when Max called me yesterday with a request. He wanted me to go to the meeting of English-speaking expats that very evening at 7:30p sharp.

“Call Brian’s wife for all the details. Here’s her number,” Max ordered.

“But why? I don’t want to go to a meeting,” I replied.

“Diane, you’ve become a bit of a hermit since we’ve moved,” he said. “I want you to get out and socialize more. You need this. Won’t you do this for me?”

I hemmed and hawed most of the day, but finally decided to give Max what he wanted. I attended my first meeting of expat spouses.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. The gathering consisted mostly of Brits and Americans, but also women from all over the world. Most were older, some were younger—but all shared the common experience of life as an expat spouse, whether this had been for 4 months or 14 years.

The meeting was well attended. Tanya, the club’s president, had announced this would be her last with the group. Her husband accepted a transfer, yet again, this time to Australia, and members had come out of the woodwork to wish her a bon voyage. As it turns out, this was also Joan’s last meeting.

“So much for that four-year contract,” she said as everyone else laughed knowingly.

Her husband was taking an assignment in Shanghai even though they’d just bought a house and had only been in Germany one year. Joan passed out fliers of her home in case any of us knew of another family being transferred in to the area that might be interested in renting.

I was beginning to wonder if, by becoming expatriates, Max and I hadn’t inadvertently jumped on one seemingly endless train with many stops. Most of the woman in the group had already lived in more than one country and were biding their time, waiting to hear where the next stop would take them. The transient nature and resulting dynamic of this club was all apparent. No one expected to put down any lasting roots in Germany. Saying hello to new faces and goodbye to old ones had become commonplace. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I found the group friendly, open, eager, and willing to engage a newcomer.

It turns out Max was right. I did need this—a night, albeit contrived, out with the girls, the opportunity to commiserate with a structured group of people, who share a common bond and purpose. Even before formally joining, I was already part of this club. I just didn’t know it. Let’s just hopes my stats--as defined by the numbers our countries I will take up residence in—doesn’t equal that of my old senior stats.


bleeding espresso said...

I love this post and can identify with everything up until the meeting--we don't have enough expats around here to really make a habit out of it, but we *do* try to get together. Great reminder to try harder ;)

G in Berlin said...

I totally understand and have just started becoming part of the expat group. especially in Germany, where people seldom move, I find that expats are open and welcoming within the timeframe that I will be here (that is, less than forever). I could have found that feeling of community with the American schools in the area, but I wanted the girls to actuallylearn German, so I didn't get that connection until I went out and found it. I'm glad yours is right there and full of folks that are your community.

Jean Ann said...

Wow, I can't even imagine what this would be like. When we moved to Oregon from Oklahoma (which felt like a move to another country) we went through culture shock, disorientation, loss...but also excitement, empowerment, awe... I am sure you get used to that sort of thing if you do it enough, but wow...You are very brave.

Andrea said...

It does seem hokey to join a club...but I have to say the first years here, joing the AWCC (American Women's Club of Cologne) saved my life. Finally someone else who understood things like the need for brown sugar and understanding what cups translates to in metric. It's women from all over the world, not just Americans, so it's nice way to meet others in the same spot you are in - the eternal expat!

kenju said...

I think it is a good thing to meet with people in the same boat, so to speak. You can help each other learn what you need to know. AND, it doesn't hurt to have girlfriends wherever you are.

Dan-E said...

"...thought The Knack were the next Beetles..."

gawd, that sentence just killed me. not just because it dated me but i thought i was the only one. thank gawd my tastes have matured since (though i haven't as much).

karey m. said...

i love the transient nature of the expat groups...i always think that we can hang with anyone ANYONE when we know there's a definite end-date, you know? plus, shared experiences are comforting.

i'm glad you went. i'm anti-club. but pro-friends.

Cheryl said...

we forget how much we need these things until we do them...i'm glad you enjoyed it.

Jennifer said...

Kinda ties in with your post abot Max's need to "network, network, network". It's as true of life as it is of work. Good for you. I hope you find a few good friends as a result of going!

ms chica said...

I read this with much interest with the big move happening in five days. I scoffed at the concept of a newcomers club in our new community, but I might need to rethink it once the boxes are put away and the rooms are painted.