The Art of Being an Expat
By Anna Covell
On the stunning Greek island of Hydra, there is a house that once belonged to legendary songwriter Leonard Cohen. Canadian-born Cohen bought this house in 1960, and spent many years not only living the expat dream, but also writing some of his most beautiful music there.
Audrey Hepburn left Brussels, Belgium, and moved to London at the age of 19 to study ballet. The Terminator himself Arnold Schwarzenegger moved from a small Austrian town called Thal to LA to enhance his career prospects, ultimately becoming the 38th Governor of California in 2003. There are countless examples of influential expat artists, who moved, as our members do, to start a new life abroad.
The unique experience of being an expat is the perfect starting point for giving in to your creative impulses. A new city means a new culture, built out of new museums, galleries, people, and stories. You will bring your passions and interests with you from home, but also find that you have space for different ones. In other words, if you’ve always wanted to pick up a pencil or paintbrush, for instance, and see what happens, this is the perfect time to do so.
Beyond personal satisfaction, however, a desire to create can even make the process of settling in easier. Checking out the art scene while traveling from Roppongi (home to the National Art Center and the Mori Art Museum) to Taito (where they could visit SCAI The Bathhouse) could help an expat who has just arrived in Tokyo, for example, to learn a lot about the geography of their destination. Perhaps most importantly of all, this expat would also be able to begin to build a personal relationship with the city’s culture and history.
First Things First
First arriving in a new place can be a scary feeling. No matter how excited you were before boarding your flight, setting down your bags in a new, empty apartment in an area you may never have visited is a big moment. One question will probably keep popping up in your mind: Where do I start?
Planning a trip to a gallery is a great place to begin. It will bring practical advantages, such as the opportunity to begin figuring out the public transport system, or your way around your own area if you plan to walk. Once you’re there, it is the perfect way to start coming to terms with the culture of your destination of choice.
Just one trip to a gallery can take you on a journey through centuries of local history. You can see for yourself how artistic styles have changed in the city over time, perhaps comparing them to the way that they were back home. If you are looking to brush up on your local language skills, you can grab an audio guide and select this language for your tour. Every piece of art is there for a reason –– it has been carefully selected to be displayed in your new city.
Newly inspired by your gallery visit, this is the perfect time for you to begin working on your own skills. Whether you’re a well-seasoned painter, or a complete beginner, recognizing and drawing upon your own creativity is a great way to begin feeling at home somewhere new.
A quick look at the InterNations events calendar will give you an insight into the kinds of groups that exist within your new community. From discussion groups to life drawing classes, there are many ways to start out on your creative journey. The best thing about such events? They are proof that you are not on your own.
Whether you want to learn to write poetry, sketch your favorite parts of town, or you simply want to do something fun with your partner and friends, there are other people in your new area looking to do exactly the same. Bonds formed over mutual hobbies and interests can grow into strong relationships. Before you know it, you’ll have someone by your side, accompanying you to the best galleries in town.
The combined effect of having something to focus your attentions on and new, like-minded people in your life is a great way to begin your expat journey on the right foot. As your interest grows into a much-loved hobby, the progress that you make in it will become a kind of documentation of your journey. You will not just have a sketchbook, but also a log of the emotions, influences, inspiration, and memories that you experienced.
No Mistakes, Just Happy Little Accidents
The biggest obstacle to anyone truly learning to love their creative outlet of choice is a lack of confidence. Giving up, especially in the early stages, can feel appealing. At times like this, it’s important to remind yourself why you wanted to start in the first place.
American painter and TV host Bob Ross didn’t believe in mistakes. In his worldview, things that don’t turn out quite right are just ”happy little accidents” –– it’s not perfection that’s important, but the pleasure you can find in giving it a go.
For expat artists, it can be helpful to remind yourself that everything that you create is influenced by what you’ve been through before, and what you’re going through right now. A move abroad might help you look at things from a different perspective, and that’s a great thing!
Sometimes, you might feel an urge to create something that reminds you of home. On other days, you might want to replicate a style that you’ve seen in your new city. Often, it’s this intersection of experiences which produces the best, most interesting art. Don’t be afraid to show your personality in what you produce!
Inspiration Is Everywhere
One of the main reasons that people choose to explore their creativity is because it can serve as a distraction. Losing yourself in art, whether your own or somebody else’s, can give you a different perspective on your current circumstance. Crucially, it can also help you to find beauty in things that you would otherwise never have noticed.
Over the course of the past year, more people than ever have turned their attention to mastering new skills. We’ve all heard stories of friends using the time that they have saved on the commute to work on their novel in the morning or seeing videos of family members playing a strange instrument.
On top of everything else, it is important to remember that creativity does not simply help with our social lives, nor serve as a cultural point of reference in a new city. Our creativity is personal. As we explore, and learn to embrace it, we discover new ways of being happy.
About Anna Covell
Anna Covell studies History and German at the University of Oxford and is an intern in the Content & Communications Department of InterNations.