Apr 16

When Tragedy Strikes at Home: An Expat’s Point of View

American Flag Child's Face

Living halfway across the world, you would think I’d feel somewhat disconnected from my country. That the happenings there would suddenly feel dim and distant, like they were no longer a reality in my own little bubble of life. To an extent, they do; since I’m not surrounded by American media, and 99% of the time I can’t understand what the people around me are saying,  the immediacy of events back home is a bit faded.


But with the wonders of modern technology, it is nearly impossible to be oblivious to the news in my home country. Even if my best friend hadn’t texted me about it, I couldn’t have avoided the facebook posts honoring the dead and wounded, or the #BostonMarathon tweets expressing sadness and anger over the horrific bombings. And despite living thousands of miles away, I felt the weight of the tragedy more heavily than perhaps I would have if I were home.


Living in another country, your identity becomes inextricably tied to your nationality, whether you like it–or realize it–or not. It’s an anomaly that I don’t think I’d fully understood until today. When abroad, you represent your country and, likewise, your country represents you. National events become a matter of pride and when your country accomplishes something great, your steps take on a triumphant air. But in the face of national tragedy, the burden becomes yours to bear, as well.


Reading about the bombings at the Boston Marathon this morning broke my heart. While I understand that senseless acts of murder take place across the country every day, today’s events affected me deeply because they occurred at a national event that is a celebration of hard work, perseverance, and achievement–the very qualities of which our citizens are proudest.

The fact that the bombings garnered international media coverage suddenly made me ashamed. I don’t want my country in the news for more violence; I don’t want the people of the world to think of the USA as a dangerous place, a place that can’t keep its citizens safe, a place that is so angry and torn apart that scores of innocent people are murdered on a regular basis. When I tell people I’m an American, I don’t want visions of terrorism to flash through their minds. But alas, I think it’s come to that.


As an expat, another challenge to experiencing a national tragedy in your homeland is the feeling of helplessness. Although I would have felt just as helpless if I were home, now I feel like I’m sitting outside a fishbowl, looking in at the turmoil from the outside, while all I can do is silently paw at the glass futilely wondering, “What can I do? How can I help?”


Honestly, what can we do? What can anyone do in response to such an abhorrent crime? Certainly we can’t bring back those lives lost; we can’t repair the broken sense of safety our country had been delicately piecing back together over the last 12 years; as of right now, we can’t even identify who did it or why.


But what I do know is we can’t continue living in anger. I will never understand how one human being can commit such a heinous act against another, but I believe it’s the result of anger. The only way I can try to eliminate the sort of rage that bubbles beneath some people’s surfaces and drives them to behave so senselessly is through kindness. No, we don’t live in a perfect world and terrible things are inevitable; but kindness quells anger and if that’s the only way I’m able to contribute to a more peaceful humanity then I’ll do what I can.


I’m now starting my own personal Campaign for Kindness. To my students who have particular attitude problems, I’ll strive to be less punitive and more patient. To pushy people in the streets I’ll try to be more gracious. To those who ask for help, I’ll try to be more generous. To those who irritate me, I’ll try to be more compassionate of their perspective. If I can incorporate more kindness into my actions, then perhaps it will rub off on others and inspire a chain of kindness.


Maybe it will even ripple all the way across the world and help inspire the peace that my home country so desperately needs.

Please, pass on the kindness.

 My heart is with you, Massachusetts.

{Photo Credit: Catholic Lane}

  • hayley

    nice writing kaleena! i definitely understand the image of looking into the fishbowl…having been in france for nearly 9 years now i absolutely feel detached from happenings and yet my sense of identity as an american is just getting stronger. in the beginning i wanted to be french, and wanted others to think i was too, now i am very happy living in france but fully embrace my ‘american-ness’ and will try to pass that to my daughter.

    anyways, saying hi to you over in south korea, and keep up the posts!

    • KaleenasKaleidoscope

      Thanks Haley, it’s so great to hear from you! You’ve been an expat far longer than I have so it’s good to know that you relate to this sensation as well. It’s crazy to think of us little Ukiah girls off living in France and Korea… Thanks for the comment, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog! xo