To be fair, it is easy if you do happen to live in a little expat bubble. I call our home ‘The American Sector’, because it is just that – a little bubble of American culture and the English language amid an entire nation auf Deutsch!
There is a balance though, attempting to remain connected to the first culture while mingling, networking, and integrating with the culture of our new adopted home. Both my spouse and I work mainly in our first languages. With regard to my job, it is vital that I keep up with, as best I can, modern American English language and American culture and politics.
Thank heaven we live abroad in our modern era which is heavily reliant on the Internet! Yes, the ease of native language multimedia via the Internet hinders our ability to integrate into German culture and speak the language. This is the ugly blunt truth. The beautiful technology assists in our laziness and we must actively step beyond it, or bend it to fit our international needs. This also allows us to maintain general contact with our families in America. They are a video call away, never mind the nine hours difference in time.
The outcome of the last American presidential election brought to light the fact that Americans in general, live in their respective bubbles, meaning that both liberals and conservatives, coastal ‘elites’ and heartland ‘populists’, Democrats and Republicans are far too separated, not only in political ideology, but also cultural understanding and empathy.
Thinking about this, perhaps rightfully so, led me to begin examining how and what media my family and I consume to remain connected to our home culture. This was also, at least in part, spurred by the online quiz published by PBS NewsHour “Do you live in an (American) Bubble?”
Answers to the quiz, of course, shed light on how insulated you might be from American cultural diversity. After the quiz is completed, the score is presented, along with the explanation: “The higher your score, the thinner your bubble. The lower, the more insulated you might be from mainstream American culture.” The first time I took the quiz, I earned 64/100 points. According to the results that means I am “a lifelong resident of a working-class neighborhood with average television and movie going habits” and/or, a “first-generation middle-class person with working-class parents and average television and movie going habits”. Okay, I think that sounds about right, even though I live abroad.
Where does my family go to understand (American) culture and politics?
We are heavily reliant on podcasts, which include (a lot of National Public Radio [NPR]):
- Inside Europe – Deutsche Welle
- Political Gabfest – Slate
- MSNBC Rachel Maddow (Audio)
- The Economist Radio (all audio) – The Economist
- On the Media – WNYC Studios
- The Best of The Left – Jay Tomlinson
- Planet Money – NPR
- Science Friday – Science Friday Initiative
- BackStory with the American History Guys – Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
- Lectures in History – C-SPAN
- The United States of Anxiety – WNYC & The Nation
- Revisionist History – Malcomn Gladwell/Panoply Media
- Code Switch – NPR
- This American Life – Chicago Public Media
- Invisibilia – NPR
- Hidden Brain – NPR
- Pop Culture Happy Hour – NPR
- Two Dope Queens– WNYC
To at least feel somewhat connected musically to our home culture, we follow:
- The Music That Matters – KEXP
- Live Performance Podcast – KEXP
- All Songs Considered – NPR Music
- Coverville: The Cover Music Show – Brian Ibbott
To help with our German language learning we have used these podcasts:
The newspapers online that we check regularly (in no particular order):
- The New York Times
- Deutsche Welle
- The Atlantic
- The Local: Germany
- Daily Kos
- Der Spiegel
- Public Radio International
- Foreign Affairs
- The Guardian
- The Atlantic
- Foreign Policy
- YES! Magazine
- Willamette Week (local Portland weekly newspaper)
- The Statesman Journal (local Oregon paper out of Salem)
Even simply reflecting on this list, thinking ‘Why do we like what we like?’ One thing I know is that my husband and I like the storytelling style of the differentiated personal experiences presented in the interviews and first or third person narratives offered most often by NPR. Personally, I appreciate perspectives and ideas that are different from my own. I would like to think that those news stories and interviews offer a view on subjects I myself may or may not have encountered in my few years on earth in the spattering of global locations I have been able to call home.
I studied history and political science in college, because I thought that would better prepare me to teach civics education in the United States. Never mind that, for now, that ship has sailed. I do maintain my teaching accreditation in Oregon, for when/if ever that ship does return to port. My husband studied science, biology specifically. We have different ways of looking at the world, but in a way, similar. We learned processes at university to help us to be critical thinkers beyond those ivory towers. That seems, to me at least, especially important as modern expats. Perhaps even more so since I am an English language and American culture teacher living outside of my home country. While I myself am admittedly rather liberal, I do work hard in my teachings to be as fair-minded as I possibly can. My students are not only German or European, but international. In my classroom the point is to first, have the courage to speak and then, to practice speaking ‘correctly’ so that the person listening can understand the point of the person speaking.
Too assume my husband and I do not live in a bubble would be naive and silly. Presently, I think it is nearly impossible to be human and not live in some type of bubble defined by the many layers that make up our ‘selves’. I think perhaps though that it is the size and thickness of our bubble that is important and of note. Our bubble could be much smaller and thinner…I’d like to think we are working on it, like the little engine that could…or perhaps like Robert Crumb’s distinctive characters…keep on truckin’.
What media are you able to consume as an expat?
What podcast or online news source can you not live without?
It is quite possible that my family is missing a source, leave me a comment and let me know.