The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Expat in an internet age

This week I've been in Malta, staying in a lovely little rented apartment in Vittoriosa, across the harbour from the capital, Valletta. I'd intended it to be a week of working away - bringing my laptop with me to carry on with work - just an escape from the grim British weather rather than a full-blown holiday. Unfortunately, both of the jobs I'd hoped to get on with while I'm here got delayed (story of my life at the moment!), so I find myself with no work to do. And as I wasn't really prepared for a 'holiday' - either psychologically or financially! - I've been a bit unsure about how to spend my time. For the first few days, the sun was shining and I was happy to go out exploring - mostly around Valletta and the "Three Cities". The weather's now turned a bit cloudy and rainy though, so I've been spending more time pottering around the apartment instead, reading and surfing, and nipping out onto the roof terrace to catch some rays when there's the occasional break in the clouds!

What has really struck me being away with my laptop (and Wi-fi in the apartment) is just how different it must be living abroad in the internet age. As well as having access to all the usual email and Facebook, of course, there's news online - at the weekend, I enjoyed my usual "flick through" the Saturday Guardian and even did the crossword. The real revelation though has been listening to UK radio online - on Friday evening I chuckled along to the News Quiz on Radio 4, then laughed out loud at the weirdness of the Archer's theme echoing around my Maltese apartment!

It's made me realise just how very different life as an expat must be now compared to when I first headed off to Greece as a young EFL teacher some 20 years ago. Without wanting to slip into some kind of Monty Python sketch, back then we had very little contact with home bar the odd letter from parents and the occassional out-of-date copy of a newspaper. We didn't have TVs and you could only get World Sevice radio if you had a short-wave radio and even then, I remember having to stand holding the aerial to get reception! Thus I spent the best part of seven years in a kind of expat bubble, not really part of the host culture (first in Greece then in the Czech Republic), but fairly cut off from British culture too. I have a big gap in my knowledge of UK popular culture through the first part of the 90s - I completely missed Take That the first time round (no great loss there, perhaps?!) and there are still certain pop culture references from that time that go right over my head.

Do my current counterparts living in my old Greek apartment now have wireless broadband? Do they all have iphones and laptops - keeping up with their friends on Facebook and continuing their usual media consumption almost uninterrupted? Of course, I knew that the internet had opened up all this stuff, but I think being here this week it's really brought it home to me just how much things have changed. It must make the whole expat adventure a very different experience, both as a lifestyle and as a teacher.

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