The Foreign Service Journal, November 2006

Voyages of Self- Discovery So Far and Yet So Near: Stories of Americans Abroad Various authors, American Citizens Abroad, 2005, $15.95, paperback, 223 pages. R EVIEWED BY L ISA C ONNER T.S. Eliot wrote, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know that place for the first time.” While self-discovery is not often cited as a reason for living abroad, it frequently is a by-product. So Far and Yet So Near: Stories of Americans Abroad is a compendium of personal stories from a diverse group of overseas Americans, inclu- ding Peace Corps Volunteers, students and diplomats. The collection was com- piled by American Citizens Abroad, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovern- mental association dedicated to serv- ing and defending the interests of indi- vidual U.S. citizens living all over the world. Headquartered in Geneva, ACA welcomes new members, includ- ing Foreign Service members; visit its Web site, , for more infor- mation. This collection allows readers to share in the triumphs, tragedies and personal insights of their expatriate compatriots. Their stories span the gauntlet from hilarious to sad; some will undoubtedly provoke a sense of déjà vu for many Foreign Service folks. True, many FSOs and other people who’ve lived abroad have their own stories of cross-cultural misunder- standings, life-threatening experiences and aha! moments, so they may not think strangers’ stories would hold much interest. But this book transcends the stan- dard collection of funny/exotic/weird stories in exotic settings. It distills the authors’ experiences and offers them up for scrutiny in a thought-provoking, meaningful and relevant way. Organi- zed thematically, it touches on nation- alism, tolerance, guilt, fairness and change. Synergy is at work — perhaps due to the diversity of authorship — with the result that the whole is far more than the sum of its parts. In “Living History,” a survivor of the December 2004 Asian tsunami retells his chilling experience in a way that will forever change how readers view an ocean wave. A Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone contracted tumba fly, giardia, malaria, amoebic dysentrery, ascaris and unciniara — all during her first four months. This onslaught, she recounts in “The Lessons of Culture Shock,” resulted in her “lower intestinal tract becoming a 24-hour roadside motel with the com- ings and goings of all these critters.” Another contributor recalls being on the scene for a military coup in Peru, while a Foreign Service spouse recalls tending her rose garden in Tehran in the early 1970s. Anyone who has been overseas will understand and enjoy these stories. But for “official” overseas Americans, who operate under an embassy or con- sulate infrastructure with social sup- port mechanisms, So Far and Yet So Near opens up a much wider window onto the lives of those who don’t bene- fit from these luxuries we so often take for granted. The book will also prompt many readers to recall how we got the “bug” to live overseas ourselves. One warning, though: Reading it may cause nostalgia for the simple days when our cars weren’t searched for bombs before being allowed to proceed to work! Lisa Conner, an FSO since 1991, is a consular officer in Ulaanbaatar. 80 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 6 B O O K S