Oh, the places you’ll go!

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

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Today is the birthday of Theodor Geisel, that giant of children’s literature better known as Dr. Seuss. He wrote an impressive number of much-loved classics in his lifetime, including my favourite, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. (I’ve been watching the animated version every year since I was about 5 — it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Grinch and all the Whos down in Whoville.)

Dr. Seuss is also the author of an exuberantly sweet story called Oh, the Places You’ll Go! It’s fast becoming a traditional high school graduation gift, and it’s easy to see why. The book chronicles the excitement of being on the cusp of something new, with an engaging sense of child-like wonder.

My own high school graduation took place in the Dark Ages (ie. pre-Internet) and now that I’m practically in my dotage, I find myself relating the book to the ups and downs of expat life. The experiences of the pint-sized protagonist are intimately familiar to anyone who’s been an expat or a repatriate, with situations that cover the emotional gamut:

Anticipation

Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!

The book begins as all adventures should: with exhilaration. I get the impression our unnamed hero has been eagerly counting down the days until this, the reddest red-letter day of his life. I felt exactly the same way whenever I began a new expat journey. The adrenaline rush — amplified by a healthy dollop of pure fear — made it seem as though life was just waiting for me to grab it and ride it hard.

Motivation

You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go. You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”

Erm — maybe not. 🙂 Career considerations and other factors mean we don’t always have a choice about where we end up. When one partner is unwilling to relocate but choosing not to go isn’t an option, the stresses on a family are considerable. Resentment is a tough cross to bear, and many expat marriages collapse under the weight.

Emotional Resiliency

I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you. And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.

Stuff happens, and it’s not always good — but it doesn’t have to destroy you. As the British government famously said during the Blitz: Keep Calm and Carry On. In other words, don’t hide away in your condo, don’t give up on learning the local language, and above all, don’t leave yourself open to regret that you squandered this amazing opportunity for growth.

Saying goodbye

And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a Lurch.

Sometimes you’re the one who’s flying on, but the result is the same. Expat friendships are vulnerable things, susceptible as they are to the dictates of outside forces. When life feels like one long series of goodbyes, it can get you down.

Depression

You’ll come down from the Lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump. And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

Depression is a widespread but largely invisible problem in the expatriate community. It sucks the joy out of life and makes daily tasks unmanageable. “Un-slumping yourself” can be difficult to do on your own; this is where a licensed un-slumper (doctor, psychologist, therapist, coach) can work wonders.

Uncertainty

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,  for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

When we first arrive at a new destination, we don’t have a clear understanding of what to expect or how to behave. Yes, we’re full of doubt, but that has its uses: it forces us to think through the consequences of our decisions. Too much doubt, however, leads to paralysis. The luckiest expats quickly find a cultural informant or mentor — either a local or a long-term resident — who can explain cultural norms and steer them in the right direction.

Loneliness

All Alone!
 Whether you like it or not, Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.

Just accept it: at some point in your expat life, you’re going to be lonely. Perhaps not “quite a lot,” but there’s no denying it’s an occupational hazard of this lifestyle. The most treacherous thing about loneliness is that it opens the door to other unpleasant emotions such as doubt and depression.

Learning from experience

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.

If you’re looking for a life philosophy, you could do worse than this. The man pretty much covers all the bases with these lines. I especially like the reference to “great tact,” which is something every expatriate should have in her tool kit.

Dr. Seuss published Oh, the Places You’ll Go! in 1990, a year before his death. He crammed a lifetime of wisdom into this, his final book. I’m going to start giving it as a going-away gift to friends heading off on overseas adventures. And high school graduates, of course.

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Note: Today, on what would have been his 107th birthday, The National Education Association honours Dr. Seuss (as it does every year) during its Read Across America Day campaign.

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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112 Responses to Oh, the places you’ll go!

  1. This is an awesome post, and completely cheered me up. Thank you!

  2. inkelves says:

    What a fantastic blog post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I too am an expat and agree with everything you say… I may ask for that book for my birthday to cheer me up when times are tough. Thanks for the read 😀

  3. Haikugirl says:

    Wonderful – thank you for this post and congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed”! I discovered this book in a bookstore in Japan, not long after I had moved here to start my great adventure. It cheered me up no end, and encouraged me to go on even when living abroad was tough. Happy birthday Dr. Seuss!! 😀

  4. Pingback: Oh, the places you’ll go! (via I was an expat wife) « My Life as it is.

  5. CounterfeitDrug says:

    Enjoyed it! Thanks.

  6. wynterx says:

    I love Dr. Suess! (:
    I can really relate to you because I recently moved because of my parents’ jobs as well.

  7. Tamere says:

    I received this book from one of my teachers when I graduated High School six years ago, and I still carry it with me…with every move I’ve made. It’s such an amazing book! I loved reading your post! 🙂

  8. emigratebc says:

    You sound like you have quite the view on being an ex-pat. I’ll have to send my wife this way, she’s doing a sterling job writing a blog for Brits thinking of moving to Canada, like we did.
    Thanks for the Dr Seuss hit – now I’ll be thinking in rhyme all day… “Hello, come on in, we’ve been waiting for you! And here at Home Depot, we’ve lots you can do! There’s hammers and drills, there are chisels and picks, or saws that are sharp and can cut up big sticks!” Oh dear, oh dear…..

  9. It’s incredible how this book resonates on so many levels: For me, most recently I read it in the context of my CRAZY life right now, post-blindsiding divorce. And it really helped with the healing — maybe even more than therapy! Or even the blog writing! (Well, maybe not more than the blog writing…that’s so cathartic and amazing and I love the interaction with readers, after all…)

    Thanks for the reminder of Dr. S’s bday. He was an amazing writer…

    🙂

  10. Ms. H says:

    A friend is leaving next month for the Peace Corps – I believe I will give her this book! Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Pingback: Oh, the places you’ll go! (via I was an expat wife) « Recession Dodge to Victory

  12. YouNxt says:

    Hi Maria,
    The life of an ex-pat is not an easy one. I guess that anyone on the move feels like they don’t have a place that they can easily call home. Immigrants feel this often, even if totally unconsciously – they may not feel quite at home in the new country and aren’t exactly in tune with things back in the motherland. Different people handle things differently. These two blogs are quite funny — these are perspectives of Brits currently living in Poland: http://scatts.wordpress.com/ and http://polandian.home.pl/
    It’s a humorous take on the ex-pat life.
    Let us know what you think.

  13. B.C. Young says:

    I remember this book being read at my high school graduation ceremony in 1995. It really is profound.

  14. Thanks for the inspiration. This gave me a sense of nostalgia. Growing up, I didn’t know who Dr. Seuss was. Then, I started looking at my old children’s books and I discovered that my mother used to read Dr. Seuss’ books to me when I was young.

  15. J Roycroft says:

    Congrats on FP

  16. Pingback: Oh, the places you’ll go! (via I was an expat wife) | CynthiaLennon

  17. Ia m buying this book for my college graduate!!! Thank you!!

  18. Rachel says:

    As an adjusting repat and looking to being an expat again soon as well as a lover of Dr. Seuss, thank you for writing this post! I found it really relatable and encouraging!

  19. Judy says:

    Inspired (and inspiring) post, Maria! I didn’t discover Dr Seuss until we emigrated to Canada and had a son of our own. Like many children’s classics his books are written with the adult reader in mind as well as the child. A perfect gift for any expatriate.

  20. leahsinger says:

    This is great. I love how you broke down the story into meaningful lessons. I, too, love Dr. Seuss.

  21. lyndasm says:

    As a new expat in Dubai – this is a very timely read. Enjoyed it – thanks!

  22. Lovely post. Dr. Suess brings sunshine on cloudy days.

  23. Leah Dotten says:

    Thanks for reminding me of the coolness of this book. I think I’ll pick up a copy for my fella’.

  24. jamieonline says:

    I’ve been an ‘expat’ in The Netherlands for 6 years now and it’s so true what you say, Your post really has reminded me of many feelings that I have experienced on this 6-year long rollercoaster of emotions.
    Thanks for writing it.
    Jamie

  25. Liz says:

    Great post! I just read that book to my girls last night. I love it when kids books are enjoyable for adults as well. Dr. Seuss rocks!

    Congrats for being featured on Freshly Pressed!

  26. Lakia Gordon says:

    This is one of my favorite books, I have it in my library. My volleyball coach gave it to me when I graduated from undergrad!!

  27. fireandair says:

    Interesting — I’ve aspired to be an ex-pat for years … but if you don’t have much money behind you and are unwilling to marry into it, it seems impossible from here. 😦

    • Maria says:

      Have you considered teaching English? You can get certified fairly quickly and language schools in Asia are always on the lookout for new teachers. Korea is a particularly hot destination for ESL teachers right now.

  28. Kristina says:

    Fabulous post. My husband just got laid off last week, so we’re figuring out new situations, one of which is moving out of the country for some new and exciting experiences. I’ve got that book sitting in a guest room – looks like it might be time to dust it off and read it again, even if we don’t take off. The book is still so relevant in times like these.

  29. Sharp says:

    oh! the grinch :’) memories

  30. I learned to read with Dr. Seuss books. It took me years, however, to stop rhyming everything I said.

  31. I liked your blog, I read it all
    I liked your blog, it made feel kind of small

    I write a blog, I just confessed
    But I have never been Freshly Pressed

    Your Blog was clever, it was full of wit
    When I read my blog, I think its a bunch of ________

    Good job — Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Well written.

    Blessings,

    Ava
    xox

  32. So true – especially the lonliness. My husband and I have come to realise though that those times when it is ‘just us two’ we grow even stronger and the friends we then make are a nice bonus! It’s not all glamour but it is a lot of fun this expat lifestyle 🙂

  33. marcys says:

    Thank you for reminding me of Dr. Seuss. I’ll have to read this book; my favorite up til now is “I Had Trouble In Getting to Solla Sallew.” Also thanks for the hints about expat life. I’ve been thinking of going somewhere…it’s a very new idea so I don’t want to say much more about it.

  34. Great article! I love how you wove the main topics of living abroad into this Dr. Seuss book. My blog is geared to parents and teachers who live abroad and educate or parent children outside of their homelands. They all face many of the same issues and transitions you mention. I am going to refer people on my blog to this article.

    Blessings,
    Delana

  35. Pingback: A Dr. Seuss Twist on Expats and Transitions « The Education Cafe

  36. I know the book well! My two kids are just old enough to begin appreciating Dr Seuss and I’ve read this one to them (although they prefer the Cat in the Hat and The cat in the Hat Comes Back).

    But getting back to ‘Oh the places you’ll go’. By strange coincidence I was talking about Dr Seuss to some of my university students yesterday and one of them showed me a very funny spoof called ‘Oh the places you’ll (actually) go’ : http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1946780

    On the subject of depression–I know all too well about that. I’m an expat living in Germany and recently started a blog about coping with depression. I promise it’s not all doom and gloom so take a look:
    http://www.middleagedmaninlycra.com

    • Maria says:

      Any blog called Middle Aged Man in Lycra deserves to be checked out, if only for the title. But I quickly got hooked on the story. Although I confess it’s a little disconcerting to be laughing — so hard that I’m snorting milk through my nose — while reading about a man battling depression. That’s the power of lyrcra, I suppose. 🙂

  37. Ascentive says:

    I love this book, my mum had all the Dr. Seuss books and we regularly read through them. Thanks for the great post!

  38. SherryGreens says:

    This book can teach us so many lessons. I love how you have applied it to your situation as an expat Canadian. I think I may purchase this book, if only to pass on these lessons to my kids!!

  39. Evie Garone says:

    My son is going to Graduate from college and go on to law school…I think I will get it for him to lighten the mood! Thank you for your post & the idea!

  40. Hi Maria,

    I clearly don’t know you, but the image of you snorting milk through your nose is not an endearing one! But glad my blog got a reaction from you. Be warned though, please do not look at this post while eating or drinking anything–I will not be responsible for the consequences:

    http://middleagedmaninlycra.com/2011/02/16/totally-ludicrous-in-lycra/

    • Maria says:

      Are you kidding? It was the first comment for that post that led to the infamous milk-snorting incident! From now on, I’m swearing off liquids when I read your posts.

  41. wovenstrands says:

    ohhh, I love Dr. Seuss. Those are the books I want to read my little one as hes growing up 🙂

  42. thefengshuidiva says:

    I loved all the Dr. Seuss books and read them my kids when they were little. However I think you can live in the USA and have similar feeling of being uncertain. No matter where one goes there is always a different cultural exchange, even within the same state, or so I have experienced.

  43. Great tribute to a great author. Amazing how many adults can still (and maybe even more so than kids) relate to his work. Thanks for telling your unique perspective!

  44. Rachael says:

    Wow…I am so happy you were freshly pressed. I discovered your blog and it is so appropriate and fitting; I am currently playing the role of “expat wife” myself and it’s a fairly recent gig. I read through a few posts and can’t wait to read more.

    • Maria says:

      Thanks! I just did a quick read through your expat adventures and you do seem to be having fun! (Your daughter is adorable, btw. What a great age.)

  45. lucyslegacy says:

    I enjoyed this post! Not being an ex-pat nor having the imagination to go there, I can get a tiny bit of understanding of what it was like. As a life-long southerner, perhaps being an ex-pat doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. Until you no longer want it. Sometimes, when I “come to a place where the streets are not marked. Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.” Sometimes (again) I get tired of coming to unmarked streets. Thank you for reminding me I’m in pleasant company. Even when I’m not.

  46. rdinthedr says:

    I’ve been living abroad for two years and the mind-maker-upper part of this book has actually been on my mind a lot recently as I’ve been considering whether to stay, move to another country, or go home (possibly the scariest option of all!). You’ve made me want to reread the whole thing because I never thought of how it related to culture shock, goodbyes, and other expat-related experiences. I’m glad I stumbled onto your blog!

    • Maria says:

      That’s a tough decision. But if going home is the scariest option, maybe that means you’re not quite ready to hang up your expat hat yet. It sounds as though you’re enjoying life in the DR too much to give it up right now anyway.

  47. makingup3000 says:

    Dr. Seuss is “da bomb” no matter what age. Who knew there were so many life lessons.

  48. jandlgarison says:

    I love this. I lived in Moscow for a year and completely identify, even though it was for a relatively short time. Especially about the vulnerability part- the friendships you make most likely won’t carry over because of the moving about, but there are a few that you’ll definitely keep up with and be a better person for it. And thank goodness for technology.

  49. charlywalker says:

    Nothing like Green eggs and SPAM………

    spread the humor: charlywalker.wordpress.com

  50. Thanks for your reflection. Who knew Dr. Suess could be so deep? I have recently moved to New Mexico, which feels like another country anyway, so I can relate. Lots of wisdom here from good old Dr. Seuss. 🙂

  51. Michi says:

    This is one of my favorite books!! I have it and occasionally read it to the Spanish teens and tweens I teach. 🙂

  52. strawberrywater says:

    As a former expat kid I simply adored the seeing the parallels between my used-to-be-life and such a darling children’s’ book. To be honest, I wish I had thought of it myself.

  53. jillianong says:

    I got this as a college graduation gift 🙂 A few years later, I’m back in school and halfway across the world from where I live. Dr. Seuss said it all.

    http://www.goodtimesvancouver.com

  54. jillfeyka says:

    I love this book and gave a copy to my son for his graduation gift. I taught both of my sons to read (before they left for Kindergarten) via Dr. Seuss books. They can still quote them and they are now almost 23 and 21.

    I really enjoyed your post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Congrats on becoming FP!

  55. Great tribute to Dr. Seuss. He wasn’t just for children, he did it for all generations!

  56. C.H. says:

    This is the Dr. Seuss book, although I’m not an expat so much as an aspiring one.

    😉

  57. Genevieve says:

    I loved your Dr. Seuss tribute, and this book is such a treasure trove of wisdom. The philosophy of Dr. Seuss can really put things in perspective. I wanted to share one of my favorite quotes that I come back to time and time again when coping with change:

    “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” – Ted Geisel

    This quote was hung up on a bathroom wall at a restaurant I visited in Sausalito, California over three years ago! I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

    Cheers to Dr. Seuss, and thank you for this wonderful post!

  58. milieus says:

    Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! My favourite book is The Sneetches. So cleverly motivating.

  59. halfwayto50 says:

    My students and I celebrated Dr. Seuss all day (all week for that matter) and have so much fun reading his books! Reading between the lines of his books shows you just how intelligent he really was. I love his one liners and their truth to real life!

  60. Fox@n says:

    My brother has the same birthday. Great post..

  61. hunarz says:

    My daughter and I love Dr.Seuss and y’day only she participated in Dr.Seuss Musical.
    Lovely Post.

  62. I was an adult when I was first exposed to this book. I enjoy the positive attitude and life lessons. It is especially appropriate for me now, because I am moving soon. Oh, the places I will go, and the places I have been…

  63. D.A.S. says:

    A few weeks ago I was looking for Dr. Seuss quotes after not having looked through any books in years and I was dumbfounded how so many of the words hit so close to him today. The man was seriously a genius.

    Great Post!

  64. christinadugan says:

    I love this book! I got it as a graduation present when I was a Senior in high school. It covers all the important lessons in life, I think. It’s a playful yet smart way to motivate you. Dr. Seuss is always speaking to us in different ways!

  65. Tom Beidler says:

    Love Seuss and Oh The Places You Will Go inspires me. One funny note though, I recently asked my 14 year old daughter to close her eyes and listen to me read it to her. When I finished, she said “oh yea, that’s the story that always used to scare me.” I’m not sure what to think of that 😉

    • Maria says:

      I think she’s wise for her age — some of it scares the heck out of me, too! But that’s because I’ve lived through enough Slumps and Bumps to know how bad they can be.

  66. I grew up on Dr. Seuss–Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, when they were first published. All wonderful books. There is no better children’s author. Thank you for this wonderful tribute, and for the insight to his last book. Congrats on being freshly pressed! 🙂

  67. stylistnc says:

    At one time we had all the Dr. Seuss books. They are timeless. I remember reading them when I was kid and then being able to read them to my kids, and I hope they will read them to their kids. Great post.

  68. amblerangel says:

    Absolutely inspired post! It will become a must read for all my ExPat friends. Thanks!

  69. lpeterbaird says:

    Interesting read. I’ve been an ex-pat for the past 6 years, and I never really experienced loneliness or depression. I certainly agree about the fragility of ex-pat friendships, though. Not just with other ex-pats, but also with the locals.

  70. Kelley says:

    Thanks for the post. I am currently a young single woman teaching in China! I really related to a lot of what you said. I am relatively new at the whole expat thing. I’ve been here almost 7 months. I find live so far very challenging but rewarding. Nice to see you put into words some of the things I have been feeling.

  71. trayflow says:

    Great post. Looking forward to digging deeper into our blog and reading more. We are on our fourth assignment abroad in nearly 9 years so I can relate to all of this!

    • Maria says:

      Thanks! I don’t know what that huge bug is on your blog, but I met many of his cousins when I lived in Australia. The land of creepy-crawlies!

  72. Crystal says:

    This is frighteningly accurate

  73. Jaan Pehchaan says:

    Wonderful comparison. I seem to be going through all these phases at the same time right now!

  74. Good post, it is amazing how many ‘children’s books’ can apply to adult life.

  75. -Durk- says:

    Congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed”!
    I hope that your day is truly blessed.
    -“Dr” Durk

  76. A wonderful post. My husband grew up in various places (high school in four countries) because of his dad’s job. I’ve heard a lot about the ex-pat lifestyle. And Seuss is a brilliant way to tie it all in. A well-deserved FP!

  77. maydelory says:

    (sorry, I meant to say:)

    Congrats Freshly Pressed gal!

    Oh, if life for the little ones today could be as sweet as in Dr. S’s day shouldn’t we all love being an Expat…and, oh, the places we’ll go, and go, and go!

  78. Jen Randolph says:

    An excellent post to read first thing in the morning. Thanks for sharing Dr. Suess and interpreting with your own words of wisdom!

  79. Maria says:

    Thanks, Dr. D. I’m truly blessed by Freshly Pressed. 😉

  80. HA! I love this. Especially since my daughter is now interested in reading and Dr. Suess is a new favorite. The books now have new meaning for me 🙂
    This is definitely next on my care-package from the US request.

  81. I’m a Canadian as well and I embarked on a journey 5 months ago to start my PhD in Europe. I’ve been in France since then and just arrived in Belgium two days ago for the second phase, so I can completely relate with what you wrote. Thanks for sharing this post!

  82. jennduroy says:

    you just inspired me to buy the baby version of this book for my cousin’s first birthday

  83. Pingback: Top Posts — WordPress.com

  84. Pingback: Bad Expat (part 1–ur doin it rong) « Expat Bostonians

  85. happy birthday DR. seuss!! congrats on FP!!

  86. I have given this book to many and used it’s wisdom myself. Still, my all time favorite Dr. Seuss book remains the Lorax. It’s message is still needed today.

  87. Wonderful – thank you for this post and congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed”! I discovered this book in a bookstore in Japan, not long after I had moved here to start my great adventure. It cheered me up no end, and encouraged me to go on even when living abroad was tough. Happy birthday Dr. Seuss!!

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