One of my favourite things about my extended family is that we take "extended" to a whole new level. I've heard many stories about larger families that eventually drift apart and splinter off over time. My family, on the other hand, takes immense joy in connecting and reconnecting. Our genealogy is well-documented, and we all take it seriously. Most people would consider second or third cousins as being too tenuous a relationship to bother with, but not us. Basically, if you're descended from my great-grandparents Josef and Ludwina, or married to someone who is, we're delighted to have you. Since they had eighteen children, that's a lot of descendants!
Last summer, I went with my mom, aunt, and grandmother to a celebration honouring my great aunt's fiftieth anniversary as a nun. There, we heard one of our distant relatives comment that she had no family in Ottawa. Well, we were quick to disabuse her of that! Soon Natalie was attending every barbeque, holiday dinner, and family function we had going. This Christmas, Natalie's parents came to visit, so we all went out for supper on Boxing Day.
Sometimes, explaining my international lifestyle to my extended extended family leads the conversation in amusing directions. At the Boxing Day supper, Natalie's mother leaned across a noisy table.
"So where you do live?" she called to me.
"Korea!" I called back.
She looked confused. "I don't know where that is!"
"The country!" my mom explained helpfully.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "I thought that's what you said. I just didn't think I could have heard you right, so I convinced myself you were talking about one of the suburbs around here!"
We all had a good laugh about it.
Exchanges like this often make me think about how living abroad sometimes maneuvers you into a position where nobody can truly understand where you're coming from. Your colleagues and friends overseas have shared your experiences there, but they don't know what your home is like and have never met any of the people you've left behind. As for your home and the people you leave behind, you can tell them stories and show them pictures, but they'll never really know.
In either situation, there are things that don't translate, things that can never be adequately explained. I am still ambivalent about this. On one hand, you end up with a frame of reference that is ultimately quite unique. On the other hand, it can be lonely.