The Suitcase Full of Memories

June 22nd 2015

Sitting on a shelf in the Expatriate Archive Centre’s study room is an old suitcase with a faded Shell label tied to its handle. Its base is battered and warped from years of travel, its paper lining worn and tattered. It has been at the Expatriate Archive Centre since the archive opened its doors in 2003, a perfect symbol of a life on the move, but what is its story?

The Beginning

From a Suitcase to an Archive

The suitcase was previously owned by Expatriate Archive Centre (EAC) co-founder Judy Moody-Stuart. While she was living in The Hague in the 1990s, Judy used her old case to store paperwork relating to the publication of two anthologies, Life on the move and Life Now. These twin tomes documented experiences of living abroad collected from Royal Dutch Shell families worldwide. Judy, along with Glenda Lewin and Dewey White, decided to set up an archive to continue the work of collecting and preserving expat life stories. The suitcase found its “forever home” in the archive’s new premises in The Hague’s Paramaribostraat, but it had led quite an adventurous life prior to settling down.

Glenda Lewin and suitcase outside the EAC

Well Travelled

Judy Moody-Stuart lived a truly international life, accompanying her Shell CEO husband Mark to several countries including Brunei, Australia, Nigeria, Turkey, the Netherlands and Malaysia. Their family always used Globetrotter luggage. Judy’s mother-in-law swore by them, having sent six children off to British boarding schools from Antigua in the West Indies, each equipped with this brand of suitcase. Judy recounts,

“The essential holder for school equipment was the strongest and lightest suitcase ever – and The Army & Navy had these in stock, just a matter of selecting the right one. “Certainly madam” pressed the salesman, “the strongest” – and climbed confidently onto the empty suitcase to prove it. “Yes. Good. But I’ll take the one you have on the shelf behind, thank you” replied my mother-in-law famously, not to be taking chances with a jumped-on suitcase.”

Judy and her husband Mark remained loyal to the Globetrotter brand, eschewing sleeker, trendier models in favour of sturdiness and reliability. Their children too were each given a suitcase as they travelled to boarding school in England. As the cases got bashed around by rough handling at numerous airports their locks sometimes became distorted and popped open, but the cases were bound shut with webbing straps and still they soldiered on.

In 1981, Judy and Mark set off in a Land Rover from Warri, on the edge of the Niger delta, northwards bound for Algeria. Their suitcases – including the one that ended up at the EAC – were stacked safely on the roof rack, and Judy recalls how they discovered an unfortunate flaw in their design,

“The suitcases had sat undisturbed on the roof rack as we journeyed for a couple of weeks, shielding us from the burning sun and a good sand-free place to balance cups and plates as we camped; they bounced along all day in harmony with the gas stove. What we could not have known despite our years of experience was … the Globetrotter will dissolve in a pool of water. After the sandstorm had come torrential rain , and quite unknown to us, water collected in the roof rack tray overnight and soaked quietly up into the suitcase; this pliable layer had moulded to the pressure of goods packed above it against the wet sand beneath, and thus become the notable undulations of the Archive suitcase.”

Pride of Place

The well-travelled suitcase has become a kind of mascot at the Expatriate Archive Centre, and now sits proudly on display in the archive’s study room. When re-designing the archive’s logo, designer Ute Kraidy took inspiration from the famous artefact. The familiar shape is recognisable to all global nomads, with its warm sepia colour lending it a sense of age and nostalgia which is very fitting for an archive of expat memories.


A Home for Expat Life Stories

The Expatriate Archive Centre collects and preserves the stories of expats worldwide. Whether you travelled light, with several suitcases, or shipped all your worldly goods by container, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the paper trail that you acquired along the way. Your diaries, letters, emails, blogs, photographs, tickets, invites and other documents could one day become part of the social history of expatriate life. Unload your baggage at the EAC and donate your story.

Categories: Articles

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International Archives Day: Expats and Democracy

June 9th 2015

9th June is International Archives Day. This year’s theme is democracy and rights, chosen by the team behind the #AskArchivists initiative. The Expatriate Archive Centre is fairly young – by archival standards anyway – having been founded in 2008. We can’t show you impressive, calligraphic constitutional documents, so we’ve taken a slightly different approach and looked at how expats deal with politics.­

Expats don’t vote, so the stereotype goes – they live in a bubble, don’t engage in local affairs and slowly lose touch with events in their home countries too. But are these fair assumptions to make?

Well of course as an archive, we are impartial and it’s not our place to say. We’ll leave it up to the researchers who use our source materials. But in the collections of the Expatriate Archive Centre are letters, notes and diary entries from expats showing a keen interest in politics – both local and global. Many of them centre around the theme of security – there are tales of dealing with confusing regulations and bureaucracy, and accounts of evacuations and families facing danger during times of unrest.

Moving abroad can also bring with it a new perspective and an increased awareness of how people from other countries view your own. The following extract is from a letter written by an American lady based in Cameroon, sent to her mother back in the States. It is her response to her mother’s question about the impact of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. It was written in 1981, the year after Reagan won the presidential election.


“As far as getting any flack from anyone about American politics & Reagan’s completely naïve approach to foreign policy is concerned, nobody here has bothered much. I think they’re pretty used to American presidents being fools – or perhaps they are wise enough to realise that the attitude of any particular citizen of a country does not necessarily agree or coincide with the attitudes of his country’s leader. A lot of the expatriates here are either American or French. It might be logical to assume that neither group feels it has room to be critical of the others’ leader at this point.”

See the hashtags #IAD15 #democracy on Twitter for more from other archives on this year’s theme. Also check the International Archives Day website for a completely different piece from our collection, and other historical documents from archives worldwide.

Do you have an expat story to tell? The Expatriate Archive Centre collects the life stories of expatriates and repatriates worldwide – no matter what their political views are! Find out more about donating a collection.

Categories: Articles, Research

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