Christian Slape was a volunteer at the Expatriate Archive Centre from September 2019 to February 2020. The following is his reflection of the months spent doing research on expat life for our organisation’s social media.
By Christian Slape
By my nature, I love to know my city’s surroundings, to know where I am, where I have to go, and on which street corner you’ll find this or that odd café. So, I was surprised to find this cosy pocket of The Hague tucked away, just off of Javastraat. Carefully checking the house numbers along Paramaribostraat, I approached the EAC office for the first time. As I walked up and looked through their windows, I saw archival volunteers carefully studying newspaper excerpts amidst shelves of grey-blue archive boxes, a small library, miscellaneous cultural artefacts, and a world map speckled with pins.
I came to know about the Expatriate Archive Centre through The Hague’s local volunteer network, which advertised an opening for a Social Media Volunteer. I jumped at the opportunity to work with other expatriates and people with a travelling background. I chose to volunteer at the EAC because I wanted more experience working in an office setting alongside my studies at Leiden University College The Hague, and found that my own experience as a long-time expat gave me the motivation to find and share stories about other expats.
Managing social media content for the EAC, I got many new insights into the daily lives of expats living everywhere: from isolated islands as St. Helena to cosmopolitan megacities as New York. It was always entertaining to reflect on what made their assignments enjoyable and what, conversely, soured it for them. I have lived in amazing places and not-so-stellar places. Regardless, experiences, good and bad, build character and wisdom, as cliché as that may sound. From taking on assignments just across the border to working in their homes’ geographical antipodes, expatriates have accrued a tremendous wealth of knowledge and wisdom about the human experience. Moreover, they have uncovered more of their own character, which could have only surfaced under extraordinary circumstances.
The valuable archival work conducted at the EAC helps capture these invaluable and insightful experiences in time for the sake of researchers and posterity. And the collective history of expats one encounters at the EAC entails not only a time-capsule-like nostalgia; ongoing interactions and communication with expats through, for example, the Twitter rotation-curation account called @WeAreXpats also speaks volumes of the EAC’s interest in the here and now.
Speaking of the present, lunch was always wonderful sitting alongside and listening to coworkers who have lived such exciting lives. Just through lunchtime conversation, I have learned a great deal about the political situation in the various countries of the Caucasus, the complexities of growing up as an expat in former Soviet republics, and the amusing confusions of being in a relationship with someone of a different culture. Comparing and contrasting these accounts with my childhood and young adult life abroad, I have a newfound appreciation for exploration and living abroad. Perhaps the most rewarding and discomforting aspect of such a life is the constant novelty. Wherever one goes, there is something new to be learned, but also something to be confused about. In any case, it keeps me sharp.
It is such a shame to be leaving, considering all the wonderful times I’ve had here. I’ll miss the warm and congenial atmosphere of the office and can only hope that where I work in the future will have this same energy. I will always have fond memories of the EAC, and somewhere in my head, I’ll always wonder, ‘What exotic treat has someone brought for lunch today?’
For more information about volunteering with us, please visit the Volunteer page of our website.