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(Re)Discovering Your Passion Abroad — Down in the Shrubs

A move abroad offers a multitude of opportunities to find or rediscover your passion, be it to embark on new adventures or cope with all the challenges that a move abroad can bring. For our Experience Life Abroad campaign, we asked our members to tell us their story. Carolyn Bastick’s account of how she discovered her love (and talent) for gardening was voted as the winner of our contest.

I am not supposed to be here, in Minnesota, in North Minneapolis. I should be living back in England, my ancestral home, retired, working in my English garden. But death brought me back to Minnesota in a rush, to be close to my grieving American sons. This was never the plan, never our plan. But two transatlantic moves in as many years, and I abruptly found myself with yet another northern garden to nurture. An unplanned garden.

Americans in my experience hold this charming belief that if you are English and you create a garden that is pleasing to the eye, it is due solely to your heritage that it grows as it does. As if gardening is in the English DNA. I wish it were so because truth be told, everything I know about gardening, I have learned in Minnesota!

My first foray into gardening, this grand passion of mine, came over 20 years ago after I bought a very special bungalow in Minneapolis. A neglected 1917 Sear's kit house, The Ashmore. Learning about this house, attempting to restore some of its grandeur, quickly became an obsession.

I believe it was the blandness of The Ashmore’s landscaping that spurred me on to take the plunge. Move that hosta, dig out the soulless rows of shrubs, eradicate the plastic edging and weed control mesh, make inroads into the lawn — I have never looked back.

I have come to view my latest Minnesota garden as a miracle of sorts. It has yielded many beautiful surprises and helped me become deeply connected with this sometimes-challenging neighborhood. It has sustained me through another difficult adjustment as an expat. It is our curse to forever be leaving precious people. This part never gets any easier. My gardens have always eased the pain, have enabled me to create a sense of place when I was starting over again.

As I dig and change, I have uncovered 20th century trash, broken bottles, china shards, hardware. I cherish this glimpse into the generations that called this corner home before my time. I save the best pieces and wonder about their owners. And when the day comes that I must leave here, as it surely must, they will be packed and moved to my next garden. In memoriam.

Get to Know Carolyn

What is your favorite aspect of the passion you shared with us? Has it changed your life in any big way?

The most compelling aspect of gardening for me is that whatever may be happening in my life, and wherever I am living, working in my garden brings me peace and contentment. Creating and then nurturing my various gardens has changed my life utterly. Literally given me a new identity, a new way of being. The only downside is the price of all those plants!

Tell us how your passion allowed you to make new friends or meet anyone you normally wouldn't have!

I quickly discovered that one of the many side-benefits of planting a garden, growing beauty, was how it allowed me to effortlessly connect with people. Complete strangers stop by to talk to me when I’m working in my garden. To exclaim at a particular plant, ask questions, or tell me stories about the neighborhood. In return, I have been able to spread the joy of gardening through plant sharing and organizing local garden tours.

Why did you join InterNations? Has InterNations helped you pursue any of your passions?

I am a Brit living in the USA. I joined InterNations because, predictably, from time to time you are going to experience a wee bit of a culture divide between your own roots and your adopted country. I wanted to explore the possibility of meeting people that understood the expat experience, to meet kindred spirits. Because living as an expat can be isolating sometimes.

InterNations is great for meeting like-minded individuals. There are numerous interest groups you can join, ranging from hiking clubs to folks who enjoy the local restaurant scene. And eating good food is definitely one of my passions!

Why do you think it’s important for people to have a passion?

To have a passion is to be able to engage in lifelong learning. Regardless of the focus, a passion provides a pursuit that stimulates the brain, thrills the heart, and inevitably leads to sharing that passion with others. For expats, looking for ways to pursue an existing passion (or starting a new hobby) is a wonderful and effective way to build a personal/professional network in your new homeland.


Carolyn is a Brit making her home in North Minneapolis where the brutal Minnesota winters make gardening an extreme sport! Now retired, Carolyn is a volunteer writer for a local newspaper and an advocate for her neighborhood, working on safety and local park issues. Carolyn’s retirement plans include returning to her roots where she can have a real English garden. A garden that isn't under snow in April!


Are you curious about how other members (re)discovered their passion abroad? These are the other finalists of our story contest:

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