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Cindy Zelazny

Cindy Zelazny expat stories

Expat stories!

Cindy is a long time expat, below is a very exciting and detailed account of her expat life.

Tell us a little about yourself,

Where do you live now and how long have you been there?

I was born and raised in Connecticut and Florida in the USA. I am now a 60-year-old woman who lives with my husband Isaac for almost 40 years. We have two adult sons, Ariel 36 and Gabriel 31. We currently live in Springboro, Ohio USA. We bought a condo upon our return to the States two years ago and we are beginning to grow some much needed and wanted roots. We will not be moving abroad through company assignments any longer as Isaac has just retired this past January. We do plan to travel a lot within the USA and possibly live in different areas of the world during the harsh winters in Ohio. Now we have the opportunity to choose the time and place.

What do you love about where you live now?

Ari, our eldest son lives with his girlfriend Jessica about an hour away so that’s the biggest plus. We have an international community nearby through the Wright Patterson Military Base and I’m a member within the Women’s International Organization affiliated through the US military. Through this organization I have met many women from around the world and learned about many countries I have not lived or visited yet and I’m also enjoying the company of the women whose countries I have lived in. It’s exciting to get to practice my bits and pieces of different language skills I’ve acquired and am forgetting all too quickly.

Our home is only an hour from Cincinnati where we’ve lived in the past and we have many friends there, so although this was starting all over again, I did have a support network of many dear friends and my Mahjong group who taught me the American way to play Mahj Jong. I’ve been lucky to be a part of this lovely group of women for many years who share Mahj and life events. Locally, I created a Mahjong group and teach weekly. I’m part of a Yoga community and exercise almost daily at different gyms that cater to my needs. I’m involved in politics, an avid bicyclist, love my book clubs, yoga studio community and enjoy a bit of gardening (difficult because we live in a condo).

My passion is creating herbal tinctures and studying Functional Medicine as our lifestyle is holistic in approach. As we settled into our new life here and my husband retired, he became a museum Docent volunteer at the Wright Brothers Airport which is also where we rent small aeroplanes to keep our heads in the clouds for fun (he’s a private pilot). He is also a Docent at the Dayton National Airforce Museum. Isaac found yet another place for himself as a volunteer Speaker/Presenter about the Holocaust through the Dayton and Cincinnati Jewish Federation and the Airforce Museum. We are finding this area to be friendly and fun with an abundance of activities to keep our minds intellectually challenged and our bodies healthy. We feel quite comfortable and have made this our home for the past two years.

What brought you to this location?

We chose this location because my husband had two offices within General Electric which he travelled between upon our return from Toronto, Canada. The geographical location was chosen by the availability to the highway, somewhere in the middle of both offices and is convenient to all my daily tasks such as a quality health club and health food stores etc… Being so near to the small Wright Brothers airport is an added gift. Most importantly regarding living in the United States we have easier access to visit family, one son near-by, another son who lives in Las Vegas and Isaac’s mother in NY city. Being in the same country as a family is so much easier.


How it all began

Where was your first assignment, how long were you there?

Our first in-country assignment began in 1981 (before we were even married in 1982) when Pratt and Whitney had us move from Connecticut USA to West Palm Beach in Florida USA for 6 months. We loved living in a high rise directly on the beach on a beautiful Island called Singer Island and that gave us our first taste of moving with company support. Many years later after marriage, two children, several moves and a Company change, we found ourselves living in Topsfield, Massachusetts USA and Isaac was working for General Electric (GE). Our second experience but first expat experience was to Busan, So. Korea from 1993 through 1996, and it was an amazing life-changing experience.

What was your reason for moving abroad in the first place?

In the early 1990’s the USA had a huge economic downturn and professional job losses were rising at an alarming rate with many professionals we knew that were being laid off, so we researched and found a position within GE in Busan, So. Korea supporting civilian and military GE engines, Isaac’s speciality. It was a very stable position outside the USA to park ourselves until the economic situation in the states was resolved. That’s when we found ourselves becoming expats, so we sold our home and moved with two children in tow to Haeundae, a beautiful beach town in Busan, So. Korea.

Did you travel alone, with kids or with a partner? How would you describe your first experience?

At the time of our move to Busan, So. Korea our children then Ariel (10) and Gabriel (5) had quite the adjustment with a new Korean culture and language but the added adjustment as they attended a British curriculum school. After several trials with the British Schooling and trying to home school for a year as well, we then moved our eldest son Ari to the US Military DODDS School in Busan where they had a Special Education department that was necessary for his needs to be met. Gabriel loved the British Curriculum and adapted well but to all our chagrin we had to move him to the US Military DODDS School the last year we lived there.

We had to move our home location due to Isaac’s shifted job location. It was just too far to stay in Haeundae where Isaac had a 2-hour one-way commute. Isaac and I adjusted quite well and met the most wonderful people from all over the world.

We found we loved being with people of different cultures. During our stay in Busan, there was an International Woman’s Association where I met many amazing women through this fabulous Association and whom I am still in contact with currently. Social events and daily supports were built into the system of this Association and I was even taken to the grocery store to learn how and where to shop.  New experiences were readily available so I took every advantage and learned Asian Mahj Jong and Oriental watercolour painting and some Korean language classes. Specifically, I met 3 women who became dear friends. We were quite the foursome. (Sunran who is Korean, Marketta who is from Finland, LiMeng who is from China and me the American).

We had children about the same age who played after school daily and we women connected on a deeper level as we became each other’s friends and acted more like a supportive family.

This positive experience set us up for loving the expat way of life. While in SO. Korea we had a maid and a driver (who couldn’t love that) and what could have been a very difficult life abroad was supported with these and other services provided by our company as we navigated in a wholly different world.

Being in So. Korea created a niche for us to travel the world. Every summer we would purchase the “Delta Round the World” tickets that allowed seven stops in different countries in one direction. This gave us the opportunity to enrich our children with a world view through their travel and experiences to last a lifetime. It helped create whom they became, kind, compassionate, unjudgmental men who are respectful and live with integrity. (Proud mom here!)

The Schooling in So. Korea for our eldest son was proving to not be beneficial to furthering his education in a way that was meaningful to him or acceptable to us. We were asked to move to Japan as our next assignment but at the same time several family members in the States became ill and others were dying. We chose to go back to the States to be closer to family and raise our children through their school years in a more stable environment. General Electric’s main headquarters were in Cincinnati, Ohio in the USA, so we found a quaint little town called Madeira with an excellent School system and that became our home for many years before we began living the expat way of life again.

Where have you lived so far?

Once our children were raised and became independent, we had the opportunity to move to Tokyo, Japan and Isaac became the GE Sr. Engineer to Honda’s jet program. We found a lovely western sized apartment in Dykanyama, a small-town feel in the middle of Tokyo, only one train (eki) stop away from the famous Shibuya Crossing. Living overseas without young children was a totally different experience and there was not a built-in support system in Tokyo for expats like I had in Busan, so we embraced our immersion in the culture and enjoyed every moment.

There were many factors about the Japanese culture that struck me in the most positive ways, I loved the cleanliness, politeness and order which works well for my personality and the safety factor was an unexpected pleasure. It was/is safe to walk from Shibuya to our then home (about a 20 min walk) in the middle of the night and be completely safe. I’ve done it, so freeing to not have to look over your shoulder with the taught anxiety from growing up in the States! Isaac and I were able to meet many people from many countries as it’s easy to spot the foreigners and several of my foreigner friends and I still keep in touch.

We met many Japanese people who honoured us with their friendship and explained many of their culture’s ways and history. Our best friends in Tokyo are Yukari and Yasuajaro with their beautiful children and also Koko and Jack and their amazing son Hugo.

My Japanese teacher (Nihongo Sensai), my motivating gym buddies, my Enjoy English Study group that allowed me to practice my Japanese while they practised their English, Thank you Nogi. So many wonderful people there that made us feel so welcomed, involved and valued. I absolutely enjoyed the cooking classes and although it was taught in Japanese (Nihongo), I listened and watched diligently and was able to recreate many wonderful meals. We were introduced to marvellous foods and we were also included in many cultural celebrations which were absolutely engaging and enriching.

After 3 fabulous years of living in Japan and amazing travels through-out Asia, we headed back to the Greater area of Cincinnati, Ohio USA for 11 months. After that, we’re asked to support another GE engine project in Montreal, Canada so we packed up our belongings and headed north to a cold country. Isaac was supporting Bombardier and we weren’t sure how long this project would last so we lived in a two-room suite with a kitchenette in a Marriott Hotel for 6 months. We loved living in the heart of Montreal city proper. The fabulous gym was across the street from the hotel and the city was active and filled with history and fun.

The architecture in the city is amazingly beautiful and the museums were plentiful, I was lucky enough to have a personal guide through the art museum with a friend who has a degree in Art History. So informative, thank you, Alexandra, for that and introducing me to Shaheda who is a lovely friend. I met Rosanna (affectionally known as Ro) in the bathroom of the movie theatre over a conversation about hairdressers and moving so often. We became fast friends as we shared so many of life’s events, like he being an expat but mostly how difficult it is to have to keep finding a new hairdresser.

While Isaac was truly enjoying his job, I was making friends like Elizabeth who was my daily check-in person for the first 6 months while we both lived in the city as she was an expat also. I was reunited with my 6thgrade best friend Louise and often enjoyed time spent with her and her husband Michel. When we learned we will be in Montreal longer than 6 months we moved to a beautiful house in the Suburbs of Montreal called I’lle Bizard. It is a beautiful Island with the centre being a wildlife sanctuary with amazing biking trails (lucky us).

The language and culture barriers became amplified in the suburbs, I missed the ease of the city, a lot. After being settled in the house for only a year, the program Isaac was working on moving production to Toronto, Canada so off to Toronto, we went. We found a high-rise apartment in the downtown part of the city called Yorkville. It’s where the hippies lived in the ’60s, now it’s an upscale area with a small-town feel. We had an enormous park down the hill with great biking trails and the city at our fingertips. A vibrant and wonderfully kind city. Easy to be there as English is the spoken language and although there were many differences in culture, the similarities were greater.

At that point, I was grateful to not need to study another language, again! We were there for only 1 year but we made the most of that experience. Thanks to my Mahjong group of fun women and Anita and Karen whom we share a similar lifestyle of health and nutrition, created a feeling of warmth and acceptance. Also, there were our dear friends Antonio and Monica from our days spent in support of GE in Queretaro, Mexico who are now permanent residents in Toronto. We spent many visits in their amazing company.

Expat life

If you could sum up your expat life in 3 words, what would it be?

Exposure creates consciousness!

How would you define your experience as an expat?

We’ve learned so much about different cultural customs, so we always adopt the ways that made sense in our lives and found we now have many different cultures and daily foods imbedded in our home, hearts and practices.

The Now

10 How has being an expat changed you?

I am more accepting and compassionate in my daily life because of all I have experienced. All whom I’ve met made an impact on the compass I use to live my morals. I value the knowledge that I’ve acquired that I believe made me a better, kinder and more accepting person.

I relish in the learning of others culture, customs and history which created a deeper understanding of why people think and act as they do. I can’t imagine another kind of life, I’m so lucky to have had this unusual and exceptional life. I enjoy when asked where I am from, my usual answer is: I hold a USA passport but I am a citizen of the world.


Elizabeth Gilbert expat stories
Elizabeth Gilbert



9 thoughts on “Cindy Zelazny”

  1. What a wonderful share!! You certainly used your experiences to enrich yourselves in a beautifully humanitarian and wholistic way,surely touching the lives of many so positively. Bon continuation as the French say! I’m so happy to have the honor of knowing you!

  2. Cindy
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your amazing experiences as an expat over so many years. Having visited you in Toronto I learnt a lot about your new life out there but this honest and beautifully written report allowed me to recognize the depth of your commitment and the flexibility of how you embraced each of your assignments abroad and made it the best it could have been for you and your family. I am so in awe of you and Isaac. You truly are citizens of the world.

  3. Cindy,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences.. It’s sounds difficult but magical to have had exposure to so many different cultures and people. Totally amazing and wonderful! Best to you and Issac. Hope to see you in the Spring!

  4. Cindy, I am I better person for knowing both you and Isaac! I’m glad you returned, to be close to Cincinnati so we can still stay in touch, and still regret the timing was not right for me to visit you guys in Japan when you were there. I really love that you view all of the moves as a positive factor vs. a challenge to adapt to culture and languages. You’ve made the most of every experience you had.. we can all learn from that!

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