Seeing Ourselves Through Others’ Eyes: A New Series


This week, we’re starting a new series, one geared to bringing us back to the original  mission of And So It Goes: to encourage curiosity in cultural differences and in the process come to know ourselves better.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear from seven women who, I hope, will help us see ourselves anew. Here they are, in alpha order by first name.


Alexis Chateau is from Jamaica and visited the US every year as she grew up. Then, two years ago, she decided it was time to see more of the world. She quit her corporate job in Jamaica, gave up her apartment, re-homed her pets, and packed her life into three suitcases. Atlanta, GA was one of the main stops on her trip, and now it’s her home.

She maintains an active blog at Alexis  and is the founder and managing partner of Alexis Chateau PR. When she isn’t whipping up witty social media posts and writing press releases, she’s on the hiking trail, getting lost in a book, or playing video games. Alex is proudly owned by Shadow the PR Cat.

I met Alexis through the confusion that WordPress has created with its two sites (.com and .org).  We liked each other’s websites and as I read some of her blog posts, I was certain she’d make an important contribution to this series. Next week, June 7, Alexis will join us to talk about “Living with Jamaican Values In America.


Alexis Chateau


Anna Coates lives in France currently, though she was born and raised in Soviet Latvia.  She writes fiction under the pseudonym Zenta Brice.  A journalist by profession, she is currently working on a memoir of life in her country during the years of Soviet collapse.

Anna and I met through the Facebook group, We Love Memoirs. An occasional commenter on my blog posts here, she has also given me the chance to read her work in progress, a memoir of a time in her life that also holds great interest for me. On June 28, Anna will write about “Toilets and Racism” and “Symbols and Smiles.”  


Anna Coates



Bertie Koelewijn grew up in the Netherlands and taught elementary school for 10 years before marrying an American and moving to the US when she was 30.  Upon arriving in the U.S., she (with her husband Greg Brown) renovated and ran a New Hampshire Country Inn for 10 years, substituted in the elementary school her children attended, and did volunteer work in her local church and town. Currently she runs a landlord business with her husband and teaches fiber arts workshops.  She now lives in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Bertie and I sing together in the North Country Chorus here in Vermont, though I first heard her name when Woody discovered she would patiently respond to his fading Dutch language.

Bertie Koelewijn

Bertie will join us in conversation as best she can, though much of June she’ll be visiting family offline in the Netherlands.



Ella Reznikova is a meditation teacher, Transformative Mediator, translator and tireless reader and traveler. She likes to write short stories, mostly about her life in the Soviet Ukraine and her family. She lives with her husband in Vermont and works as a Scholarship Manager in a meditation retreat center.

Ella and I met here in Vermont when she joined the monthly writer’s group I belong to.

Here is a sample of her powerful writing, the opening of her guest post, “My First Appointment With Dharma,” scheduled for June 21.

How to recollect something that changed your life? The day was kind of gray, and nothing was showing any signs of importance. Ordinariness never lifted its veil. You know when people are telling stories about an unusually bright morning when something happened in your life? Well, it was nothing like that. But there was a plan that involved the map and my friendship with my father and the main changes in my entire life.


Ella Reznikova



Gulzhahan Tazhitova teaches English at L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University in Astana, Kazakhstan and is fluent in Kazakh, Russian, English and German. Following her years as a counterpart to a US Peace Corps volunteer, Gulzhahan was accepted to present at the TESOL Conference in Seattle, WA. In addition to this conference in the US, she has also attended conferences in Germany and in Dubai. She is the author of two textbooks for teaching English and has published more than 15 papers.  She and her husband Darkhan have two sons, Duman, 17, and Timur, 5.

Gulzhahan and I met in Kazakhstan when I was that PCV she mentions in her bio. Those of you who have read my memoir will certainly recognize her as my counterpart. She has written of the many differences she noticed while she was in the United States ten years ago, which you’ll read  on July 9. 


Gulzhahan Tazhitova



Hélène Tragos Stelian is a life coach, speaker, and author.

As a certified life coach, she helps people who feel stuck or lost take bold steps into a life of renewed meaning and purpose. She leads workshops on many subjects, including purpose, perfectionism, success, and goal-setting.

In her blogs, Purpose Stories and Next Act for Women, she shares inspirational stories of people who have found their life’s calling—and are living it—at any age. She also writes about purpose, midlife, women, parenting, and college for other sites, including the Huffington Post.

Hélène is the author of three books: Moving to College, Finding the Right Colleges for You, and Getting Ready for Baby

She’ll tell us more about all this in her guest post on June 14, “Finding Myself — Out of the Cultural Melting Pot” as she shares the struggles she encountered when she first came to the US.

Hélène and I met online through the Facebook group, Women Writers Women’s Books and I was a recent guest on her website, Next Act for Women: Reinventing in Midlife and Beyond with my story of joining the Peace Corps in midlife.  She has a new site now too,, focused on helping readers find happiness through purpose.

Having trouble pronouncing Hélène? She guides us. “To pronounce it,” she writes on her website, “you say the two letters L and N in a row: L-N, with the emphasis on the N.”


Hélène Stelian



Isabelle Winkler is a photographer, aspiring filmmaker, and enthusiastic world wanderer. She is the voice behind the travel blog Around the World  in which she chronicles her journey through words and pictures. Originally from Germany, she currently lives in Russia and is planning her ventures into Georgia, Armenia and Iran. Her aim is to travel the globe without taking an airplane.

Here’s an excerpt from her post that is set for July 2 (Bold emphasis is mine) entitled “Colliding Worlds.

Being an American abroad can’t be hidden. It’s in the voice, the accent, the way he carries himself, the clothes, the vocabulary, the laugh. Foreigners will associate all of those things with what they have seen in movies. In a room full of aspiring filmmakers and film collaborators this is even more powerful. Young women become flies buzzing around a light. Boys and men will take that person just a little bit more seriously than the counterpart that speaks good but broken English. Everybody wants to please the person taking up so much space, the one with the grand ideas, talking about film festivals and successful people. They want to get to know the one that seems to be in the know.


Isabelle WInkler


How about you? What might stand out to foreign eyes as they experience our country, often for the first time?  And, for my foreign readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences of America or Americans.  As always, keep it civil. Curiosity with compassion, that’s the motto.  


With thanks to for the meme of the Robert Burns’ poem


20 Responses

  1. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    It looks like a fascinating series, Janet. You know many interesting women! (Of course, you are one, as well.)

    I hope Americans are not judged by the actions and recent travels of dt. I just discovered that the phrase “the ugly American” was actually meant in the original novel to describe someone good, a hardworking prototype for a Peace Corp worker.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Merril. Thanks for starting us off bright and early today. I read The Ugly American in 7th or 8th grade as I recall. It may well have planted the seed for my life long interest in culture. Though the “protagonist” (i use the term loosely) was a tourist, I kept it in mind when I was in the Peace Corps. It’s all about ethnocentrism, seeing our own culture as “the only way.” I’m so glad you raised the book. It really fits right in. Thanks.

      • Merril Smith
        | Reply

        Yes, I thought it was interesting because most people do use the term to describe ignorant American tourists when that is not how the author used the term at all.

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Yes. He wasn’t a tourist, was he? Foreign service I now recall. I shared it to my FB Author Page. Thanks.

  2. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I am taking a blog break, but your headline reminded me to Robert Burns’ To a Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church. (You know English teachers’ propensities to “Only Connect.”) I like Merril’s comment about the Peace Corp worker phrase . . . who knew?

    Before we went to England many, many years ago I read “Understanding Europeans” because I enjoy other cultures and so I wouldn’t commit faux pas as an ugly American. One of my first transgressions however, yelling at a London Bobby over a parking incident. And, yes, I blogged about it in my series, Moments of Extreme Emotion. This sounds like a winning series, Janet.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh the gift the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us. (RB)

      Thanks Marian. You helped me choose my “featured image.”

  3. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    Wow, what a great group of ladies. I can’t wait to get started. Reading their bio was fascinating but by the time I got to Helene I was hoping it doesn’t make me more of a rebel than I am (I travel as much s I can get away with but if I was single I would be like Joanna Lever and be gone all the time!). I lived in England, Germany and Turkey for many years and wish I was still living in Germany. I traveled lots as a part time tour escort.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Susan. I feel very fortunate that social media — often so easy to criticize — has brought into my life so many truly empowering women (and sensitive men. What the heck, we need them too). Including some (like you) I live vicariously through. I’m very much looking forward to your upcoming trip to Scotland.

      I think you’ll enjoy this series. Wait until you meet Isabelle. She’s currently traveling around the world without using an airplane. My kind of travel.

  4. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    I can delete the first one.

  5. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I’m excited for this series and look forward to getting to know more about each of these women.

  6. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Looks like a great lineup, Janet 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Tim. I’m looking forward to your insights throughout.

  7. […] Beyond the clash of behaviors and traditions, cultural difference can also mean a clash of values.  And Alexis tackles just that in  Living with Jamaican Values in America.  Welcome, Alexis. (For a fuller bio, see last week’s post here.) […]

  8. […] add Hélène’s various links at the end. For her bio from the start of this series,  click here. Here’s her updated bio that came out after that introductory […]

  9. […] add Hélène’s various links at the end. For her bio from the start of this series,  click here. Here’s her updated bio that came out after that introductory […]

  10. […] she hoped to learn more to take back with her to her native Ukraine.  For more on her bio, see  the introductory post from last May.  Welcome, […]

  11. Pamela
    | Reply

    What a GREAT idea – I look forward to reading each one.

  12. […] might recall from the  original post last May, Isabelle is currently wending her way around the world.  She hopes to do it without getting on […]

  13. […] For more on her bio, see our opening post in this series from last May. […]

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