I entered the auditorium in a sea of shiny caps and gowns, and exited a college graduate. After weeks of “good-byes” and “good-lucks,” my friends were joining the workforce and I was moving overseas.
With an English degree in hand, I was headed to Southeast Asia to visit friends, help others, and look for opportunities to teach English.
“You’re so brave,” my friends said. I smiled.
“This is a great experience,” people remarked. I smiled.
“I could never do what you’re doing!” they exclaimed. I smiled, but that one hit me in the gut every time. I wasn’t sure I could even do what I was doing!
My college education focused on things like post-modernism, 1960s New York poetry, gender perceptions in Victorian literature, and how to edit manuscripts without damaging an author’s ego. I had leadership experience in multiple campus organizations and two professional internships under my belt. I was prepared for life, people. But when I chose to move overseas, I suddenly felt extremely under-prepared.
Why didn’t we cover culture shock in the curriculum? Why didn’t I join a foreign exchange club? Where were the classes on Asian hospitality customs? Who was going to create the rubric and assess my progress in independent living overseas? All that study of the English language seemed useless now that I was getting ready to enroll in foreign language classes.
My emotions wavered dramatically between enthusiasm and trepidation, empowerment and naïveté. On one hand, I couldn’t wait to take on the world! On the other hand, the world is a huge place, y’all. I’m going to make memories to last a life time . . . and some of those memories will be marked by supreme embarrassment. It’s an adventure with nothing and no one holding me back! Wait, that sounds kind of lonely.
When it was time to pack my bags, I had a lot of tough choices to make about what goes and what stays. Jeans? Ok. 11 pairs of jeans? No. Chacos? Definitely. Blazer? Doubtful. Pictures? Yes. Picture frames? Sorry, no. (Side note: I cannot imagine being a wife/mom and having to make these decisions for multiple people. Tossing and turning over a pair of rejected high-heels was stress enough for me. Chalk it up to my 22-year-old perspective and hip-hip-hooray for all the amazing superwives/supermoms who moved their whole families with everything everybody needed!)
Now the biggest packing choices: feelings. Should I bring anxiety? Nope. Open-mindedness? Yes. Know-it-all attitude? Definitely not. Hunger for learning? Definitely yes. Fear and insecurity? No. Confidence in the Lord? YES.
My diploma does not guarantee overseas success. No college course could teach the cultural lessons I’m learning. No club or internship could prepare me for this experience. But what I learned in college (and every day of my life, really) is that to success in the face of a challenge, you have to earnestly try.
I’m not always brave. Not every day is a great experience. Some days I still don’t know if I can do this. But every day, I choose to try! I try to learn the language. I try to make friends. I try to eat new foods. I try to remember the exchange rate while shopping. I try to laugh at myself. I try to thrive in this new culture.
But the thing is, all that trying is not from my own strength. The Lord sent me on this adventure, but He didn’t send me alone and He didn’t send me empty-handed. I know the Lord walks with me through each language lesson, foreign meal, and embarrassing encounter. He has given me His Word and His Spirit as guides. I try to listen for Him and trust His plans.
I keep trusting & trying, and though every day is a test, at least I don’t have to worry about my GPA.
To read more about Tracey’s adventures in Southeast Asia, check out her personal blog: traceyeliz.blogspot.com!