It’s hard to believe that seven years have passed since our little family of four sold almost all of our belongings and transplanted ourselves to the other side of the world. Seven years. Now, we’re a family of almost eight. Time has crept by and zoomed past, both at the same time. Sitting in my nice air-conditioned, borrowed home in the U.S.A., I’ve become a wee bit meditative. I’m reflecting over how I have been molded, grown and stretched over the years by my expat life. I’m altered. I believe all of us expats can say we are different since crossing the seas…some for the worse, but mostly for the better. Here are just a few thoughts from my last few years.
- I don’t miss the hustle and bustle of American life. I never realized how I wore “busyness” as a badge of honor. “How are you?” “Busy,” with a smile of satisfaction, because I was an American and Americans don’t have ‘down time’ or ‘me time’ or ‘excess family time’. Now that I have experienced a slower island life, there’s no going back.
- Life overseas is tougher. My husband went to a top university and worked in corporate America for 11 years. At the end of each day there was a way to measure his success: paychecks, bonuses, promotions and recognitions. Overseas success can’t be monetarily measured. You can work hard, try harder and still be left with very little to show for it. This, at times, has been maddening for him…even after 7 years. I have not always been understanding on how much that weighs on him as an American man. Me…isolation, market shopping, no family around when giving birth… are just a few ways life overseas is tough. Not trying to complain, just stating the truth.
- Living far away has largely freed me from parental comparison and competition. Can I just tell you how thankful I am for not feeling pressured to put googly eyes on the classroom snacks? My girls don’t have giant hairbows for every outfit and they rarely match. Actually, I am lucky if their clothes are stain free. I am happy if their one pair of shoes (crocs…can I get a witness?) are relatively clean before we hit a night out on the town. Of course, the downside of this is that sometimes I still wonder how my kids stack up to their peers. Are my kids normal and mature? Are they reading on grade level? Am I killing my sons’ chance to be a professional basketball player or am I robbing my daughters’ of the opportunity to dance in the New York Ballet? In retrospect, I have realized they (thankfully) aren’t normal, and who cares about “grade level”, they are individuals, not lab rats. Their world view and life experiences will mold them into special people…who may never make millions in professional sports, but will grow up with a faith and a global perspective all their own.
- I always battle culture shock and homesickness never goes away. One day I want to pack my bags and go home, never to see another palm tree all the days of my life. The next day I find life exhilarating and I never want to leave my host country. Usually, I live somewhere in between. That ache for “home” never fully goes away and though I understand my host culture more, I am still a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
- I am more judgemental of my passport country than my host country. Why are people arguing about things that don’t matter, especially from an eternal perspective? Can’t people stop fighting over theology and try to do what the Word says? I can’t buy expensive essential oils (no offense to the lovers of them out there), or prioritize my gut-health, or concern myself with stickers for my nails. (I can’t even paint my nails in my host country.) Politics and ill researched “news” articles. Ick! I sometimes contemplate turning off my Facebook for good. It’s a love/hate. But isn’t this my home culture? Isn’t this the life of my friends and loved ones? Why can I gloss over the corruption and the oppression of my host culture? Maybe I have trained my heart to love and be understanding of those different from me; but with America…still working on it.
- Feeding myself spiritually is the most difficult part of overseas living. I spent my whole life as a believer (beginning from age 18) at a mega-church. Wonderful preaching, worship, small groups, Bible studies, etc. You can get “fed” by osmosis, but overseas, at least in my context, it is dry. It is up to me and my husband to have church. It is up to me to get up and read my Bible. I have to be intentional with accountability and have to use methods like Facetime to study and discuss the Word with other women. I am thankful for the Lord’s sustaining grace. Man, have I needed it over the years. (Side note: if you are looking for a great free online resource to study scripture, check out Flower Mound Bible Studies by Jen Wilken. Kimberlynn and I are doing (or trying to do) the Abide Study together. It is based on John 1, 2, and 3. And like I said, free!)
- The bond between expats runs deep. My retired Army Dad was explaining to me just the other day about how close soldiers get to one another while in training. Lack of sleep, maximum physical and mental exertion, spending every moment together, depending on each other, day and night…a close, quick bond forms. Then, in the battle, the bond is even stronger. I am not suggesting in any way that living in a nice 3 bedroom house with a house helper is like war, but the immediate closeness and the depth of relationship among expats is real. At times we are in the trenches together, hunkered down wishing for the supplies drop. (Care package, anyone!) Sometimes we only see each other once a year, but that doesn’t matter…the bond has been formed. It is a strong and unique community; a community I feel blessed to be a part of.
Life overseas has been challenging and crazy but as I reflect over these things I am so thankful that this is my life. That this is my family’s life. Thick or thin, I’m married to my expat identity. It is who I am.
What about you? Reflect with me. How have you, your opinions and views changed since living life abroad? What are you thankful for? What do you wish wasn’t your reality? Let’s discuss in the comments below.