Leaving and Arriving Well — what to do when your time comes {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

You’re probably going to leave the field.

Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.

How will that work out for you?

Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.

The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.

In Arriving Well, we’ll look at

– Embracing your inner tourist,

– Making movie magic,

– Identifying your needs, and of course,

– Grieving

We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.

Click here to read the full post.

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7 Tips for Stayers and Goers

by Elizabeth

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As a military kid I grew up hearing about these things called “Hail and Farewells.” I didn’t really know what they were; I didn’t even know it was two separate words. I thought of it more as “hailenfarewell” and was at a complete loss as to what it was.

But as I began to contemplate this upcoming season of expatriate goodbyes, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind. So naturally I went to my mom and asked her to tell me everything she remembered about Hail and Farewells. Her answers blew me away with their spiritual applications.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

1. “Hail and Farewells were an integral part of military life. Whether we were stationed at a military installation or a university in the States, or were stationed abroad, we all took part in these monthly events.” Hellos and goodbyes happen at regular intervals, and they touch the entire community. Nobody gets to skip out on the goodbyes (or hellos), and nobody is immune to the transience – either the Leaver or the Stayer.

2. “It always involved food, whether it was at someone’s home and everyone brought food, or at a restaurant and we purchased our meal.” Ok, so we need food. It’s perhaps kind of obvious, but this answer stood out to me. As humans we celebrate—and mourn—with food.

3. “They were usually more dressy events, except those that were barbeques, etc. There was always a gift, usually a memento that represented your unit and also some kind of plaque that commemorated your time there.  Oftentimes others would gift you with items that spoke personally to the officer leaving.” Whether we’re leaving or whether we’re staying, we honor our friends with something special. Whether it’s a physical gift representing our relationship or our country of service (for the gift-givers among us), a special event (for the quality-timers among us), or something else, we don’t let them fade away without that special honor.

4. “The commanding officer would do the introductions of new people, and we would find out where they came from and a little about them and their family. Then the farewells were saved for last with the usual good things said about people. Those that worked closest with the departing officer would also have an opportunity to share about them.” We honor the newcomers by trying to find out a little about them. And we honor the Leavers by sharing our cherished memories about them.

5. “Something I always saw in the groups we were in was the total willingness to accept and ‘get behind’ a new commanding officer. Oftentimes the departing commander was beloved and the idea of someone else coming in and taking over could be hard in a way, but your dad and I and others were intentional about welcoming and following new commanders just as we followed the departing one.” This gets to the heart of welcoming new people, whether they’re in leadership over us or not. Being new is hard, and the least we can do is welcome new people even as we say a painful goodbye to beloved friends. Whether we’re the Leaver or the Stayer, no one can replace our friends, but our hearts can expand to love more people.

6. “We were usually notified about 6 months in advance of our new duty station, and something strange and wonderful always happened after we found out where and when. Usually it was met with, ‘Uh, okay,’ but that time in between notification and actually leaving, our minds turned it into something good that we were actually looking forward to, and we were very ready to leave.” If circumstances allow (and I know they don’t always allow), we plan time between the decision to leave and the actual leaving. That time gives us the space to say goodbye well to people and places, to mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the next step, and to physically and mentally prepare our friends and co-workers for our departure. We realize that nothing can completely prepare us for our next stage, but a little time to reflect and say goodbye is helpful.

7. “It was sad to say goodbye, but many times we figured we’d meet up again.” To a certain extent, expatriate life also allows us to meet up again. (And I’m always thankful when that happens!) But even if we never see each other again on earth, as Christians we know we will meet again in Heaven, and (at least for me) that reminder does cheer the aching heart.

 So to recap my mom’s advice:
  1.  We accept that hellos and goodbyes will happen regularly.
  2.  Sharing food is a good way to commemorate these hellos and goodbyes.
  3.  Whether we’re departing or staying, we need to honor our friendships at each goodbye.
  4.  We need to welcome new people into our lives too.
  5.  We accept that goodbyes are hard.
  6.  When possible, we need to make space and time for these goodbyes.
  7.  We remember we will meet again, whether on earth or in heaven.

This time of year is painful. I will not deny that. April and May are months of many tears for me. I’ve written about these heart-rending goodbyes before. Each year I feel the feelings afresh, and sometimes I fear they will break me. But I do want us, as the Body of Christ, to carry on in a way that honors both our earthly fellowship and our faith in a mysterious God. With that in mind I offer you my Expat Manifesto:

We acknowledge that we will always have Hail and Farewells. We will bid farewell to our people. We will honor them with our tears, with our laughter, with our food, with our stories, with our hugs, and with our time. And we will bid farewell to seasons, whether satisfying or sad. We will welcome new people. We will honor them with our open (though sometimes wounded) hearts and remember that they may one day be our old people. We will remember that in Christ goodbye is never forever, but only for a time. And with Christ as our Anchor, we will embrace each new season, whether dreaded or longed for. We will Hail, and we will Farewell: This is how we carry on.

What traditions do you have for Hailing and Farewelling?

How do you carry on?

 

(Originally published at Velvet Ashes and reprinted here with permission.)

10 Ways to Survive Your First Year Overseas

by Elizabeth

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I worked at a lot of summer camps before moving overseas. Camp work is hot, sweaty, and tiring, and I always loved that last shower before “lights out.” So before moving overseas, I told my husband that I’d be able to handle anything during the day in Cambodia as long as I had a clean shower and clean bed at night (with a fan!).

And for the most part, that’s been true. Besides the nightly shower, however, I’ve picked up a few other survival skills from my first year overseas. My best advice still lies in the Preparation Phase, but today I want to share tips you can use once you get to the field. Here they are:

1. Figure out your Absolute Necessities, and do whatever you can to install them in your home or in your life. For myself, I needed curtains in my bedroom and gates on my stairs. I had to be able to dress and undress in private, as well as spend time with my husband in private. I needed curtains pronto! Thankfully a friend supplied me some hand-me-down curtains three weeks in to our Cambodia adventure. They may or may not have matched my sheets, but they gave me the privacy I needed.

A close second for me was the safety gates on our treacherously steep concrete Asian stairs (for my then one-year-old), obtained five weeks in to Cambodia life. Those were my Absolute Necessities. You may need something different. Certain kitchen equipment, perhaps. The point is, figure out your two or three Absolute Necessities, and obtain them if at all possible.

2. Funny Youtube clips are your best friend. Some weeks it was all I could do to get to Friday, when my husband and I would watch Fail Blogs on Youtube. Another favorite was Mitch Hedberg. Here’s a 2-part compilation that deleted nearly all his bad words:

We’re big fans of Brian Regan’s “I Walked on the Moon” (mostly clean, with occasional bad words).

Of course who can’t help loving Jim Gaffigan (also mostly clean, with even fewer bad words)?

This is one of our family favorites: NFL Bad Lip Reading. FYI not all Bad Lip Reading is this kid-friendly.

3. Find spiritual nourishment. I can’t tell you enough how much I love our international church and the spiritual food I receive there. But I know not everyone lives in a city that offers English-speaking church services like I do. Nowadays, though, overseas workers have access to sermons and podcasts on the internet. My husband, for example, likes listening to Andy Stanley sermons. Figure out which teachers feed you, and set aside some time to listen.

We all need to worship God in song, so if you don’t have access to worship services in your heart language, remember you can purchase worship music on iTunes (artists like Bethel, Hillsong, and Matt Redman are some of my favorites). I know some of this depends on your internet quality and won’t work for absolutely everyone at all times; still, it’s an improvement in resource availability over times past.

And don’t forget your own personal morning quiet time – it’s worked wonders in my life. So no matter what your options are, I do believe you can find the spiritual nourishment that you crave and that you need. You just might have to be creative about it.

4. Closely related to spiritual nourishment is finding community. You might be able to find that at an international church or on your team, as I’ve been thrilled to find. (Although I personally have had to guard against being oversocialized.) Finding community might be trickier for you if you live in a really remote place, with few other workers.

One of the best things you can do is pray for God to bring you a kindred spirit or two. Yes, the goodbyes hurt, and sometimes God brings people into our lives only for a season, but I do believe God answers our prayers for friends. Sometimes we have to get creative in our search for community as well, and another option is online community. Velvet Ashes and A Life Overseas are two options for Christian expats.

If you’re married, it’s far too easy to forget that you and your spouse can provide built-in community for each other — but that only happens when you spend time together. Maybe there’s no money to go out anywhere, or nowhere to go out, or maybe you don’t yet have babysitters you trust. You can still have coffee at home. You can still put the kids to bed early. You can still find fellowship with each other; in fact friendship is a vital part of a thriving marriage. Our first year we went up to our roof after our kids’ bedtime a couple times a week, looking out over our city and just talking to each other. It was peaceful and bonding, and I cherish those memories.

5. Your old coping mechanisms might not work at first. Don’t sweat it too much. I love to read, but my mind was too tired from language learning and culture acquisition to read much that first year. I’ve had other friends whose beloved piano playing went by the wayside their first year. Don’t lose heart – these things will come back later, when your brain isn’t so tired from the onslaught of culture and language.

6. Your body and mind may feel weaker than ever. Take care of them. You’ll probably get sick with strange illnesses. (The first two years are the worst for that, until your body adjusts.) But I’m not just talking about illnesses here. Before I moved overseas, I’d never struggled with mood swings, due to either hormonal shifts or low blood sugar. Now I deal with both, and not only do I need to be aware of them, but I have to be diligent in alleviating my symptoms.

Living cross-culturally (especially in a developing country or a very hot country) drains your body of its resources. So you’ll have to feed and water it regularly. You’ll need to de-worm regularly, take your vitamins, go to bed at a good time, and exercise. Exercise is not a coping mechanism you can afford to relinquish. You may have to get creative for this one too. A lot of people don’t like using videos for exercise (you can access a lot online if you don’t already own some), but if you don’t have access to a gym or decent running paths, you may be forced to exercise in your home.

7. Fall in love with something in your host country. In the beginning it’s too easy to love everything or to hate everything. But as with everything in life, the truth about your country is probably somewhere in between, a mixture of both good and bad. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered God in a sunset or a palm tree, in a rice field or a painted sky. When I need a reason for why I stay in a dirty, stinky, crowded city, I simply go to my roof and meet God in the clouds and banana leaves. You won’t be able to love everything where you live, but if you want to stay, you can’t afford to hate everything, either.

8. Some days you’ll only be able to accomplish one thing. You might feel like a failure for that, but you need to celebrate that one thing. You might not be able to shop for furniture and groceries in the same day, and that’s OK. You can always try again tomorrow with something else. You’ll get more efficient at this life, and eventually daily living won’t wear you out so much. You need to give yourself this grace. And you’ll need to continue giving yourself that grace, because to a certain degree, living cross-culturally will always wear you out more than living in your passport country.

9. If you home school your children, don’t be afraid to drop it for 3-6 months. Your kids will be ok, I promise. I didn’t believe that at first, either, even when my missions coach assured me of it. But she was right; it turned out ok. Not only does it save you sanity (it’s hard to home school kids and study language at the same time) but your kids really do catch up later. Plus, they need to adjust to overseas life, too. We don’t want to overload our kids with too many expectations.

10. And returning to my first point, if all else fails, don’t be afraid to put yourself in time out in the shower. Go to bed early. You can try again tomorrow! Grace grace grace. You’re gonna need to give yourself a lot of it this year, so just starting doling it out now.