The Expatriate Balance Sheet

by Rachel Pieh Jones on January 21, 2018

A friend visited me once, coming from a country further east. She brought boxed blueberry muffin mix, Cheerios, and other American brand name goodies. I thought, ‘oh, her life must be wonderful and easy.’ When she left, she packed a few cans of Dr. Pepper and bags of Doritos and thought, with such luxuries at my fingertips, ‘Rachel’s life must be so easy.’

I also read Under the Tuscan Sun, or From Paris to the Moon and I think, well of course they love being an expatriate. They live in Paris. They live in Tuscany. For crying out loud. What are they whining about?! This makes me feel both proud, look where I’ve lived! And sad, look at where I could have lived!

Expatriates easily succumb to this lie that the grass is always greener. This is especially true when there is no grass, like where I live. If you have grass, even dead grass, I guarantee you it is greener than my grass. That small truth aside, believing the euphemistic meaning of the phrase is dangerously easy.

In that country they have movie theaters. In that country they have high speed internet that never cuts out. In that country the temperature is always perfect. In that country women can wear whatever they want. In that country they have access to postal services. They have affordable schools. They have cheaper airplane tickets. They have clearer visa regulations. They speak English. They have churches. Parks. Pork. Playgrounds. Kids’ sports clubs. Grandparents. Quality healthcare. Streets clean of litter.

The list is endless.

Keeping the list is dangerous.

It is all a lie.

I mean, those things are true, some countries or cities do have certain amenities or social communities that others lack. But, where there are no boxes of Cheerios, there just might be Dr. Pepper. Where there are playgrounds, there might not be beaches. Where there are churches, there isn’t your small but precious and intimate house group.

And, dig a little deeper, and the same losses afflict expats people everywhere.

Cancer. Car accidents. Loneliness. Interpersonal conflict. Mysterious fevers. Culture shock. Marital strife. Wayward children. Aging parents. Poor career fits. Weak leadership. Isolation. Depression.

Guess what? A bag of Doritos or a can of soda, aren’t going to take away the pain or ultimately soothe the grief.

At the same time, expats people encounter the same joys.

A baby’s first steps, holiday traditions, meaningful work, heartfelt conversations, the sunrise, a child’s spontaneous act of service, success in a new cross-cultural situation, a delicious meal, college acceptance letters (that one’s for my twins).

There are all the unique-to-your-situation griefs and joys, but the underlying emotions – of satisfaction and love, of sorrow and loss, attend everyone, in every place. Comparing only serves to kill joy or foster envy.

Even if keeping a balance sheet of comparisons is done with the intent of summoning gratitude, it will be a gratitude based on a façade. It won’t last, it won’t carry us. It will likely lead to either pride or self-pity.

Instead of looking at our challenges or losses and saying, ‘This isn’t as bad as her pain so I’m foolish for feeling so sad,’ or, ‘This pain is far worse than their pain, so woe is me,’ we need to grieve. Let yourself feel your own sadness, acknowledge your own losses, name them, and mourn them. They are true and real and a comparison to someone else’s is irrelevant.

And, be thankful for your joys. Rejoice in that one simple new word learned, even if someone else learned twelve. Delight in the satisfaction of the food you are able to creatively summon from near-empty market stalls and don’t feel guilty or inadequate.

A big challenge for expatriates is to learn to grieve and to rejoice without keeping a balance sheet of where things are easier or harder.

Be thankful. Rejoice. Be sad. Grieve. Somehow figure out how to hold them both without looking at the grass on the other side of the fence.

We hold two countries, or more. We can hold these complicated, conflicting emotions.

Do you struggle with comparison to expatriates in other places?


10 Ideas for Professional Development on the Field

by Amy Young January 19, 2018

When I was a freshman in college, my university had the in-coming students come a week early for orientation. During that week I attended a campus ministry get-to-know-you event. From the outside there was nothing overtly special about it: picnic in a public park. But did I mention I was in COLLEGE. I was a […]

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Complicit no matter what we do? So was Jesus.

by Craig Greenfield January 17, 2018

Ever get the feeling you’ll be complicit in injustice no matter what you do? I remember finding out that slave-labor was used to build natural-gas pipelines in Burma. Thousands of slaves were involved in clearing the land and in construction work along the 65km pipeline. So, of course I decided to boycott the French and British […]

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The Ministry of a Missionary Mama

by Editor January 11, 2018

by Krista Horn Two years ago our family moved to Kenya to live and work at a mission hospital which happens to host numerous short-term medical workers throughout the year. For my husband, this means having the blessing of extra hands-on-deck at the hospital. For me, it means occasionally hosting the visitors and answering lots […]

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“But ‘They’ Aren’t as Smart as I am!” A Hard look at Prejudice

by Marilyn January 8, 2018

“Our missions work has lacked the diversity necessary for it to be as effective as it could be. There is a dearth of leaders of color, voices of people who are living in communities that are being ‘served.’ The intentions for most are rooted in a strong sense of call, but we have to correct […]

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When Your Missionary Stories Aren’t Sexy

by Editor January 4, 2018

by Erin Duplechin We stood in the lobby after the funeral. We’d spent the hour before hearing beautiful stories of simple faith lived by a simple woman. Besides the fact that she was intelligent, caring, and genuinely interested in other people, one theme seemed to resonate throughout the eulogy: she showed up. She showed up […]

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Ask a Counselor: Annual Self-Care Check-Up Edition

by Kay Bruner January 3, 2018

It’s become my tradition to kick off every year with a post encouraging self-care for the year ahead. Last year, I talked about using the biopsychosocial model as a basis for a well-rounded self-care plan.  I even created a fun, handy-dandy animation about it. I still think that’s a great model to use, and I […]

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The Proverbs 32 Man

by Jonathan Trotter January 1, 2018

Women have had their chapter long enough, and my wife’s written about how she’s pretty much failed at following it. I think it’s time for the men. It’s time we define the ideal man to whom we should compare all men, from henceforth and forevermore, regardless of context or culture, giftedness or calling, personality or […]

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What Does God Want From Me?

by Abby Alleman December 28, 2017

  I swayed back and forth perched on the swing. Looking out from the hilly courtyard of my flat, I could see the tall cement apartment complexes. They represented tens of thousands of people who needed to hear about Jesus. Just beyond what I could see, was a city of two million. The vast majority […]

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33 Clickbait Headlines for Expats—Number 12 Will Make You Gasp

by Craig Thompson December 27, 2017

Normally, clickbait headlines are created simply to grab clicks—and clicks and clicks and more clicks. But you can’t click on the titles below, since there aren’t any stories linked to them. Instead, if being an expat is in your past, present, or future, the stories are up to you, to write or live out yourselves. […]

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Parenting in Real Life: Ministry Version

by Editor December 21, 2017

by Mandi Hart As long as I can remember,  I have been captivated by the thought that we reproduce who we are in others. We will reproduce not only what we say, but who we are. It is something that is ‘caught’ and not ‘taught’. Apple trees will reproduce apples and orange trees will produce […]

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Oops, I went home for Christmas — How to readjust to life abroad after a quick trip “home”

by Jerry Jones December 20, 2017

Ahh, busyness . . . sneaks up on you doesn’t it? Especially this time of year. Caught me off guard and I’m a bit overrun by cookies, carols and Christmas cheer to pause and post something fresh. So . . . please accept my apologies and this repost from The Culture Blend. Merry Christmas to […]

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